Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Tile that Nearly Broke Me

(This is a long story of how NOT to do tile... if you would just like to know what actually worked, scroll until you see pictures. :) sometimes a girl's gotta tell the whole ugly story, you know?)

Once upon a time, a DIY-er realized that she and her family needed a break from large projects.  As fun as they were, they were tired of having so many things to cram into their busy lives.  Our DIY-er should have put the projects on pause for a while, but instead she thought, "why don't I just work on a project that I can do by myself, at my own pace, that won't stress anyone out?"  And with that she looked to her bathroom and thought, "ah!  I bet tiling that wall would be simple, and I can certainly do that at a slow pace.  What a great idea!"  This DIY-er had not tiled before.  Obviously.

She planned to use subway tile - perfect for a clean look, and especially nice on the budget.  She would install this in a herringbone pattern, of course, just to add interest.  As she researched the subway tile, she came across a magical material named marble, and never again considered ceramic.  It's such a small space, she thought, the extra cost isn't a big deal.  

She headed to the DIY-addict-enabling warehouse, Lowe's, and found the reasonably priced marble subway tile she had planned on using.  But, as she was standing in the aisle, she noticed some marble tile that was already in a herringbone pattern, glued to a mesh back to make installation a breeze!  And the price seemed too good to be true - much cheaper than the other marble she had originally found.  She picked up all of the supplies she would need, matched her grout color to her new tile, and pushed her cart all the way to the other side of the store to check out.

Upon reaching the checkout, she realized her fatal error.  The perfect tile was misleadingly priced by the sheet, not by the box it came in, meaning that her affordable tile was now quite pricey.  As she stood in front of the cashier with her cart full of tools specific to that tile, she felt that she only had one option.  She paid for her tile, and walked out of the store with her tail between her legs.

She began her work by removing the existing mirror and ugly fake tile backspash, then sanded her painted walls to take the grout.  Then she realized she would eventually need to cut this tile, which was much thicker than standard ceramic.  She tried her $15 tile cutter, which apparently works neither for marble nor tiny-sized tile.  So, determined to not buy or rent the really expensive wet saw, she moved on to tile nippers.  She worked until her hands could squeeze through stone no more, and noticed that all of her sweat and labor had produced about 3 usable tiles, and wasted twice that.  Realizing that just putting her money directly through the shredder would have been the faster way to arrive here, she explored more options.

She ignored all suggestions involving a wet saw, and instead found a few that recommended an angle grinder with a diamond blade.  She sent her hubby to the addict-supply "home improvement" store, confident that a diamond blade was her solution.  The only problem was an angle grinder seemed to fit nicely into the category of 'tools that this DIY-er is too afraid to use'.  After conquering this fear, she set out to cut her pricey tile with the angle grinder, and to her dismay realized that it basically turned her tile into dust.  The blade was just too thick to work on such tiny tile.

As she was contemplating her tile cutting problem, she realized that it would be a shame to hang the old mirror over the new tile.  After all, it was huge, and would cover a lot of the tile.  So, to further destroy her budget, she found a new mirror as well.

Finally, she arrived on the cutting solution of a dremel with a baby sized diamond blade, and enlisted her exhausted hubby to once again rescue her from her mess.  After a long few days of tile cutting, grouting and cleaning, her project was complete.  Over budget, over time, and over-stressed.

Ok, but seriously, here's what I learned, with a few pictures of the process:

- Install tile as much as you can in one shot.  If you can't, clean up any mastic that sticks out past the end of your tiles, because it's a pain to get off once it dries.

- In my case, the tiles had a very small gap in between them, meaning that standard tile spacers were too big to use.  When you are working on a vertical surface, the spacers are important not only for spacing, but to help keep your tiles from slumping down onto each other.  I actually ended up putting a couple nails into the wall in between the tiles temporarily to help prevent the slumping as well.  These tiles were heavy!  I found that nickels were just about the right width, so I borrowed some from our coin jar and use those to help keep my spacing straight.  There's probably a more professional way to do this, but it's what we had on hand.

(See the nickels?)

- Our light looked like we could have tiled around the square faceplate and had it fit more flush to the tile, but I wasn't convinced that I would like that light forever, so we chose to just leave enough room for the back plate (note the circle cut out in the above picture)

(Right Edge)

- I chose to frame out the edges in a line of tile.  There wasn't a clear breaking point in the wall, but I didn't want to go past the vanity.  This seemed to be a good way to stop the tile.  I also did the same thing in the corner on the other side:

(Left Corner)

The top was a little tricky because we had already installed crown molding.  We decided to just stop flush with the crown.  It's a little abrupt, but i think it looks fine.

(Top where tile meets crown)

- I followed a helpful tutorial on Young House Love to install my tile.  They had some helpful hints on how to get rid of tile haze on marble after grouting.  It really does take some effort to get it clean!  As far as cutting goes, I found that the dremel with a diamond blade worked fine to cut these.  This would not necessarily be the economical option if you don't already have the dremel, but since we had one, it was much cheaper than the wet saw option.  If you have access to a wet saw though, go for it!

- I mentioned that I bought a new mirror.  I actually rehabbed an old frame for it; you can hear about that here.  

(The camera lens makes it look bowed...)

So here's the final product:

Overall, I'm happy with the result, even though I'm mildly embarrassed that i thought this would be simple and straightforward.  I think it gives the wall a nice texture, and feels more balanced than what we started with.  I hear that marble and herringbone are classic styles, so i'm hoping that I won't decide this is outdated a few years down the road.

What about you?  Ever taken something on and wished you had quit while you were ahead?

Have a great week, and a very Merry Christmas!