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A Renter-Friendly Backsplash to Make from a Vintage Cookbook

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The next time you see a vintage cookbook in a thrift shop, flip to the intro and index for a snapshot of a society frozen in time. From a 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker:

When you are entertaining, try not to feel that something unusual is expected of you as a hostess…Satisfy yourself that you have anticipated every possible emergency – the howling child, the last minute search for cuff links, your husband’s exuberance.

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Where we're going!
Where we're going! Photo by Mark Weinberg

As a cookbook author in the 1970s, it was commercially safe to assume your reader was a woman. (A woman married to a lively but absentminded man in shirtsleeves.) A bevy of beef recipes in the index—including cuts like liver, tripe and tongue—evidence our country’s 50-year shift in home meat consumption from beef to chicken. And geography isn’t much quibbled over: Any recipe with a Middle Easter spice is dubbed “Turkish.” If the spices hail from even farther away, the dish is “Oriental.”

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I thought an historical document like this one merited museum treatment as a reminder of culinary evolution and cultural progress. So, I adapted my DIY backsplash technique to put a few choice pages behind glass. Of course, you don’t need to use a vintage cookbook—or any cookbook. This tutorial can be used to display all kinds of paper good under glass. You could create a collage of hand-written recipes, postcards or notes with sentimental value, or a wallpaper remnant.

A note on posterity: the edges are unsealed, so cooking oils and humidity can sneak through the layer of glass and MDF. This backsplash is not intended to stand the test of time. Rather, it’s an attempt to offer renters—or homeowners wary of commitment—a simple, quick, and temporary solution to stovetop splatter.

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Photo by Mark Weinberg

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • One piece of MDF, which stands for "Medium Density Fiberboard," an engineered wood composite. It's cheaper than plywood and more uniform/knot-free, so you'll have a smoother surface for decoupage! Just be careful to wear a mask when cutting it, as MDF does contain VOCs.
  • One piece of tempered glass, pre-cut to the desired size of your backsplash (You can order custom cut glass from your local glass supplier and some home improvement and hardware stores. Be sure to ask for tempered glass, which is treated to withstand thermal change.)
  • A vintage cookbook
  • Mod Podge
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • A paintbrush
  • Mirror clips
  • Self-mixing epoxy
  • One French cleat, with appropriate wall fasteners
  • An electric drill
  • Pliers
  • A razor blade
  • A straight edge
  • A pencil

And here's how to make it:

1. Remove pages from the cookbook.

Using a straight edge, carefully extract your favorite pages from the cookbook by running razor blade as close to binding as possible.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

If you plan to use the backsplash as a reference guide, cut out your favorite recipes. If the backsplash will be decorative – like mine is – cut out a mix of illustrations and dense text pages, being mindful of how the recipes break on the page. The more variety of page layout, the more visually compelling the finished product.

2. Cut MDF to desired size.

Lay glass on top of MDF and trace the outline with a pencil. On a surface suitable for cutting, use a straight edge and your razor blade to cut to the MDF along your pencil marks. To cut MDF with a razor blade, you’ll essentially score it, then make deeper and deeper cuts until the razor blade cuts all the way through.

3. Determine your design and trim pages to fit MDF.

Play with the layout of your vintage recipe pages until you’re satisfied. Because the pages will be of uniform size, a reliable strategy for visual appeal is to overlap pages in a random sequence, like the pages were dropped.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Arrange a few pages so that they spill off the MDF. Then, use your straight edge to mark the perimeter of the MDF with a pencil and cut these pages along your pencil mark for a clean edge. (It may be tempting to trim the borders after you decoupage, but dry pages will cut much more cleanly.)

Where pages overlap within the borders of the MDF, mark the overlapping corners with your pencil to facilitate recreating the design during the decoupage process. Document your layout with a photo.

4. Decoupage pages to MDF.

Using your photo and pencil marks as guides, decoupage the pages to your MDF one layer at a time to reconstruct your design, beginning with the bottom layer.

For each page, you will apply Mod Podge to the MDF, to the back of the paper and to the front of the paper. Use your paintbrush to apply extra Mod Podge to edges and corners. Run your fingers along edges, pressing down firmly.

Consult the instructions on the Mod Podge for dry time in between layers. Let backsplash dry completely before proceeding to step 5.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

5. Secure mirror clips to back of MDF.

Arrange the mirror clips so that each clip is 1 to 2 inches away from the corner. (If your backsplash is larger than mine, you may want to move the clips further from the corners for more security.) Mark the location of each clip on the back of the MDF with a pencil.

Follow the instructions on the self-mixing epoxy to secure the mirror clip to the back of the MDF. Let dry.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

6. Secure tempered glass to front of MDF.

Slip the tempered glass underneath the mirror clips. Use your pliers to flatten the mirror clips against the surface of the glass. You want the clips to be tight enough that the glass won’t budge, but not so tight that they’re applying undue pressure against the surface of the glass.

7. Attach French cleat.

Follow the instructions on the French cleat packaging to secure the bottom cleat to the wall behind your stovetop, being careful to preserve a parallel line with your countertop. Be sure, too, to use the appropriate wall fasteners for your wall.

Use self-mixing epoxy to secure the top cleat to the back of your MDF.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Tip: A paper template can be helpful here to make sure the backsplash is mounted at the appropriate height.

Hang and enjoy your time capsule!

Alex Kalita is the co-founder of Common Bond Design, an interior design studio in New York City.

Tags: DIY, vintage, backsplash