Lori paints her tile backsplash, using a vintage McCoy vase as her color inspiration

“…From dour to fun” for less than $100

kitchen backsplash-before-and-afterloriReader Lori has been slowly making changes to her 1949 mid-century ranch house since she moved in about a year ago. She was featured in a Retro Design Dilemma asking for ideas for the window treatments in her living room last January. Now, she’s back to return the favor and share her secret for adding color to a tiled kitchen back splash — no hammer or chisel required. Taking her color cues from a treasured vintage McCoy vase, Lori inexpensively changed the color of black ceramic tiles using paint — with great success.

kitchen-beforeLori writes:

Hi Pam and Kate!

I’m a long time lurker, sometimes commenter and have even been a Design Dilemma (pinch pleat curtains)!

I thought maybe your readers would be interested in a cheap DIY that I recently did in my mid-century modern house. I painted our tile back splash from black to turquoise and copper in a random retro pattern. Totally changed the vibe in our kitchen from dour to fun and made our kitchen, which is not retro, fit in with the rest of our retro house. I’m not sure what I spent since I had many of the things I needed but it was under $100.


mc coy vase

Lori took her color cues from a treasured McCoy vase

I’m planning on painting the walls. The current paint is what was there when we bought the house. Note the wood trimmed laminate counters. Even though my kitchen isn’t vintage that was one of the vintage laminate counter top edging treatments that was mentioned in one of your articles!

In the after the pendant light shades are made from glass telegraph insulators. They went with the turquoise tiles 🙂

Wow, Lori — what a difference some color makes. Bravo to you for coming up with a solution to add some retro flair to your kitchen and “Love the House You’re In!”

How to paint over kitchen back splash tile:


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  1. says

    Lori here. I went into my process in detail on my own blog but I won’t link to it without RR’s consent. In a nutshell, I used a bonding primer. This is important as regular primer just would be strong enough and if the primer doesn’t stick nothing on top of it will, either. I used 100% acrylic paint to paint the colorful square tiles. I used white grout colorant to clean up the grout lines after painting the tiles. Shellac was used to seal everything once it was dry. It’s held up perfectly through cooking and cleaning for months.

  2. Mary Elizabeth says

    Great job, Lori! I love the color combination and the way you picked up the turquoise paint on the back of the book shelf. This story is perfectly timed for the person who wrote in last week looking to brighten up her kitchen and has a non-retro tile backsplash behind her stove. I have painted tile in my old house using the method you discuss. (I have a go-to guy in a little paint store who tells me how to paint everything except the cats, who won’t sit still for it). My paint job lasted at least four years and may still be there for all I know. Thanks for the tip about the grout on your blog.

    There is so much to like about your kitchen: the long stainless steel sink top with built-in drainboard, the built-in cutting board, and the bumped-up cabinet with the cookbook shelf beneath. If I were you, I’d leave those cabinets just as they are and add some saucer-shaped chrome knobs. A retro valance in the window in turquoise and copper/rust colors to match the tile would be nice, too. But it’s beautiful as is.

    • Lori D. says

      Thank you, Mary Elizabeth! I love the drain board sink, too. It’s not a huge kitchen but it has lots of counter space and storage. I love the valance idea. I have been contemplating that for our living room curtains but a shot of color in the kitchen window blind would be nice. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the perfect barkcloth fabric! The cutting board is just an Ikea board sitting on the counter and I actually have one chrome saucer shaped drawer pull I’m trying out on one cabinet, not seen in the photos. Another idea I got from RR!

  3. Lisa Compo says

    That looks great! Isn’t it amazing what a little imagination and paint will do for a room? It looks so much brighter and more interesting. I like Mary Elizabeth’s idea about big, flat chrome knobs for the cabinets–it will pick up the shine in the sink, your mixer and add just that smidge more brightness to the area. But, as she said, it’s beautiful as is if you feel that you are finished. I’m a curtain person, so I vote yes on the colored valance for your window. 🙂

  4. Roundhouse Sarah says

    Love it! Just that little change dramatically improved your kitchen, it’s so warm and bright now! It’s such a genius idea, you’ve got my wheels turning! My MIL has been thinking of slightly renovating her kitchen and has been choosing colors based around her backsplash tile but now I can show her that by painting the tiles she can be free to do whatever she wants. Thanks a bunch!

  5. Jean B. says

    Congratulations! This looks amazing and such a creative solution. However living in Southern California, my first reaction was please put that beautiful vase where it won’t fall in an earthquake!

    • Mary Elizabeth says

      Jean, I saw on her blog that Lori lives in Connecticut, as do I, and believe it or not, we do have earthquakes. They just aren’t as severe or frequent as the ones in California. The center of them is in Moodus, CT. (“Machemoodus” means “a big noise [under the earth]” in the local language.) They are the type that send the less destructive sound waves, and you can hear them and feel them at times. I have felt them in my home and also once a year ago I felt one in the roadbed, transmitted through my car wheels. So Lori’s vase could POSSIBLY fall off the top of her cabinet. Perhaps she should consider putting the breakables up with FunTack. 🙂

  6. Anne-Marie says

    There is a lot to love and be inspired by here. The colors are fantastic and manage to be both cheery and relaxing at the same time.

    The vase is amazing!

    It looks like you painted your fridge with chalkboard paint? Very cool.

    I like the creativity in this room.

  7. Anne-Marie says

    I forgot to mention the lights!! I see those things so often and drool over the color and feel. Now I have an idea of WHAT to do with them. Love it.

  8. Maria says

    Great idea and so well done. Love the colors and the lights also. Really like the wall colors and the trim. Thanks for the inspiration. I sigh whenever I see these 1949 kitchens in such good order too. I have one and, though I work hard to keep it tidy, it is chock-a-block, including improvised pantries because there is just so little room.

    PS — Lovely McCoy vase!

    • Lori D says

      Thanks, Maria. Our house is from 1949 but our kitchen is only about 10 yrs. old. So it has all the modern niceties like slide-outs inside the lower cabinets. I’d love to have seen the original cabinets, though. We have the plans for the house and they show cabinets that go almost up to the ceiling. There was an original built in desk, too. Pity that didn’t get saved.

      @Mary Elizabeth,thats pretty wild about the earthquakes! Hmm, maybe I should move those vases.

  9. tammyCA says

    Looks terrific..love those colors together. I have a few vintage pottery pieces in aqua shades and they inspire me, too. Yep, my immediate thought was move the vase from up high, ha,ha..living in earthquake country we always think it that way. It’s a drag to have everything tacked down with “earthquake hold” and large tall furniture bolted to the walls.

  10. Shara says

    That is very nice, I love to see all these cool ideas out here. I can spend hours just looking through everything. I still do not think I have seen everything yet. Thank you for doing this blog for all us MCM lovers out there.

  11. oh Holland says

    Beautiful results from simple changes. Hope to see more of this kitchen as new wall color, valance and cab hardware come on the scene.

  12. Joe Felice says

    Now, this I really like! (Not sure, but maybe it’s because they are the same colors I used in my kitchen and dining room.) Before I redecorated, I had painted tile on my backsplash. I took two shades of brown and one shade of gray, mixed them with equal parts of water. Not thoroughly mixed, just “intertwined.” (For lack of a better word.) Then I took a rag and just wiped the paint & water mixture onto the wall. When it dried, I marked off 7″ squares, and painted those white, to mimmick grout lines. No prep-just did this right over the existing white wall. People would come in and say, “Oh, I just love your quarry-tile backsplash!” They were astounded when I told them it was painted on, and had to go over and feel it for themselves. I don’t think I’d do it that way again, though; painting the grout lines was too tedious, especially for my nervous hands. Yet and still, I did this on a lark of a Sunday morning, using paint I had in the garage. So, $0 cost.

  13. Betsy F says

    Hi All,
    I’m always so happy when I check my email and find news from Retro Renovation! Great way to start the day… thank you Pam and Kate! Lori, you did an amazing job painting your backsplash. It transforms your entire kitchen. If you do plan on painting your cabinets, or anything else in your home, I’d suggest Annie Sloan paints. You can paint ANYTHING with this paint, but I must warn you though, it’s addictive! I painted my bathroom cabinets(no priming required) in less than one hour. The paint is expensive, but worth every penny because you don’t have to use any primer!
    I love my home, which is a ranch that was built in 1955. Lori, we are practically neighbors. I’m in Woodbridge!
    Thank you again Pam and Kate for all the information you supply. I can’t wait to get started on my next project.

    • says

      Thank you, Betsy! I quite agree that getting news from Retrorenovation is a great way to start the day. I always enjoy reading the articles and stories and LOVE the house tours!

      I’m aware of Annie Sloan paint but have never used it. I will check it out, thanks for the reminder.

      You’re in Woodbridge? (Waves) We are neighbors! I’ve just moved to CT a couple years ago and find it to be a mid century heaven. Between Craigslist and thrift stores I have found so many awesome things.

    • Joe Felice says

      I have never heard of Annie Sloan, although I have heard of chalk paint. Here, all this time, I thought it was the paint on which you can write! Maybe Annie should have coined a better name. I checked out the website, and find the paint very interesting. I did note that the paint has a dull finish. Wouldn’t this make it inappropriate in certain situations, tile being one of them?

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