A Family History Backsplash

With this post I wanted to showcase a project that took TWO years in the making and a lot of mind changing and man hours to complete.  However, in the end, I could not have been more pleased with the result.  It truly captured what I had envisioned in my mind and I would think my family members, both past and present would be just as pleased as I am!   This post will detail the creation of my backsplash from start to finish, hope you enjoy!

The Journey Begins…

In the fall of 2013, we purchased 7 acres, a 1936 house and some outbuildings across the road from our current property. Shortly after purchasing the property, I was strolling through the woods when I came across a sleeve of glass.  Yes, you heard me correctly, a sleeve of glass.  There were approximately 75 glass panels about 1/4 inch thick,  3″ wide and 36 inches long.  The wooden box that held the panels had since rotted away, leaving only the panels buried in the dirt.  It was at this moment that I thought to myself:  “Hmm….I could cut those panels to make little tiles to use for my backsplash.” Buddy on the other hand, shrugged it off.

This is a picture of the pine tree I found the panels under.
This is a picture of the pine tree I found the panels under. Seriously.
Here is the hole left in the dirt after I removed them.
Here is the hole left in the dirt after I removed them.
They were quite a mess from years of being buried in the dirt.
The panels were quite a mess from years of being buried in the dirt. This mess led to quite the mess in my house!
They also weighed a lot! So, I had to carefully bring them into the house to wash them.
The panels also weighed a lot! So, I had to carefully bring them into the house to wash them.  I hand washed each one of them and then laid them out to dry.

The Creation Continues…

The next step of this involved process was to cut the tiles into a workable size.  I used a wet saw to cut the 3″X36″ panels into 3″X5″ tiles.  Throughout this beginning process, I was ultimately working towards a backsplash with a clean, white, subway tile look.  A look I would have achieved by coating the back of each clear tile with white paint.  This being said, I went to the local improvement store to see what kind of products they had for this job.  I found a few spray paint options suitable for glass, however, I was not prepared for the color choices.  I originally wanted white, but the variety of colors began to open my mind to different designs and patterns I could create through the use of different colors.  Hmmm….the possibilities were endless!!!  So, I left the hardware store with some frosted glass spray paint, white spray paint and some neutral colors to test out, however, I never got to it.  Because…

A day or two later, my dad stopped in to show me some stuff he had found in my grandmother’s attic.  He laid out beautiful 1930’s Valentine’s in front of me that my grandmother Luby had received in elementary school.   The colors were bright and vibrant and it made me think about a different avenue for my backspalsh ….again.  What if I color copied these valentines and attached them somehow to the back of some of the tiles?   I could use these unique tiles to set off the space behind the stove.  Ah….I like it.  I just needed to get the other tiles prepped and painted.  In the meantime, I told my dad to gather up whatever he had from my grandmother so I could go through it and get it ready for copying.  And so the saga continues….

The Realization…

So, at this point in my journey, I am very pleased with my new idea for the backsplash.  But, I still felt it was missing something…

The 1940’s is one of my favorite eras, so I decided to order some vintage LIFE magazines to add some additional textures and colors to the Valentine’s my dad would be giving me.  I thought the blacks, grays and creams from the magazines would offset the vibrant reds and pinks from the cards perfect behind the stove.  Done.  Awesome.  So happy.  And then….it hit me.  It hit me while I was quietly sitting at the kitchen table while my son did his homework.  Why am I attaching LIFE magazine pages to the backs of my tiles? Why am I attaching someone else’s LIFE to my tiles and not my own family’s? If I can attach magazine pages then I can attach anything!  Why not gather family documents from all four branches of the family and color copy them and attach THEM to the backs of the tiles?  And further more…why just do it behind the stove, why not do the entire backsplash????  Boom.

A path of history…

I was actually giddy.  I was so excited I was giddy.  This was it!  This crazy path has led me to where I needed to be all along – in my kitchen surrounded by family!!!  So, I was off. First to tell my appalled husband.  Then, I called all the key family players and asked for important family documents, letters, yearbooks etc. to color copy for my backsplash.  Over the next few weeks, I received love letters my grandparents wrote during the war, hand written recipes, war records, marriage certificates, birth announcements, passports, yearbooks, and much more.  I was overwhelmed.  The best part about this particular part of the process was going through all the documents and learning so much about my family and Buddy’s family.  Amazing.  Truly amazing.

After gathering the documents, I color copied each one to capture the exact tones and age of each document.  It was then time to attach the documents…but how?  Back to the improvement store again. 

Creating the actual tiles…

At the improvement store, I found a spray glue from Elmers that I thought would work perfectly.  It not only dried clear, but it was non yellowing.  Something important as I didn’t want to change the colors of any of the documents that I was adhering.  After doing my measurements, I needed around 180 tiles to complete my back splash, so I was off and gluing!  Laying out one document at a time face up on the table, I sprayed the back of a tile and then strategically placed it on the document making sure to capture the text I wanted.  This process was a tedious one and a sticky one!  I laid each tile in a shoe box to help contain over spray as I glued them, however, I still was covered in glue!!!  “Little full, lot of sap!”.  After gluing the tiles, I laid them out to dry and cure.

After all the documents were attached to their tiles, they needed cut out and trimmed, so I gave my daughter Emersyn an Exacto knife and a cutting board and gave myself the same and we were off and cutting!  Again, it was a very tedious process and took many hours, but it had to be done. We were literally creating each tile by hand.  I enjoyed watching Emersyn read the tiles and ask questions about our family.  It was a special time we spent together and I really appreciated the help.

 I coated the backs of the tiles with three coats of EXTERIOR Clear coat to protect the paper documents from the wetness of the mortar.  I wanted to ensure that each tile was protected from moisture as much as possible.  Waiting until after each individual tile was cut to seal them was also planned to ensure that the poly coated the edges of each document  as well.  Oh, and then there was more wait time as it dried….We love to wait.

Em and I sat outside and enjoyed the weather on the back porch while cutting the tiles out. She was a big help!
Em and I sat outside and enjoyed the weather on the back porch while cutting the tiles out. She was a big help!


A little Prep Work…

This next part took a little elbow grease.  Like all backsplashes, there was prep work that needed to be done.   After taking the necessary steps to prep the wall including installing wire mesh, removing outlets, covering counters etc, we were ready to start putting up the tiles!



Becoming a Mosaic Artist…?

Finally, after all this planning, it was time to start installing the tiles!  I have to admit, I was nervous.  With all the time and effort put into this project, it was overwhelming to actually put up the first tile.  However, it went so smoothly!  Buddy helped throughout the process.  In fact, we had quite the system.  I mortared and installed, he cut the tiles.  This worked very nicely and quickly actually.

To plan for the installation of the tiles, I laid the tiles face up on the island in piles of alike documents.  This helped me to lay them out for the actual wall ensuring that colors and textures were distributed evenly throughout the wall.  I did not want tiles containing the same documents to be installed next to each other.  So, that took some planning.

After all the tiles were installed with 1/8″ spacers, we went out to dinner!  That’s right.

We completed the look the next day with white mortar and white edging my dad cut out of wood.

The Finished Product

Two years in the making and it was finally done!  I could not believe it!  And, just in time for the family reunion, a perfect time to unveil a historical family wall!  I could not be more pleased! Even Buddy said he was not sure how this would turn out but that he is extremely happy with the result.

My kitchen has always been my favorite room in the house, but now the family ties and memories on the wall make it even better because they echo the laughter and memories being made every day around the kitchen table. This is, by far, my most favorite project.

PS…please feel free to ask questions as I didn’t post exact products or details.  Would be glad to help.


One thought on “A Family History Backsplash

  1. As the mother of Melyssa, I write this comment with pride. It is remarkable how she took a idea and after all the months and months of work turned it into such a remarkable and awesome back-splash. It is a great sentimental project as she gathered family documents to use for her individual pieces to complete the entire back -splash. Quite a family history for all to view and talk about ! One of a kind for sure !!

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