Let me start with full disclosure: I love back-splash and I have strong opinions concerning what works and what doesn’t.
First let’s talk functionality. All the steam, heat and grease around a cook-top are not very friendly towards wallpaper or wall paint. It just makes sense to install something that withstands the humidity and is easy to clean. When considering materials, remember the more porous the tile, the more difficult it is to clean. This is one reason why solid glass back-splash has become so popular. It also looks amazing!
Now for design. In my mind, the most important determining factor for the color and style of your back-splash is your counter-top. For example, if you have any granite surface, other than solid black, I would never suggest a patterned tile. The vein texture and color variation in the granite is interesting enough on its own and will fight any pattern in the back-splash. Different fabric patterns, think paisley and stripes, can work well together as long as the colors blend…not so with tile and counter-top. In most cases, I suggest steering away from patterned tile full stop. It is trendy and can easily date your kitchen. But if it is something your creative juices are insisting on, be sure to pair it with a solid color counter-top.
Probably my favorite option is glazed subway tile. Timeless, easy to clean, classic…it works with just about any style, design and counter-top.
For a more recent trend, consider metallic options. Go ahead and have fun with different shades and finishes from brushed stainless and oil-rubbed bronze, to antique brass and stamped tin.
Back-splash plays an important functional role in your kitchen but also adds a great deal to the aesthetic and design. I just love a warm tiled niche behind the cooking area.