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DIY Terrazzo Splashback | A custom-made and budget friendly alternative to using tiles

Tiles are certainly the go-to when it comes to choosing a splashback and for very good reason. They are durable, they can withstand heat, they are easy to keep clean, well, most types are - hello encaustic beauties, why do you just have to always come unsealed? But then, tiles can also be expensive, and there is grout. The latter meaning, whatever pattern you create, will always be interrupted by horizontal and vertical lines. When it comes to cleaning, grout can be a real pain. It is also prone to discolouring when used in white especially, etc etc.

This may give the impression I’m not a fan of tiles as a whole, but to the very contrary, they are actually one of my most favourite design features to use, especially given my obsession with all things ceramic and pattern. I even strongly believe, if you would ever see me jetting off to Portugal, you may as well wave goodbye to me forever, as I’ll never return. You’d probably also find me buried under a mountain of tiles at some point, purposefully chosen as my last resting place. But, despite all that, when I was standing in front of that big blank wall in my brand new kitchen - read more about the garage conversion here -, I was feeling like being a bit more adventurous in my choice of material.

I wanted to mix things up a bit and as soon as I realised, there was nothing stopping me from going rogue with my choice of splashback material, a whole world of options suddenly presented itself. There was pegboard; very handy especially if you like to have all your kitchen bits and bobs handy. There was wood. I mean, it can literally be laid in any direction, comes in any shape or size, and can be painted any colour. There was wallpaper; yes a very unconventional option, but it can be done as colour queen Sophie Robinson proofs. There was polished concrete; simply beautiful, especially if you love a clean industrial look. There was ... so much more, so that we'll be here forever, if I’d continue listing it all.

So here we go, options upon options put in front of someone who is very decisive in her professional life, but when it comes to designing her own home, being presented with endless possibilities, equals 3 ½ years of pondering about that perfect splashback solution. But I can assure you, I do always get there in the end and here is what I decided to do in the kitchen of my London home.

The material

After much deliberation, the deciding factors for me were budget, for sure, but more importantly the possibility to create a fully customised design. I simply knew, next to the fairly neutral design of the kitchen, for my splashback, I wanted pattern, colour, and above all, creative freedom. In the end, I realised, given I had a great base already, a big blank square plastered wall, everything I wanted should be achievable by simply using paint.

So off I went researching everything there was to know about using paint as a splashback and to learn from others who used it successfully, as I appreciated just paint in itself on a plastered drywall will not be durable or safe enough, especially behind the hob or food preparation areas, where the walls get dirty the most and heat or splashing hot oil are a hazard. In terms of heat resistance there are many great solutions out there, one being toughened glass, which, when see-through, can be fixed on top of a painted design. When it comes to areas that simply need a stain resistant coating, varnish is your best friend. It can be used on top of any paint of your choosing to protect the walls from day to day marks, colour fading, stains, and even scuffing. For my project I discovered decorators varnish by Polyvine, which comes in three different finishes - dead flat, satin and gloss. Dead flat has no shine and is the closest to the most common emulsion matt finishes. Gloss is shiny, so comparable to a gloss paint look. Satin is the happy medium and was exactly what I was looking for. I wanted the splashback design to shimmer very slightly in the midst of the rest of the kitchen walls painted in matt emulsion.

Having found the perfect protective layer for my splashback, I had free rein on the type of paint and colours to use that would make up the design. The latter was a simple choice, for once, as I kept to the overall colour scheme used throughout the house: green, terracotta, yellow, and blue. I ordered tester pots of standard emulsion paint, which was more than enough for the size of my project. The particular colours I’ve chosen were: Calke Green by Farrow & Ball | Woad by Little Greene | Gold Metallic by Rusto-Oleum | Venetian Red by Zoffany | Red Earth by Farrow & Ball | Tuscan Red by Little Greene

The pattern

For years now I’ve been completely obsessed with Terrazzo, an Italian floor and wall covering. It originated in Venice in the 15th century, where marble workers used otherwise discarded and thus odd shaped pieces of marble to cover their terraces; hence ‘terrazzo’. The marble pieces were originally placed in clay, before the surface was polished to achieve a more even surface to walk on. Having visited Venice, coincidentally just before embarking on the splashback project, I came back absolutely certain this was the perfect project to integrate this lovely pattern in the house.

Terrazzo in T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS Venice
T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS
Terrazzo in Il Palazzo Experimental Venice
Il Palazzo Experimental
Terrazzo in Palazzo Ducale Venice
Palazzo Ducale

Given the sizeable area of the splashback and not feeling really comfortable painting free hand, using a stencil seemed like the best option to me. I came across this terrazzo pattern by Dizzy Duck Designs, which was just perfect. I could choose between different sizes of wall stencils and after some assistance from the Dizzy Duck Designs team, who even provided me with a mock-up of the stencil relative to my wall size, I settled on their small wall stencil, as I wanted to incorporate relatively small ‘stones’ in my design.

The process

First, I needed to create a clean and neutral backdrop for my design. I cleaned the entire wall thoroughly twice with a sugar soap solution. Once dry, I applied two coats of kitchen paint - Dulux Easy Care Kitchen in TimelessTM, which matched the rest of the walls in the room.

While the base layer was drying, I planned out where to begin stencilling. I decided to start my design in the middle of the wall where your eyes would land naturally when entering the kitchen. In my case this was just underneath the cooker hood. From here I moved out to the sides, up, and down to achieve an even distribution of the stencil pattern. This is actually very similar to how you would lay out most tiled projects. A stencil is no different to another type of tile really.

Getting very impatient to finally start putting the pattern on the wall, I fixed my first stencil into place with masking tape and started to stipple the pain on the wall with a small paint brush. However, I realised immediately that no matter how little paint I was using, the edges of the stones were not very clean and the paint bled through. So I needed to change my approach and luckily had some spare makeup sponges, which turned out to be perfect for transferring the small Terrazzo stones onto the wall. The technique was the same as with the brushes, I applied a very small amount of paint by stippling. For the paint to reach an even coverage, I layered three coats of each colour. To ensure the first layer is dry before going over it again, I applied the 6 different colours I chose for my design in the same sequence.

Given Terrazzo is a very random pattern, and considering I decided to use a stencil, the design can look very uniform. Thus, to break up the pattern, I ensured that I randomly mix up the colours of the stones on each new stencil. This was perfectly possible without having to wash the stencil before each new application. The paint was dry by the time I finished one full stencil, so the colour used previously did not mix with the new one. With regards to cleaning the stencil, it was time to do so when the edges of the design became less crisp. As progress was slow on my project, I only needed to clean my stencil when I was finished for the day.

Moving up, down, and to the sides from my starting point, I ensured to finish the areas where I could use the full-size stencil first, before moving onto the tricky areas, like around the switches, or the boiler in my case. The stencil I used was very flexible, so made this whole job much easier. However, I did need to get creative in some cases to be able to hold up my stencil where I was not able to fix it in place with tape. It is certainly also possible to cut the stencil, but as I wanted to reuse mine in potential future projects, I chose the slightly more fiddly option.

Once all the pattern was applied, dry and any imperfections touched-up, it was time to apply the decorators varnish. I used a simple paint roller to do that. To achieve a sufficient amount of stain protection, the varnish does need to be applied in multiple thin and even layers. Three seemed enough for my project, and it was a quick job, as the drying time of the product I’ve chosen was only 1 hour.

Finally, if any further protection is required, e.g. a heat resistant coating such as toughened glass, it can be applied as a finishing step over the finalised design.

The learnings

Now, there is learning to take away from every DIY project, and this was no different.

Firstly, for my next stencilling project, I am certainly going to try the pattern on a piece of paper first to get a feel for stencilling, the pattern, and the best utensils to use for the design. I am sure this will be useful to do for any new stencilling project, having experience in stencilling or not. Each pattern will be different and might require some adaptation of the tools or stencilling technique.

Secondly, I am certainly not going to underestimate the time, patience, and physical strength required to realise such an intricate design as the one I’ve chosen to do for my very first stencilling project. Overall, completing every stencil took around 40 minutes, which is a long time having to lean on the kitchen counter, crouch in an awkward position, or hold up your arms applying the paint evenly and patiently. However, the finished design is so lovely that all the pain was quickly forgotten. I would certainly do it all over again.

I am so over the moon with the finished design, which actually became my most favourite project I’ve done thus far . The splashback adds such a pop of colour to the otherwise very neutral kitchen. Additionally, deciding to use the metallic gold paint for some of the stones and decorators varnish in satin, really added to the finished look. The wall is shimmering in the changing light during the day, which gives it that bit of sparkle I was after.

So what do you think, would you give stencilling a go? If I’ve not covered anything you like to know, please don’t hesitate to ask below in the comments.

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