Design Driven Column: Breaking the backsplash mould.

A version of this column ran in the Telegraph Journal’s Art Section’Salon’ – my design column, ‘Design Driven’ – Saturday, November 10th 2012.


Along with a range of obvious advantages, open concept living – so popular in modern home design – brings with it certain challenges. Principal among those challenges is the kitchen, no longer the discrete space it was in our mother’s day.

Today’s kitchens tend to be an extension of the dining area and/or living room. When we built our new home, deciding on the overall kitchen layout and the materials we’d use was relatively easy.

We knew, for example, we wanted an all white, high gloss, very clean aesthetic. Our architects (Acre Architects) worked closely with us to ensure we achieved this. As time went on, however, even given the restrained palette and scheme of elements with which we began, we edited the kitchen down by exchanging the hardware from the cabinets – obviating unnecessary competing visuals – for touch-release cupboards and drawers.

Photo: Mark Hemmings / Hemmings House Pictures – My final solution for our new backsplash; a three-part Plexiglass installation with wallpaper that may be changed at anytime.

The one area I kept procrastinating from making any final decision was our kitchen backsplash. It was one of those situations where I knew what I didn’t want, but hadn’t yet hit upon anything I did want. After struggling for several months of the planning process to come up with a novel or effective solution, I had to say to our architects, “Just leave the backsplash blank in the design.” I knew I’d come up with something eventually.

Conventional backsplashes are fairly expensive – depending on the quality of tile you choose, materials and labour can easily run you anywhere up to $4,000. But even more problematic for a girl who can hardly bring herself to spell “design” without “re” as a prefix, is that they are effectively permanent.

My backsplash had to come with the capacity to change. If I had a glass backsplash behind which I could place fabric or wallpaper – or indeed, anything that could fit behind glass – I could entirely redo said backsplash any time with a modest investment.

Photo: Judith Mackin – Here is the kitchen complete yet with the backsplash area – incomplete.

I shared my idea with our craftsman, Christoph Malinowski from CM Woodcraft (who built the kitchen as well). He said he could build it, but suggested that rather than go with tempered glass (which is heavy and expensive and may chip over time) I use Plexiglas. The Plexiglas is sectioned into three pieces and is held in place by two aluminum profiles, one at the top of the backsplash and one at the bottom. Anytime I want to lift it out to change the design, I simply use a $15 glass suction cup, graciously supplied by Malinowski, to lift it out. It takes less than three minutes.

This suction cup allows easy removal for switching out whatever we chose to place in the back of the plexiglass.

With this mechanism now in place – Mackin’s Amazing Mutable Backsplash! – I designed our very own personalized wallpaper with my trusty design collaborator, Anita Modha, from in Toronto. At the core of the design is a scan of a watercolour cow skull by artist Chris Lloyd (an illustration from my husband’s (Robert Moore) recently published book of poetry “the Golden Book of Bovinities“). The skull is surrounded by Victorian-esque frames and a geometric design inspired by the Patrick Townsend chandeliers hanging in the kitchen.

This is a close up of the water color by Chris Lloyd.

Photo: Robert Moore – Here is a picture of me cutting the wallpaper down to perfect size to slide behind the plexiglass.

In keeping with the emphasis on infinite adaptability, we didn’t apply the wallpaper to the wall. As charming and meaningful as the current backsplash is, I know, I’m going to want to change it out someday.

The costs of this backsplash(excluding the wallpaper) came to approximately $400: $50 for the aluminum profiles and $350 for the 6 mm Plexiglas. Not bad for about a hundred backsplashes between now and, um, Spring.

Photo: (cropped) Mark Hemmings.

– Judith Mackin runs an interior design company, punch inside. Her other business, Tuck Studio, is located at 40 Autumn St., Saint John:  follow on twitter:  @judithmackin and @tuckstudio or email

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