Design Notes Archive

Small Splashbacks

Small Splashbacks

It’s the start of a new year and often that means new projects are on the horizon, but they needn’t be grand renovations to make an impact. Sometimes a small upgrade can be just as transformative to a space. Consider the sparest of tiled splashbacks as a classic example of “a little goes a long way.” As few as three tiles can be enough, especially in rooms where you want to embrace a decorative feel in what would otherwise be a more utilitarian space. Rather than a wall lined floor-to-ceiling with tiles, there’s just a hint of them topping the washbasin whilst the rest of the room is filled with softer touches.  

Take, for example, the tiniest powder room you ever did see, in a 1910 Craftsman home designed by Heidi Caillier, left. "We wanted it to be both functional for its size, but to continue to bring the charm like the rest of the home,” she says. The starting point for that was the Bhavani wallcovering by Nicholas Herbert. To keep it safe from splatters, she topped the antique Greek washbasin with zellige tiles spanning just 48cm across the narrow back wall. Rather than defaulting to an accent color from the pattern or pulling in the tone of the wood trim, Caillier opted for a deep plum hue from Clé Tile. “I wanted something that felt moody, and did not match the colors in the textile, yet still felt cohesive,” she says. This clever amalgamation continues with the antique brass mirror and navy blue Italian sconce, which is placed unusually off center. “All the various provenances within one little space just felt perfectly imperfect here. And I love an asymmetrical moment—it keeps things fresh, and makes it feel more layered.”  

That sense of ease was also top of mind for Salvesen Graham when they transformed this bedroom alcove, centre, into a washing area in a traditional English country house. “There is no bathroom linked to the bedroom. You have to go down the hall, quite far. So we thought it would be very charming to have this basin in the room,” says Nicole Salvesen. A light touch was the key to making it blend in, rather than feeling like a cold corner of the room. “The house is filled with antiques that have been in the family for generations, so this needed to feel at one with all of those,” she says. That meant curating items like Balineum’s Series S tiles in the Felce pattern. “We wanted it to feel as if we just had them leftover from another part of the house, just part of the fabric of the building.” An antique mirror, pleated lampshade, and panelling painted in Paint & Paper Library’s Clay V no. 505, all lend further softness where a fully tiled alcove would not.

You needn’t be working on a quaint nook to justify a small splashback, however. Designer Virginia Tupker opted for two rows of handpainted Portuguese tiles, paired with a skirted pedestal sink, to create a focal point in a full bathroom, right. “It’s a small touch that really makes a big statement,” she says. To amplify that effect, Tupker continued the tiles past the edge of the washbasin and below, rather than keeping them in line with it. “I wanted to show them off a bit more,” she notes. “In the whole house, I tried to keep the bathrooms very classic, and brought in beautiful painted Portuguese tiles wherever I could.” Built in the 1830s, she aimed for an old world European feel throughout the home. Further nods in this space include fabrics from Pierre Frey and Claremont, chalky painted woodwork, and vintage soap dishes rather than a modern pump. “I often find antique dishes. One of these is Romanian pottery that I found online, and the other is French, vintage, from Vallauris,” she says. That idea of carrying a decorative thread throughout ties these spaces together and lends itself particularly well to the use of small splashbacks. It just goes to show that a toe dip into tile can be just as gratifying as a swan dive.

Photos: Haris Kenjar; Simon Upton; Isabel Parra