Adventures in Tiling

Hi Everyone!

Apologies for not being around the past few months. We took the summer off from home stuff to relax and let our bank account recover from the big kitchen reno. In the fall we started back in on some projects, namely working more on our master bedroom, which is coming along but is still not done, and adding a tile backsplash to the kitchen. Both have taken longer than expected, but the kitchen is finally, totally complete! Here’s the down low on our experience with tiling a backsplash.

It was hard. We didn’t do a very good job. We will never tile ourselves again.*


If that’s all you need to know.  Here’s how the kitchen looks now.


If you’re interested in some details.  Here they are.

Prior to this project, neither of us had every tiled anything before, but we had seen so many other DIYers do it, we were confident that this was  a project we could handle. We went to The Tile Shop because we had heard good things from friends and other bloggers and got some samples.

We decided to go with the 2″ wide Hampton Carrera marble hex. I thought that the more round pattern would be a nice contrast to the squareness of the room’s layout. I also thought that it looked best with the quartzite counters.

Tile Shot

We went back to the Tile Shop and gave them our choice and our dimensions and they hooked us up with literally everything that we needed to do the job ourselves. Their website has how-to videos and they do on-site classes as well.

Admittedly, I didn’t do as much research on the process and I normally do. Almost all of my favorite home bloggers have tiled something before as so I have read about the process many times, but I didn’t go back and re-read much before we got started. Mark had read up a bit, and since we had heard that the process was fairly straightforward, we weren’t very worried.

We started the project by removing everything from the counters and killing the power and gas to the outlets, stove, and microwave. Then we pulled the stove out so that we could tile around it.

We also added a layer of cardboard over the paper covering on the counters so that the tile would not sit directly on the countertops. This step was a part of every “how-to” we researched. What we didn’t pay any attention to was the thickness of the cardboard. This proved to be a costly mistake.

The day we were set to start this project we randomly didn’t have any cardboard boxes laying around, which is weird for us given how much stuff we order online and have shipped. So we bought a moving box at Home Depot while we were dropping off our paycheck picking up other supplies. This was a heavy duty box and the cardboard was about 1/4″ thick. We didn’t realize at this time that that would be a major problem, so let’s keep going for now.

After we put the cardboard down, we mixed this first batch of thinset and, starting in once corner and working from the bottom up, applied the thinset to the wall and then gently placed the sheets of tile into the thinset and sort of massaged them into place.


As we went along we got better at both applying the thinset and also getting the tiles worked properly into place, but in general it’s not that tricky of a process. The math and angles that you have to calculate to deal with things like corners, outlets, etc. is a bit more challenging, but if you passed 9th grade math, lack a crippling case of dyslexia, and have a small amount of patience, you can figure all of this out. I don’t claim to meet these criteria, but Mark does.

It took us about 7 to 7.5 hours on a Saturday to get all the tile laid. Then everything had to sit for 48 hours to dry before we could move onto grouting, so it was Monday evening before we could start that process.  We mixed the amount of grout they gave us in two batches. The first batch was the right consistency, the second was a little more wet and took a bit longer to set up. Wet grout is much darker than dry grout.  You can see from this picture that the grout looks grey.


But here is what it looks like dry, almost white.


Once the grout was dry, we came to the disappointing conclusion that we need to apply a second coat. The tile still stuck out farther than the grout in many places, and there were even a few holes that needed to be filled.


Not only did this mean more work, but it meant another week without a functioning kitchen, which we were not planning on. So the following weekend, we went back to the tile shop and got more grout. We applied the grout on a Saturday and again, had to wait until Monday before it was dry. In being more careful not to wipe too hard with the wet sponge to remove the grout from the tiles, many of them were hazy with grout when dry. This meant several evenings of scrapping and buffing many of the individual tiles to get this clean and gleaming before we could apply the sealer. There are chemicals you can apply to do de-haze the tile for you if you are using glass or porcelain tile, but since we were using a natural stone, we had to use elbow grease.

By this point, both Mark and I had decided that we wish we had left to the professionals. We didn’t think we were doing a very good job and it was taking forever. But there was nothing we could at that point but forge ahead.

After cleaning up all the tiles, we applied the sealer one evening and it was dry by the next day, which we thought at the time, meant that we were on the home stretch. All we had to do (we thought) was remove the cardboard from between the tile and the counters, run a bead of caulk to connect the two, touch up the paint where needed and Viola! We would be done.


Since our cardboard was so thick, we had a massive seam to fill.


We ignored this gap and tried to caulk it anyway. It took a ton of caulk and looked pretty crappy. I was willing to live with it, but Mark was not. By the time I got home from work that Friday, he had ripped it all out and had a new plan.

We decided to find some 1/8″ thick cardboard and try and to grout “down” a bit to lessen the thickness of the seam. We still had some leftover grout from our second round of that process so we tried that and it seemed to work.


Once it was dry enough to remove the cardboard, we removed it and were able to run a much smaller, and easier to apply, bead of caulk to connect the counters to the tile.  Since we had to buy new caulk after using all we had on the first go-around, we also decided to try a grey caulk with a “sand” consistency rather than the white silicone stuff we used the first time. This looked much better!


Once we had the seam caulked, we were able to start putting the kitchen back together, which I was so glad about. We had family coming for Thanksgiving and I was eager to start getting the house back in a livable condition.  At this point we were only about a week away from Turkey Day.


So as I said at the top, this was not a fun job and we still wish we would have left it to the pros. While we were able to correct most of our mistakes, it’s in no way our best work. From far away, it looks ok, but up close you can see our amateur effort more clearly.

You can also see from the photos above that we also added in some floating shelves where we had DIYed some other shelves before and added a bamboo shade over the window.

After hosting my first Thanksgiving this year, I can report that the kitchen continues to be a much more functional space than it was previously in addition to looking alot better as well.

Now we have moved on to finishing things up in our master bedroom, I really hope to be back soon to show you how that all finished up, but it’s had it’s challenges as well.  Mainly of the curtain variety.  *sigh*




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