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a tile project in 1596 words

3 June 2011

So where did we leave off?

Oh yeah – our kitchen was looking a little something like this…

and our dining room was looking like this…

[I can’t believe I just posted that picture to the internet]

You may be wondering why it was necessary for our dining room to be such a disaster when we were only working on the floor. I have two words for you – OCD architects. [does that count as two words?!]

Before we got too far in the whole tiling process, Joey wanted to make the adjustments necessary to not have any cut wall tile when the glass tile meets the top of the countertop. In order to make this happen, the upper cabinets needed to be 3/4” lower than we had originally mounted them. Would normal people probably just cut the tile and deal with it? probably. Would they split the difference and have a thicker grout joint on the top and bottom? sure. But we’ve already established that we aren’t normal people.

In order to make this adjustment, everything had to come out – and our kitchen was back to this. Blaaah.

It’s in moments like these that I am convinced we will never finish our kitchen. But Joey quickly reminds me that it’s all part of the process. It is going to be soooo much better than it ever was and these little backwards steps are all a part of getting to our ultimate goal of having a rock star kitchen that we love and are super proud of. Things like that tile detail would drive us crazy every time we looked at it – now, when we see it, we will smile and know we did it right.

Once the cabinets were back on the wall where they belong, we were ready to focus our attention on the the floors. I mentioned in my last post that we were getting a price quote to have the tile done by a professional. I’m not entirely sure where the number that we had in our heads came from, but it was off – like, waaay off. A quick trip to a coworker’s house to borrow a wet saw, and we were ready to tackle our first ever tiling project. Yikes.

Our first step in the process was to put down the tile backer board. To do this, we laid down a thin layer of mortar on top of the plywood subfloor.

It helps if you have a hunky husband to teach you proper technique. After the tutorial, I took over laying down the mortar while Joey measured and cut each sheet of tile backer and laid it into position on the floor. Then I followed behind with the drill and screwed each sheet down. Yeah, we’re cool like that.

The point of this step is to have a solid layer of mortar binding the tile backer board to the plywood [with the help of those screws of course!]

Pretty soon our floors looked like this.

You’ll notice by the yellowy incandescent glow in these pictures that most of these tasks were started and completed during the weekday, night time hours. This let us tackle the bigger portions of this project on the weekend. Saturday came and the first thing we did was reinforce the joints of the tile backer. Some mesh tape and a little more mortar and we were ready to start planning our tile layout.

Of course, we had already been thinking about where we wanted to center things up in our kitchen. Do we want a seam running down the center of the pantry nook? or do we want the center of the tile to be in the center of the pantry so you couldn’t really tell if it wasn’t perfectly centered and symmetrical? We decided on the “doesn’t have to be so perfect” option. Aren’t you proud?! [especially after the moving the upper cabinets 3/4″ story]

We snapped our first chalk line about 6″ off the exterior wall to mark the first long seam on the floor. When your home was built in the year 1930, you don’t trust much to be truly square. So we wouldn’t start measuring our tile from the undulating exterior wall, we would line things up with our chalk line that we knew was perfectly straight and cut the tiles along the wall to fit any weirdness happening as they met the baseboards.

While we were discussing the age of our home and the non-square/unlevel nature of our floors, Joey started to talk about the wall next to the stove.

He looked at it and said, “This wall is the one where the house jack is in the crawlspace. You see how the wall is not level?”

“you mean plumb, dear?”

And that, my friends, is my favorite thing ever.

We took our measurements and Joey started to cut the first piece – no turning back now!

Here you can see our chalk lines and our first full piece of tile with the cut pieces around it.

I was anxious about the mortar thinset drying too quickly while Joey was cutting, so he went ahead and cut all the edge pieces in our pantry nook before we mixed our first batch of mortar.

Looking back at this picture, I don’t know why we felt it was necessary to lay out some many of the non-cut “field” tiles – I think I just got a little tile-layin-happy. Since these were just our planning layouts, there is no thinset underneath which means all these tiles would have to be taken up so we could start for real. Time to bite the bullet. I labeled each of the specific cut pieces of tile so I would be able to lay them back down how we had them. Then I took a deep breathe, strapped on these guys, and got to work.

Those knee pads turned out to be a life saver. Once we got in the flow of things, Joey became the cut man – measuring out all the cut tiles around the edges of the kitchen, and I became the tile lay-er. I quickly found that laying large format tile [remember ours are 12″ wide and 24″ long] on a semi non level floor will present quite a challenge to a semi-perfectionist. I set my not-good-enough-pull-this-piece-up-and-try-again limit to 2 times. If not, I would have been there all night. When you have your face so close to the floor, it’s easy to spot every little “this piece is a little higher than the one next to it” nuance. At some point I had to accept that it wasn’t going to be absolutely perfect. [that was a big step for me – ha!]

We trucked along and pretty soon [aka. like 4 hrs later] we were making some progress!

Of course, this whole time we were in the kitchen, we couldn’t let Gracie in to hang out. She wanted nothing more than to be right next to us the whole day. But last time I checked, dog hair doesn’t really act as a binding agent for thin set. And you are supposed to use a trowel to score those grooves in the mortar – puppy footprints just don’t work as well. So we made a Gracie-barricade [a Gracie-cade?!] at the entry to the kitchen and tried not to make eye contact with this.

or this

No worries though, we took many play breaks to make sure that puppy felt loved.

Pretty soon [aka. another 6 hours later] we. were. almost. done.

Here’s Joey’s Last Piece Victory Dance

You do weird things in front of my camera – it goes on the internet. Consider yourselves warned.

By the end of the day, we were wiped out. From start to finish it took us almost 12 hours to cut and lay all that tile! Needless to say, we were both a bit sore the next day at work. And I found stray clumps of thinset hiding on the back of my arm. Classy.

All the back breaking pain, cramped knees, and cement burn on our hands was well worth it the next morning when we walked into this.

I will admit we were both kinda scared to walk on it. But we did and it held up!

[I realize this is the longest blog post known to mankind already, but I’m gonna keep on truckin]

Now it’s time for grout.

Joey mixed up the bag according to the directions and went to town laying that grout in all our joints. You end up slopping it all over the front of the tile in this process, so we were sure to put a sealer down before this step.

I came behind and washed all the grout off of the face of the tiles.

We started this whole grouting project on a Thursday night after dinner so that it would be done before we went out of town for Memorial Day weekend. We went to bed at 1:30 in the morning. Apparently we are not so good a estimating how long these projects take….

But the good news is – IT’S DONE! Good golly Miss Molly. Now I know why everyone in my office said “Yeah, I tiled my floor once – and never again!” It was definitely a big undertaking. But as I’ve said before, there’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing something yourself. My mom told me I was turning into a princess for the broken fingernail story, so hopefully this project redeems me a bit! :)

Oh, were you waiting to see some “after” pictures?!

Here ya go!

If you need me, I’ll be napping on my new kitchen floor.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    3 June 2011 4:48 pm

    Oh my gosh, that looks AWESOME!!!!!!! I am SO SO SO impressed! Pipapi would be too…. :) Have a nice weekend, Princess!

  2. 4 June 2011 6:15 pm

    Woo hoo!! It looks AMAZING!! You guys are so handy! I love how you aren’t afraid to get dirty and do some hard work. Totally worth it! I can’t wait to see the backsplash :)

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