Let’s Tile!

Somehow (maybe because we thought it would be the easiest?), the entryway is the one room – we can call it that, right? – in the house that has been receiving the most attention. It wasn’t planned that way (we’re actually itching to get the second floor studio into shape!), but after addressing the stair dilemma, we thought, well, let’s paint the walls! This, of course, transitioned to the coat closet, and now? The foyer tile!

We’ve never tiled before, but we were weirdly excited about it. The preciseness of it all, the careful cuts and, quite honestly, swirling around mortar looks fun to me (weirdo), so we were eager and looking forward to diving in! All that said, each step has taken us a bit longer than we expected (isn’t that always the case?), so let’s back up. Here’s how our entryway looked a couple weeks ago:

After tearing down the dividing apartment walls and pulling up the existing wood floors, we were left with funny patches of newer subfloor (that was likely installed when the house was divided into its former two units) and the really old subfloor, both of which met up with the main room hardwoods at different levels.

The first thing we had to do was level everything out by bringing up the old subfloor to meet with the new-ish one, since there was no reason to tear that out. We picked up two 8′ sheets of 15/32″ plywood (the same thickness as the newer subfloor), then carefully patched it in as best we could, using 2″ wood screws about 1′ apart to secure each piece in place. For the larger sheets, I continued the 1′ screw pattern throughout the center of the boards as well. Once this was done, it was on to the tiling process!

We are absolutely thrilled to be working with The Tile Shop on this project (pinch us; they’re amazing!), and we were advised by the staff to first lay down Pro-Level on top of our subfloor to really even everything out. Although somewhat messy (since it’s been below zero outside, and all of our mixing was done indoors!), this was oddly fun! Having just seen Young House Love use the same leveler, I pulled up their post as a guide. Truly, it couldn’t have been more simple; water + Pro-Level = well, a level floor!

We did the leveler last Friday night, with the hopes of waking up – bright eyed and bushy tailed! – to a smooth concrete-esque entryway floor. We’d start our tile dry cuts on Saturday, and by Sunday, we’d mortar and grout – done! Except this was the weekend that the weather began dipping low, and our drafty foyer had other plans. The leveler was drying in some spots, but overall, it looked like this (and was still soft to the touch):

So, new plan! Saturday was spent taking care of furnace issues, sealing up cracks and – because what other choice did we have? – downtime. But to help further along our tiling project, we set up a space heater in the foyer, moving it a foot here and a foot there, pointing it at different angles over the course of the day. By Sunday – bingo!

We were finally able to start our dry layout – hip, hip! When choosing our tile, we knew we wanted something classic and neutral, something you would expect to see an old Chicago home. (I actually feared that I might gravitate towards trendy tile – whatever that may be – so I gave Scott firm instructions to keep me in line!) While we had bounced a few ideas back and forth, as soon as we saw this basketweave tile, we knew we had our winner:

We spent all of Sunday measuring, cutting and placing our tiles (no mortar, just a dry fit), and my goodness – our knees really felt it! Prior to our first cut, we actually watched a few video tutorials on where to actually lay our first piece, but because our entry has so many corners (mostly due to the stairs) and our almost-130-year-old walls are very uneven, we decided to wing it. (Yes, really!)

We started in our doorway, then we worked our way down until we finished inside the closet. Surprisingly – crooked walls and all! – our tiles look nice and straight!


The above is still just our dry fit, and earlier this week we took some time to label each piece, lay them to the side and stack them up; you guys, we’re ready to make it official! Our hearts; be still!

Our hope is to finish up over the weekend, especially since the weather will be, oh, almost 100-degrees warmer than it has been (speeding up our dry times). We’ll be using a charcoal grout since this is a high traffic area, and can you even imagine once we have thick, tall baseboard trim all around? We’ll also be capping off the stair profile with a strip of hunky wood (stained super dark, we think), painting the front door, the closet door and layering in… a rug? Some artwork? A small table and a bench?

I just love getting ahead of myself.

This post is in partnership with The Tile Shop. Opinions, aching knees and fluttering hearts are all ours.

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  • Rebecca1.9.14 - 6:55 AM

    I love the pattern you chose! I love how it looks with your door and the door hardware.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly G.1.9.14 - 7:37 AM

    This is awesome! It’s going to look so great! Laying tile is easy-peasy. Well, besides the achiness and knee pains and such… You’ll just need TONS of buckets of water for the grout, so be prepared for that! Good luck-ReplyCancel

  • Angela1.9.14 - 7:53 AM

    Oh that tile is so gorgeous! I’m also in love w/ your door. Can’t wait to see it all finished!!!

    Angela @ Number Fifty-ThreeReplyCancel

  • SamW1.9.14 - 7:56 AM

    Loving it already! You can’t go wrong with a classic style and it’s a great pattern for such a high traffic area.ReplyCancel

  • Sally1.9.14 - 8:18 AM

    This looks amazing, and I can imagine how much better it will be once it’s finished. Excellent choice of tile!ReplyCancel

  • Jodi1.9.14 - 8:39 AM

    oooh! it’s SO pretty!ReplyCancel

  • heather1.9.14 - 8:46 AM

    wow this looks great! I’m totally the ‘wing it’ type too. Props to you for figuring it all out first. Good luck!!ReplyCancel

  • Molly1.9.14 - 8:51 AM

    That tile is stunning and fits perfectly in to an older home like yours! Can’t wait to see what it looks like once finished!ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square1.9.14 - 8:56 AM

    I really like the subtle pattern the tile brings into this room, while still keeping things looking bright and clean. We’ve never tiled before either, but will be tackling it sometime soon, so I’m curious to see what your experience is like. Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

  • Kiira1.9.14 - 9:49 AM

    So charming! It looks beautiful and really brings that entry to another level. I am so jealous that you have a partner in crime that is as enthusiastic as you are about DIY.
    2 questions:
    1. how did you get away with not using that very crucial space (access to second floor and front door) while the Pro-Level cured? Can you step on it after a few hours? I am asking because I have a very high-traffic area that desperately needs tile.
    2. Can you cut those sheets of tile with a regular table saw?

  • My gah that tile is amazing!! You guys did a fabulous job:) seriously gorgeous.ReplyCancel

  • Kim1.9.14 - 10:02 AM

    Thanks, guys! We are so excited to REALLY install it this weekend!

    Kiira, we put a baby gate at the top of the stairs and to the main room entry to keep all the pets off, and we used our back porch to go up and down. Because our house used to be 2 apartments, there’s still a monstrous (and very ugly) back porch that connects all the levels, so we were lucky there. As for your tiling job, are you talking about the space between the kitchen and dining room? You could probably lay the Pro-Level on at night, then by the morning – even if it’s not dry, you could VERY quickly walk on it to get into the kitchen. If that is the area you’re talking about, it might even be dry by morning. Ours wasn’t because it was in the front of the house where we’re still dealing with closing up some cold air gaps, and it was during the below zero temps.


    As for the tile cutting, we used a wet saw, which you can rent from The Tile Shop!ReplyCancel

  • Confession time – I think swirling mortar around looks fun, too! I also had a dream last night that I was tiling and I’ve never tiled in my life (nor do I have any near-future plans to).

    Anyway… it looks great!!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel1.9.14 - 10:11 AM

    I love the tile you picked! It is gorgeous and looks so pretty. Awesome choice :-)ReplyCancel

  • Scott1.9.14 - 11:27 AM

    @Kiira, if the surface you’re tiling is already level, you can lay down cement board instead of using the pro-level. This would eliminate curing time all together. Also, we just might know someone who could loan you a tile saw when the time comes. :)ReplyCancel

  • Kiira1.9.14 - 12:07 PM

    Thanks for answering my questions! Kim–yes, I want to do that little butler’s pantry area that you are thinking of. This might be the kick in the pants that I need to get it done. And Scott-I figured it was a wet saw but wasn’t sure based on the picture. Your entry is going to look damn fine with that tile, the arch, and that antique door. Good job outta you!ReplyCancel

  • Kim1.9.14 - 12:14 PM

    That Scott – he’s a smart one. He’s right, our entry was all over the place level-wise, so you could totally use concrete board and not have to worry about all the dry times!ReplyCancel

  • Elisa1.9.14 - 12:24 PM

    Dude. You guys haven’t really walked on it yet, right? Because I think I need to lick it. Delicious.ReplyCancel

  • Kim1.9.14 - 12:26 PM

    Elisa, ha! Not walked on yet. The verdict is in: Licking is completely acceptable.ReplyCancel

  • Alex - Old Town Home1.9.14 - 2:02 PM

    That’s really going to look great! The really interesting thing is how much that tile changes in look when you add the grout. We always get used to it without grout and then are shocked when we apply the grout.

    From our experience, when you put the tile down with thinset, try to make sure you’re looking at the tile from multiple angles. It may look even and without ridges from the living room, but the stairs may be a different matter. And as you know, it’s much easier to make small corrections at install than it is once you’ve laid the whole thing down. (I’m grumbling because of one line I always see in our guest bathroom all the time.)ReplyCancel

  • Kim1.9.14 - 2:11 PM

    Alex, thanks for the tip! We did notice how even during the dry fit, looking at it from different angles changed what we saw in terms of spacing. We’ll be keeping that in mind this weekend!ReplyCancel

  • Claudie1.9.14 - 4:19 PM

    I love that tile! It’s gorgeous! I do have a question though, have you checked that your front door will open once you have the added height of the mortar? From that picture, it looks like it might be a close call. You’ve added quite a bit of height there with the subfloor and the leveler so I just wondered. :) Good luck with all the tiling!ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer I.1.9.14 - 4:25 PM

    Gorgeous! I can’t even believe that this is the same house!!ReplyCancel

  • Margaret1.9.14 - 4:37 PM

    I LOVE it!! It is so bright and clean.ReplyCancel

  • Kim1.9.14 - 6:20 PM

    Claudie – good call. I was worried about that too, but we double checked, and it will be no problem! (Only half of the black insulation at the bottom of the door is ON the door, so the bottom half of it that looks like it’s part of the door really isn’t… if that makes sense!)ReplyCancel

  • Julia@Cukoo4Design1.10.14 - 8:22 AM

    This tile is making my heart flutter! Looks so good!ReplyCancel

  • heather1.10.14 - 9:39 AM

    The tile looks great. It’s just what I envisioned in that spot. Stay warm and keep up the good work.ReplyCancel

  • Katja @ Shift Ctrl Art1.10.14 - 12:58 PM

    I think you just took home the prize for best tile selection for a space :) thumbs way up!!ReplyCancel

  • Jeff Haydon1.27.14 - 2:34 PM

    Scott and Kim,

    Great job! You both really have done an exceptional job with all of your tile selections and installations.
    I can’t wait till the next one.
    If you have any questions about any upcoming projects or materials please call or email me any time. It is such a pleasure working with both of you.
    Thanks again for choosing the Tile Shop In Schaumburg IL. 1285 E. Higgins Rd. (847)619-0735
    Jeff Haydon (Store Manager)ReplyCancel


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