Data analyses based on linear methods constitute the simplest, most robust, and transparent approaches to the automatic processing of large amounts of data for building supervised or unsupervised machine learning models. Principal covariates regression (PCovR) is an underappreciated method that interpolates between principal component analysis and linear regression and can be used conveniently to reveal structure-property relations in terms of simple-to-interpret, low-dimensional maps. Here we provide a pedagogic overview of these data analysis schemes, including the use of the kernel trick to introduce an element of non-linearity while maintaining most of the convenience and the simplicity of linear approaches. We then introduce a kernelized version of PCovR and a sparsified extension, and demonstrate the performance of this approach in revealing and predicting structure-property relations in chemistry and materials science, showing a variety of examples including elemental carbon, porous silicate frameworks, organic molecules, amino acid conformers, and molecular materials.