It happens all the time. Designers spend hours, weeks, and sometimes months creating a beautiful kitchen for a client. And, then, there comes a time where you have to address the backsplash outlet covers. Nobody likes it when an outlet cover breaks up an otherwise cohesive design. More and more, kitchens are being opened up to living spaces and everything from cabinetry to countertop appliances have kept pace with the demand for beautiful kitchen components. That is…except for the lowly electrical outlet.
Electrical outlets have looked pretty much the same for decades and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. While, clearly, there are more products hitting the market everyday that are designed to be cordless, typically the kitchen workhorse countertop appliances such as mixers, blenders, espresso machines and toaster still need corded power.
In nearly all but the smallest of kitchens, there are many opportunities to hide countertop appliances by locating them inside tall cabinets or appliance garages. However, electrical code requires that outlets cannot be installed face-up in kitchen countertops and that outlets must be placed no farther than 48 inches from each other on any wall with a base cabinet run of 12 inches or more. The logic behind this code is that, ideally, no countertop appliance should be more than 24 inches from an outlet. While this makes some sense, given that countertop appliance cords are typically no longer than 24 inches, the code requirement does produce some aesthetic challenges to an otherwise cohesive design.
So imagine you’ve just chosen the most beautiful slab of marble or some other design feature for the kitchen backsplash because you wanted the uninterrupted look of natural stone and its inherent pattern or a mural even…it is likely that you will need to create cutouts to house code-compliant electrical outlets so that your building permit inspector will pass your inspection and certify the kitchen for actual use.
The Illusion of Professional Architectural Photography
I can hear you protest already, “But my inspiration images I clipped from Pinterest and magazines don’t have outlets in their marble slab backsplashes!!”
While that is true, unfortunately, it is not because there is a hidden alternative. It is because, well, Photoshop.
Designer Emily Henderson has a great post where she reveals at the very end of the post that she does routinely photoshop out the outlets for promotional images. If professional architectural photographers cannot creatively hide the outlets with displayed cutting boards, a cleverly placed cookbook or decorative bottles of olive oils, Photoshop is a common tool to remove unsightly covers.
So how do you hide outlet covers in the kitchen backsplash?
Location Location Location
There are three possible locations for outlet installation that are generally permissible by code (always double check your local code requirements with your contractor) and each one comes with its inherent pros and cons.
On the backsplash wall
Underneath (on the bottom of) the upper cabinets
Under the countertops
1. On the Backsplash Wall
Most existing kitchen outlets are located on the wall and, in these cases, if you are not planning a remodel, the key is to try to minimize the presence of the outlet covers. There are many ways to reduce the visible impact of outlet covers.
Install Colored, Paintable, or Backpainted-Glass Outlet Covers
This is often the least expensive way to address the backsplash covers since these solutions can be purchased and installed by a homeowner with the use of a screwdriver.
Most big box hardware stores stock white, almond and black outlet covers. However, lighting manufacturers such a Lutron and Legrand offer outlet covers in a variety of colors and sheens. Interior designers usually have access to samples of the cover colors and sheens and can help you color match your backsplash tile or stone as closely as possible so that it minimizes the visual disruption.
Some hardware stores will offer a paintable plastic outlet cover. In this case, you can take a sample of the backsplash tile or stone to the hardware store and have it color-matched to create a custom paint, which you will then paint onto the surface of the paintable cover. While this method is typically the easiest and least expensive option, one of the cons of this method is that the cover can become coated with airborne cooking oils and require careful and more frequent cleaning, and routine repainting. Because of this, we recommend using a high-performance paint (my favorite is Benjamin Moore Aura) that will stand up to frequent washing. Also, choose a high gloss sheen so that oils on the surface will wipe off faster and easier than matte. Keep in mind that the reflection of a high-glass sheen paint will stand out more than a matte sheen against a matte background. So, if you have a matte backsplash, you’ll want to consider for yourself whether you want to prioritize maximum washability (high gloss sheens) or maximum hideability (matte cover on matte backsplash).
If you have a glass tile backsplash or a back painted glass backsplash, using a glass outlet cover will create the least amount of visual disruption because you can color match the tile or glass and the high gloss sheen can come very close to a precise match. This method is similar to the paintable cover mentioned above except that you will actually paint the backside of the glass cover and install it with the unpainted side facing out. This leaves a smooth glass finish and makes cleaning and maintenance easy because you can use a variety of surface cleaners and glass cleaners to remove oils without marring the finish at all. These are more expensive than the plastic paintable covers and can be purchased online or in specialty kitchen stores. Be sure to read the paint instructions in order to select a paint which is designed to adhere smoothly to glass without streaks.
One of the best benefits to using this kind of cover is that, if your are patient and have some DIY skills, you can actually paint convincingly realistic grout lines on the back of the cover so that the cover blends into the pattern created by grout lines. Kristin Jackson of Hunted Interiors has a great tutorial on how she handled painting the wall plate to match tile. Arnev is one company that makes these covers and you can see their customer gallery here for inspiration.
Keep in mind that if you really want the outlet to disappear, you will have to address the color of the outlet itself. In other words, if your backsplash and outlet covers are black, and your outlet itself is white, you should consider switching out the outlet for a black version to achieve a seamless look.
The Legrand Adorne PopUp Outlet
Legrand is a french switch and outlet company that is gaining market share in the US. They cater to architects, designers, and the luxury home market, but their outlets products are very affordable. For about $50-70 (depending on color options and retailer), you can purchase the Legrand Adorne PopUp outlet.
Video by Legrand
These outlets pop up with a light touch so that the user can access the outlet. When not in use, all you see is a flat cover and, if you are able to closely match the color of the cover and outlet to the backsplash, the outlet can nearly disappear altogether.
The Adorne outlet itself comes in only white, magnesium (black) or graphite (dark grey) but the surrounding cover plate comes in a variety of colors, more than 50, including metallic and stone textures as well to coordinate with your backsplash.
In addition to the cover plate options offered by Legrand, they offer a cover cover plate option that you can paint or add wallpaper to. Retailing for about $25, the Legrand Adorne cover is fancier than the plastic paintable covers mentioned above that you would find at your local hardware store, but it looks fantastic.
Video by Legrand
You can also insert printed photos or customize the image in the cover plate in any way you want. If you are really meticulous, you can take a photo of your natural stone slab backsplash or mosaic tile, then scale it using image editing software until your image perfectly lines up with the grout pattern or marbling pattern of the stone, print it and insert that into the cover.
If You Are Remodeling And Want to Keep the Outlets on the Backsplash Wall…
If you have a strong horizontal tile pattern or the veining in your stone slab backsplash is particularly horizontal-leaning, you can orient your outlets horizontally, rather than vertically to take advantage of the horizontal movement to reduce the visual presence of the outlets. Some designers, homeowners and electricians have intense feelings about this for some reason. I say, go for it! Installing the outlets horizontally also makes them easier to hide behind taller bottles of olive oil or salt and pepper grinders.
Garrison Hullinger solved this issue in the kitchen by using a tiled-in outlet cover in the subway tile backsplash for his remodel of a 1971 Robert Rummer midcentury modern home in Beaverton / Portland, Oregon. This method will require more up front coordination with your contractor or electrician because there will be some extra planning involved to pull this off seamlessly. Personally, I love this look, but I do know that outlets fail sometimes.
Photo by Interior Alchemy
The homeowner would need to be comfortable with the risk that, if the outlet should need to be replaced, there would be some added expense and labor to remove and replace the tile.
2. Underneath the Upper Cabinets
According to electrical code, outlets should not be positioned higher than 20 inches above countertops, with certain exceptions for physically disabled persons and for islands or peninsulas where this height rule cannot be met. Typically, your upper cabinets are installed anywhere from 15″-20″ above your cabinet, depending on when they were installed (trending now is installing them higher at 18-20″ to accommodate taller countertop appliance designs). If you are remodeling and you choose to mount your outlets under upper cabinets, be sure to consider the height at which you choose to mount your cabinets in making that decision. Today, with open shelving trends and high horizontal door cabinets, it is easy to mount your upper cabinets too high to be in code compliance with an under cabinet outlet mount. But this is a great option as long as you have upper cabinets.
As under cabinet lighting is becoming more standard in every kitchen design, many manufactures offer under cabinet systems which include outlets, charging docks, tablet displays, speakers and more. Legrand’s Adorne under-cabinet lighting system is one of many that I like due to all the different component and options you can add on and customize to suit your lifestyle.
Video by Legrand
However, most of these types of systems (also called plugmold or wiremold) can be seen peaking out from under the upper cabinets to varying degrees (the installation height of the upper cabinet also affects the visibility of under cabinet components) and so you have 2 options: (1) leave the system slightly peaking out from the bottom of the upper cabinets (as shown below) and learn to love it, or (2) hide it by installing decorative light rails on your the bottom of your cabinets. You will need to decide which option you are choosing before ordering the cabinets. Keep in mind that adding a decorative rail to the bottom of modern cabinets is not frequently done. Sleek, modern cabinets tend to look better with less ornamentation. So it is recommended to choose a low-profile under-cabinet plugmold system for use under modern cabinetry.
Lastly, if you have plenty of upper cabinet storage to spare, you might consider mounting an outlet on the bottom of an upper cabinet, but recessing the box and outlet housing inside the upper cabinet. This solution will take up a significant amount of space inside your cabinet as the electrician will need to install a box around it to make your it conforms to code but, if done well, you should not see much of the outlet cover at all underneath the upper cabinet.
3. Under the Countertops
Lastly, we cover outlets mounted into countertops. These go by several names – Pop Up Outlet Tower, Pop Up Socket Towers, and Power Sockets to name a few. Essentially, these are outlets that are installed in a tower and concealed in housing below the countertop until you are ready to use them. Then you either press on the top to raise the outlets above the countertop for use or some are evened powered by a button which engages a motor that lifts the outlets up for access.
This is another newer technology that you will want to discuss with your kitchen designer and contractor early in the remodel process. Because of the space these take up under the countertop, cabinets will likely need to be modified in order to leave enough space for the tower. Some of these can descend 10″ below the surface of the counter which will interfere with any standard cabinet drawers located below them. Additionally, you will need to verify that your local codes will allow these to be installed. There are a number of options offered that you can buy from Asia. These likely will not be approved for installation by your local code enforcement agency. Always consult with your electrician before buying this product.
Installing these does allow your backsplash to remain the uninterrupted focal point it was designed to be, even though they are visible in the countertop.
When not in use, all you will see is the flat cover on the surface of the countertop. Mostly, the color and finish options are white plastic, black plastic, and brushed silver. So, consider the color options available and how they will look installed inside the countertop of your choice. From a design perspective, these would look best and be less intrusive when installed in a black, white or grey countertop.
Contact us today to discuss how we can improve your kitchen.
Before you install or modify any type of outlet in your kitchen, be sure to consult with your local building codes and a professional electrician to be sure you do everything legally and safely.
Check back on our Design Blog page – coming soon, we discuss the placement of outlets in kitchen islands.