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Decorating a Room

Countertops and Backsplashes

The granite countertop and bright backsplash lighten up and balance out the dark cabinets.

Heavy pots that boil over, greasy pans, sticky cosmetics! Countertops and backsplashes are the work-horses of the kitchen, and in addition to their utilitarian functions, these highly visible surfaces are expected to be good-looking. Their color, pattern, and texture will help determine your room's look. Find the right materials to suit your needs and style, and the payback will be years of dedicated service and beauty.

Count-on-Me Countertops

The counter where you prepare meals, where the kids set their homework, and where friends prop their elbows during those long heart-to-heart talks can help influence the way your kitchen feels and looks.


Glass, granite, and other reflective ma­terials intensify natural light. Shiny surfaces such as those made from polished granite will bright­en a small, dark room. To cozy up a large kitchen, on the other hand, order a rougher material with a low-luster honed finish.

Another idea, especially helpful if you're watching costs, is to mix materials: Choose a less-expensive alternative for the count­ertops, and insert a slab of marble for rolling pie dough. In any case, before you make a decision, consider the following:

  • Natural stone, such as marble, granite, and slate, is the most expensive and luxurious. Its age-old appeal suits traditional rooms or high-end contemporary settings. A rose-colored marble top, for instance, would lend a note of sophistication to a traditional cherry bar. Sultry, gray granite would complement impeccably designed maple cabinetry in a modern kitchen. Contrasting colors -- dark wood with light stone -- bring attention to each.
  • Wood is a handsome staple in country and traditional kitchens. But because the material is susceptible to warping and cracking if exposed to water, countertops are typically made of butcher block, which consists of many small wood pieces glued together. Since wood is porous, it should be regularly cleaned with an antibacterial cleaner. A polyurethane finish will increase the wood's sheen and life.
  • Ceramic tile has long been a favorite due to its versatility and affordability. Liable to chip or crack if someone drops a weighty dish, however, tile is more likely to be used as a secondary work surface. For example, tile would be a good choice for a breakfast counter. Tiles in many colors and patterns afford endless opportunities for being creative and staying on budget.
  • Solid surfacing is extremely long-wearing, nonporous (won't trap germs), and easy to repair. Best of all, solid surfacing allows for an integral sink that blends seamlessly with the countertop, a great boon for a busy family where daily upkeep is a chore. Colors vary from snowy white to rich caramel and copper-colored faux-stone to give a contemporary or eclectic room a jolt of elegance -- minus the cost.
  • Laminate, the most popular choice for kitchen and bath countertops, is available in hundreds of easy-to-clean waterproof colors and patterns. The one drawback is that, since the color doesn't go all the way through, nicks and cuts will eventually show.
  • Concrete allows you to stain or texturize your countertop to coordinate with cabinets and flooring. A good buddy for stainless steel, cement holds its own in a contemporary setting.
  • Other options include shiny, hygienic stainless steel -- ideal for dedicated cooks who covet a restaurant ambience -- and glass. A quarter-inch-thick glass counter is dramatic and easy-care.
This modern kitchen incorporates a stainless steel backsplash to compliment the granite countertop.

Beneficial BacksplashesBe an artist. A few hand-painted ceramic tiles (your favorite herbs, fish, flowers?) scattered on a sea of manufactured tiles set a theme for an entire room. Diamond-shaped tiles are fun as accents. And tiles that resemble quarried stone and terra-cotta are dynamite in a rustic kitchen or a Craftsman-style kitchen.

Use ceramic tile to create a focal point: tile behind the range as well as along the rim of the range hood. Combine matte and glossy tiles for added personality. Want something graphic? Dark grout will give pale tiles an interesting gridlike appearance.

The mosaic backsplash adds texture and interest to the bar.

Bathing BeautiesOrganic materials are ideal for a soothing, at-home spa. Honed sandstone, travertine, and limestone provide texture and depth in neutral tones for countertops and floors. More glamorous granite and marble can deliver a Roman bath persona particularly if the tub and floor wear the same material.

A furniture-style vanity could become a European washbasin with a dove-colored marble top and backsplash. To transform your walk-in shower into a romantic grotto, consider dark-colored ceramic tiles or, to foster a sense of luxury and to keep you within budget, ceramic tiles resembling tumbled marble and quarried stone. Glass blocks -- as a window or shower wall -- usher in light but maintain privacy.Along with countertops and backsplashes, cabinets are a key design feature in a kitchen or bathroom -- hiding your dishes or cosmetics or displaying your crystal or towels. On the next page, learn how to select cabinets that match your overall design scheme.

To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:

  • Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
  • Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
  • Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
  • How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
  • Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.