Wallpaper the backsplash? Deb wants our help with her Retro Design Dilemma

vintage-kitchenDesignDilemmaReader Deb and her husband are in the final stages of their DIY vintage style kitchen remodel. It’s coming together just beautifully — but now, they are stuck on a final design decision: Shoudld they add adorable 1940s style Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper to the backsplash? Or will it be too much? They want to hear from the ever-helpful tribe of Retro Renovation readers. To wallpaper or not to wallpaper, that is the question. Read on to hear Deb’s story and to weigh in. Pam and I will hold back and post our photoshopped ideas at noon.


Deb writes:

Hi Pam,

We’re in the final stages of our kitchen redo (having done all the work ourselves except for the sheetrocking) and we can’t agree on whether to use this wallpaper from Bradbury as our backsplash or not.

apple betty wallpaper bradbury

“Apple Betty” by Bradbury & Bradbury

I love it but my husband thinks it is too busy and takes away from the nickel outlet covers (which he has some strange attachment to lol).  Behind the stove will be new/old fan with a sunburst stainless steel panel. Is this all too much? The wallpaper would be vinyl coated for protection and used only under the cabinets.

Also, I want to let you know that your explanation and pics of doing the metal edging on your counter tops helped immensely when it came time to do ours.

The floor is Armstrong Linoleum Tidal Wave and the counter top is Forbo Bleeker Street Lino.


Kitchen before with original Youngstown “Diana” sink unit.

The original kitchen had the washer and dryer under the counter and a “Diana” Youngstown sink unit. It was too far gone to save but I did manage to pry off the the Diana emblem and will be putting it on my new sink cabinet. I know I said that we did it all by ourselves but that isn’t entirely true. We had the floor installed and we bought the RTA cabinets from Barker Cabinets in Oregon. Barker also has slab front cabinets and they are a joy to do business with. Shipping took seven days from Oregon to upstate New York.

The walls are a very light blue. We have a Big Chill fridge in Buttercup yellow (ebay) that hasn’t been put in yet. The woman I bought it from in New Jersey, had won it in a raffle and could not fit it in her kitchen.

red-laminate-counter-topsIf anyone wants to know the particulars of putting in linoleum counter tops and stainless steel edging, my husband is willing to share what he did. It’s taken 1 year and 3 months of no vacations, working every single weekend and a lot of evenings to get to this point. And best of all my DH and I are still talking to each other.

sunburst stainless steel backsplash

Stainless steel sunburst panel

Pam asks: What are you doing over the stove?

A Nutone exhaust fan (new old stock) and a stainless steel panel with a sunburst design.

So readers — now we need your thoughtful opinions — what should Deb do with her kitchen back splash?

Through the magic of Photoshop, Kate made some mock-ups of Deb’s kitchen to help her visualize how it would look with the three variations wallpaper and the sunburst stainless steel backsplash:

1. Sunny Day Combo:

vintage kitchen

For the first mock-up, we put the stainless steel sunburst backsplash over the stove and Bradbury & Bradbury Apple Betty wallpaper between the cabinets and counter top. This looks pretty nice… but we feel like the drama of the stainless steel backsplash might be overwhelming the rest of the kitchen design, which is so lovely. Hmmmm….

2. All wallpaper:

vintage kitchenFor the second mock-up, we extended the wallpaper all the way behind the stove and up to the ceiling. Deb wasn’t planning on having the wallpaper extend this far up, but if the stainless steel backsplash is not used, it would be a more finished look to have the wallpaper extend all the way to the ceiling, instead of being cut off at under cabinet height. We’re kind of digging the vintage charm starting to come together once this wallpaper is added…

3. Add a shelf to the combo:

vintage kitchenDeb could also add a shelf for knick knacks — made using the same red linoleum and metal edging from the countertops — an idea that is similar to the shelf in Pam’s kitchen:

shelf in pams kitchen

Note the shelf in Pam’s kitchen, above the stove. It is  about 6″ deep, edged with stainless steel like the countertops (but a different size of SS.) I never did anything but paint my backsplash. Some day soon I think I will tile it; I have been mulling the issue… for years. As you can see, I adore wallpaper in a vintage style kitchen. ADORE.  – Pam

4. Shelf plus stainless steel backsplash

vintage kitchenIf Deb’s husband still isn’t sold on the wallpaper, this option is for him. Combining the sunburst stainless steel backsplash with the shelf provides a more toned down look, while still allowing space for Deb to display vintage knick-knacks. Maybe paint the backsplash the same yellow as the refrigerator coming in… or tone the yellow paint down a bit… or, a shade similar to that of the floor might work, too.

Pam and I both agree on this one — the Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper that Deb chose is just perfect for the space. The pattern picks up the red from the counter tops, the blue from the floor and the buttery yellow from her Big Chill refrigerator. The space above the stove and fan is just calling out for a shelf to fill it — one that Deb could use to display some cute vintage knick-knacks. If it were our kitchen, Kate and I both are loving mood board number three.


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  1. Deb Cerrone says

    Thank you everyone for your ideas and thoughts on our kitchen! You’ve given me a lot to think about! Our kitchen is not yet done (no molding on windows or cabinets, not all of our pulls are on yet and no curtains yet either) so maybe that’s why some feel it’s too sterile. The walls are a light blue and I am tying the fridge in with yellow accent pieces. I agree that we’ve got 2 competing themes going between the sunburst panel and the cute wallpaper. To answer a couple questions asked, I would be spraying on a protective coating to the wallpaper and the lights are two antique schoolhouse fixtures. I’d post a pic of them but don’t know how to on here. We pulled the stove home in a snowstorm 10 years ago and it’s been in constant use since then,only needing a new thermostat. Again thank you everybody!

  2. says

    The wall paper is great. I know something like that is a leap of faith but once you do it, you’ll love it. Definitely add the shelf to break it up near the upper part of the wall :)

  3. Steven Keylon says

    In a perfect world, I would have the new refrigerator painted white. I love the wallpaper. I’m conflicted about the shelf, but if you do use a shelf, I would prefer it to be as unobtrusive as possible, and make it the same white painted wood as the cabinetry. I think you’ve done a fantastic job with all of this so far, so congratulations!

    Are you going to put any hardware on the cabinets? We used chrome with red painted accents, it looks great…

  4. Shannon says

    Oooh, the sunburst panel is different than I envisioned. It is beautiful, but defintely competes with the wallpaper. My personal favorite is the wallpaper with the shelf above the stove, but I also think the panel would be lovely with a painted backsplash. I think I’d pick one or the other since they’re both so bold.

  5. oh Holland says

    Wallpaper all the way, Baby! With or without the shelf.

    But not that horrendous stainless shield ….

  6. Sally Sue says

    The wallpaper’s a good match, colorwise, but it’s going in a homey direction versus the gleaming streamline nearly-deco direction that the kitchen is going in otherwise. Remember too that all kitchen counters end up cluttered in real life. That means 1) the wallpaper will be barely visible, 2) the wallpaper will add to the cluttered vision, and 3) the outlet plates will be obscured (sorry, Hubby!).

    I do vote for something water (over the sink) & GREASE impermeable as backsplash, even if it is just glossy white paint which can be wiped and retouched.

    I am thinking outside the photo. Surely there is another wall or two to this kitchen space. If there is an eat-in area, breakfast nook, small lead-in wall, etc., that would be the perfect place for that fab wallpaper! It would get more noticed, be less in conflict with the shiny steel, and still tie all the colors together yet in a much grander scale.

    If there is no wallspace, what about using it as a breakfast table surface cover (wallpaper it right on?) and covering it with a piece of glass? Like having an easy-care, always-matching tablecloth.

    Also, the shelf over the stove is a nice visual effect, and would serve to help direct the exhaust to the wall-mounted fan below (rather than straight up to the ceiling). Keep in mind that anything you put on that shelf will be warming up every time you cook, so no spices, nothing meltable, etc. Plus these items will probably get their own sheen of grease (and dust) over time, so maybe not cookbooks, etc.

  7. Julie says

    I am voting no on the wallpaper, because it is my experience that stuff accidentally gets on the walls especially while I am preparing the holiday feasts. I don’t mean just on the wall behind the stove. It is much easier to get stuff off a painted surface. I love the way the project looks so far.

  8. Nancy EC says

    The kitchen is very stark without color on the walls. If you think wallpaper is too busy, would it be possible to paint the walls a pale yellow (as someone else mentioned) with the wall paper on an accent wall elsewhere in the kitchen? Plexiglass will keep the area behind the stove clean, but it isn’t a very ‘retro’ option. The stainless overwhelms the great stove and the whole feel. There is just a bit too much of it. A yellow tile to match the walls and fridge with a red trim strip, or the shelf, would tie in the counters or go ahead and do the wallpaper except put tile behind the stove. Great job though! The kitchen looks fabulous.

  9. lisa says

    I love the sunburst steel behind the stove with the wallpaper on the backsplash. Would not do the knicknack shelf with this option because it takes away from the beautiful starburst and stove combo. This option also shows off the outlet covers nicely :)

    With this I suggest creamy white curtains with just a bit of yellow trim to tie in the fridge. The whole kitchen looks just lovely, and really any of the choices would probably turn out fine — but with no vent hood over the stove I’d want something easier to clean than wallpaper. Behind the stove is the only place in my kitchen that really gets dirty enough to worry about, and I am kind of a slob, so I think you are safe will wallpaper on all the non-stove backsplash area.

  10. Maribeth says

    Very well done! I’m sure you are happy you’ve come so far, but ready for completion. I like the idea of using the sunburst stainless steel along with a shelf above the stove and maybe putting the wallpaper above the shelf. I also fear that the paper will not pick up the buttercup yellow fridge.

    On a side note, I love the Tappan stove! I actually currently have that exact one for sale that I purchased from the original owner and had completely reconditioned. It’s a beast!

    Good luck and I can’t wait to see the final decisions!

  11. says

    Hmmm, now that I see all the mood boards I am liking #3 as well. I think the metal panel is very strong. Maybe too strong.The cream/white contrast isn’t as bad as I imagined. But, I have an idea. It appears that the wall slopes up to the ceiling (or maybe that is the ceiling) behind the stove. What about painting that sloped part yellow to bring in the fridge color and help frame the wallpaper in. It could be painted blue, too, but it seems as though there is a concern about making the yellow fridge work in the space.

  12. Allen says

    I honestly don’t think we can judge the sunburst panel for over stove fairly with the photographs that were provided. I think in real time its probably not as shiny and overbearing as the photographs suggest.

  13. Nancy EC says

    Forgot to mention earlier that stainless can be tough to clean. Depending on the residue, it can stain. In my experience, it needs constant upkeep.

  14. says

    If you’ve got the cajones for it, make a real statement and just go all paper! I think it would look amazing! Busy? Yes. But UH-MAY-ZING! Do it!

  15. Laurie says

    I checked your Forbo link because I admired the richness of those countertops; is that Forbo flooring? In squares? I had never heard of using it on countertops, if that’s what it is. And your opinion on the RTA cabinet assembly process? always nervous about such projects. Love the vibe of that kitchen!

    • pam kueber says

      Laurie, we have had numerous readers who have used Forbo on counter tops. Note, though, I don’t think it’s actually specified for this use — check the manufacturer’s information.

    • Deb Cerrone says

      Thank you for the compliment . The counter is Forbo sheet lino glued onto a 1.5″ substrate. I was hesitant to use lino as a counter but after doing a bunch of stain tests I decided to go for it. I keep knives and anything hot away from them and wipe up spills as soon as I see them. What makes it easier for me is that my kids are out of the house for the most part.
      My husband says that one should have some minor woodworking/assembly skills to put the RTA cabinets together (I agree) .Barker Cabinets are of very good quality and very responsive to any questions/concerns.(They even answer emails on a Sunday!) and they have video tutorials on assembly which were very helpful.

  16. pam kueber says

    Deb, here is another thought: Once you get the yellow fridge in…. and if you’re still liking the idea of wallpaper, there are two other designs in the same Bradbury line that also include the color yellow. These might also work beautifully to incorporate all THREE of your key colors. Link: http://bradbury.com/postwar.html

    • Deb Cerrone says

      Pam, I have and love all those wallpapers (Bradbury sends them as a group for samples). I discussed all the suggestions with DH and he’s now agreeable to putting tile behind the stove rather than the SS panel.So we’re now looking for a creamy butter tile. We’ll revisit the wallpaper idea later I think. (that means when I can wear him down lol) Thank you for all your help.

  17. oh Holland says

    Also love Pam’s alt wallpapers, in a comment above. Any of those patterns would be Charm City.

    Others have said it’s not so tough to keep a wallpaper splash clean … just keep splattery stuff on the front burners. If you’re really cooking up a storm, have a metal or plastic tray or panel to temporarily lean against the wall above the range.

  18. Joshua Burton says

    I think that the wallpaper is a great addition to the kitchen and by no means would make it to busy. I like the idea that several have had of tile behind the stove. Otherwise I would go with plexi behind the stove over the wallpaper. I think the sunburst piece of metal is a little much. The shelf is also a great addition above the stove.

  19. Jen8 says

    Yes! For the wallpaper as back splash — but any kitchen walls just paint.
    NO! On that stainless panel. NO NO NO.

    That red counter is what my 40’s house had originally. And sadly my ceiling mounted vent just died. It was awesome when it worked. : (

  20. tammyCA says

    I love that wallpaper and the red shelf photo #3…it seems to warm it up & give it personality & ties the blue floor, red counter and yellow frig together. Great looking kitchen!

  21. Joe Felice says

    I say diamond quilt stainless along the wall where the stove is, including above the stove, then Bradbury wallpaper on all other walls. It is NOT too busy for MCM!

  22. says

    Love your kitchen and love the information this debate has sparked.

    I know I am biased as I make ceramic tile, but ceramic and glass tile really is a great third option that might help with a compromise. Based on the style of your kitchen you might want to check out glass tiles from Oscar and Izzy. I met them at a trade show a couple of years ago and they have really fun styles that you might like even better than the wallpaper.

  23. Jennifer Czwodzinski says

    I love, love, love, the wallpaper. Your awesome vintage collectables really show up against the paper and your countertop and stove look great. I hope you go for the paper and share lots of photos afterward.

  24. Mike S says

    If a wallpapered look is what you seek, go with hand-painted tiles. They can be found already made, or one could have a local pottery shop make them. I’ve seen it done on HGTV, and the effect is exactly like wallpaper.

  25. Pat says

    I wish I could afford that wallpaper, I love it! But, I wouldn’t put it behind a gas stove, you would have a hard time keeping it clean. I guess you could coat it to protect it, but as expensive as that is, I’d go for something washable.

  26. Toni says

    Maybe it was location specific but tile was not the usual backsplash here in Iowa in that time period. Linoleum walls, either the stuff I can’t think of the name, or the same linoleum as was on the counter. My house had the same formica as was on the counters. The tile look wall board was 2/3 of the way up the wall with pink background wallpaper up the walls and on the ceiling. The wallpaper had worm tracks of white, gray, and black all over it. In the house where I grew up, the fake tile wall board was also 2/3 of the way up the wall with wall paper on the top and border separating them. That wallpaper and border were in the same family to what you are looking at.

  27. Michelle says

    I love the wallpaper…it really makes the oven and the countertops pop and brings the kitchen to life! I would go old school and nix the plexiglass. I’m not at all a fan of the stainless fan…it reminds me of an auto repair shop. The shelf? Your choice, I can go either way! :-) Love it, so cool!

  28. Kristy says

    Love love the tappan stove! Glad to hear it is holding up for you, I have one in storage for some day!

  29. Nina says

    I think the wallpaper as the stainless is a bit overpowering for such a small space. Rather than a shelf, since I notice the stove is a gas stove, a range hood is a handy thing to have.
    I grew up with red kitchen countertops very much like yours. Nice.

  30. Martha says

    Just found you today, having purchased YANKEE magazine! How nostalgic for one who lived the 40s. Cant believe the young ones liking this. Love the stainless canisters,, but they came later. White enamel with red trim was big in the 40s, though they may have started earlier. Some are still found at thrift and second hand stores. Now what about the mid 50s trend of Early American furniture made of hard maple? It still is sturdy after being used consistently ever since. Won’t wear out! I hope to see the final result of your kitchen.

  31. Toni says

    Old House Journal magazine December 2013 came today! Page 70 has that wallpaper and it’s big just like Deb’s photo shows. The kitchen is to die for! But mine’s done so no point in drooling over it. This is one issue I will be keeping though.

  32. Lory says

    I am interested in how your husband made the counter tops. Did he explain it and I missed it? If not, please ask him to. Thank you so much!

  33. Kathy says

    There are some examples on Houzz that features colorful fabrics, artwork and wallpaper in a backsplash, protected by a sheet of glass. If they have finished their remodel, with yellow tile or with wallpaper or the sunburst, I’d love to see the result!

  34. Jan Hare says

    I love the wallpaper. As long as you can put something protective on it, I think you should do it. I think everything you’ve done so far is wonderful and the wallpaper makes it just that much more special.

    I like the aluminum starburst but see that more in an aqua 50s kitchen. The shelf on the wallpaper is up to you; I’m 50-50 on it. I think whatever accessories you use on your counters will be enough; glomming it up with knick knacs on a shelf would be too much UNLESS you want to put your lovely dutch shakers on a shelf over the stove and maybe a match holder, which would fit right in. I realize I’m writing this so late that it’s probably already done and I’d love to see the finished product!! Great work!

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