Handsome cabinets, snazzy appliances and a well-equipped island may make you beam with pride as a homeowner. But the kitchen area that's most likely to catch the eye and impress visitors is actually that small stretch of wall hovering above the sink — better known as the backsplash. To skimp on this important design element and vertical plane of practicality is to miss out on an opportunity to make a grand statement in your home's most important room, experts believe.

"The backsplash is a focal point in most kitchens and an integral key to its overall aesthetic," Alissa Bennett, design manager for Kolter Homes in Florida, said. "It's a prime location to incorporate something unique and fun with color and patterns, and the options are endless."

From a more pragmatic point of view, the backsplash serves as an "easily washable surface that protects kitchen walls from getting dirty or stained," said David Yowell of David Yowell Construction in McKinney, Texas. "It not only complements your countertops and adds color, depth and beauty to the room, but it makes your kitchen look cleaner."

A Houzz kitchen trends study published this year found that nine in 10 kitchen renovating homeowners surveyed upgraded their backsplash. Respondents revealed that the most popular backsplash colors in 2017 were white (chosen by 36 percent), multicolored (19 percent) and gray (13 percent). In fact, white backsplashes are nearly twice as likely to appear in the renovated kitchens of millennials than in those of baby boomers.

While many homeowners choose ceramic, porcelain or glass tile for their backsplash, stone is also popular — with marble, travertine, granite and quartz among the most preferred stone choices.

Houzz editor Mitchell Parker has observed two prominent backsplash trends so far in 2018.

"First, we're seeing people installing scalloped or fish-scale pattern tile as an alternative to the simple subway tile look," Parker said. "This look offers more movement and a bit more interest than rectangular tile but is still versatile enough to work with almost any kitchen style."

Secondly, he's noticing that homeowners prefer the versatile patterns and appearance of wallpaper — minus the paper.

"There's a new tile that looks like wallpaper that we're seeing people put in their kitchens. It's prized for offering an elaborate pattern look of modern-day wallpapers while being durable enough to wipe down with a sponge and detergent," he said.

Bennett, meanwhile, points to a different trendy transition.

"Many homeowners are moving from natural stone to a brightly colored mosaic look. But that's not to say that natural stone or granite are going out of style," Yowell said.

Leslie Bowman, owner of a Chicago-based interior design firm, has created her share of full-height marble backsplashes lately — either book-matched or laid-straight marble.

"Also, we're working with a new product that's a large-format thin porcelain tile that homeowners love because it's much thinner than typical marble or granite yet offers movement that's beautiful and realistic," said Bowman, adding that cement tiles are also trending.

Among Bennett's customers, elongated shapes in glass, marble and stone are hot "Additionally, we're seeing a significant desire for texture and pattern to contrast the simplicity of quartz and marble coun-tertop surfaces," Bennett said. "From monochromatic stone hexagons and ovals to herringbone installation and arabesque shapes, consumers today are drawn to texture in their backsplashes."

If you want to maintain a timeless and classic look that won't date so quickly, yet still infuse modernity and excitement into your backsplash design, Bowman has several recommendations.

"Choose a unique grout color, such as white tile with gray grout. Or, mix up the pattern — do a chevron, or lay the tile vertically instead of horizontally," Bowman said. "Avoid picking anything too trendy, as you will likely live with your backsplash for up to 10 years or more and should love it."

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