Our tile backsplash is in place! We had about 50 square feet to complete, and our goal was to set the tile on Saturday and enjoy a day of nothing-ness on Sunday – and we did it! We still need to finish the job with grout, caulk and sealer (one night this week, if all goes well), but for now, we’re happy to bask in our almost completed backsplash.
With a handful of tutorials readily available on the web, we want to share which ones worked for us, but perhaps most importantly, how things go down when nothing in your home is level. Or when your floors are crooked! And when your walls are a nightmare! Despite patches of new drywall and intense cabinet and counter leveling from the pros, we ultimately ran into a roadblock or two, but in the end, I’ll say that we’re really satisfied with the work we put in and how far we’ve come.
We referenced these guidelines from Houzz and This Old House the most, and we were able to get by with a small shopping list and a lot of tools we had on hand. Although we tiled our entryway flooring last year, I convinced myself the backsplash would be incredibly hard (it really wasn’t) and take forever (it sort of did). Sure, a floor requires leveling, but a backsplash has outlets and switches and peaks and valleys and, well, you know. As novice tilers, the entire job of setting took us a solid 8 hour day, but again I say, we did it!
SETTING TILE: TOOLS USED
1/4″ v-notch trowel
tape measure and/or small ruler
WHAT WE DID: First and foremost, setting tile is a messy job. We took a good 30 minutes to set up our work space, laying and taping rosin paper to our counters, draping plastic over the hutch and creating a zone with additional plastic for the wet saw. I laid out all of our tools, stacked tile within reach and scattered piles of spacers.
With everything in order, we started by drawing a level plumb line behind our focal point (the sink) on the wet wall. Using our trowel, we spread enough pre-mixed mastic to cover about a square foot of tile to start, and we placed our first tile to the left of the plumb line. We then worked out from that starting point, making our way left, then right, spreading mastic as needed and applying our 1/16″ spacers for consistency.
Over time, we learned that a little mastic goes a long way! Too much would ooze between the tiles, and it would cause them to slip about (even with the spacers). Tip: For extra tight spaces, you can purchase a smaller v-notch trowel. Because we didn’t have one, we found that using a small putty knife to apply the mastic worked just as well! Once the mastic was applied, we dragged the short end of our large trowel to create the grooves that are necessary for suction.
As we placed each tile, we’d give it a little push up and down until settling it into place. When moving on to the next row, a small ruler helped to ensure the simple pattern stayed on track.
We fell into a rhythm where I’d spread the mastic and set the tile, and Scott would follow behind with end cuts and the more intricate measurements around the outlets. For all of his intricate cuts, he used the wet saw exclusively. We also purchased tile nippers and a (score-and-snap) tile cutter, both of which we personally found were unnecessary. Scott found that working with the wet saw gave him the most accurate cuts, and he was the most comfortable sticking with that. Our wet saw is a small tabletop version, but keep in mind that they can be rented, too.
As we completed each row, we were mindful to take a moment and make sure we were staying level, which, on the wet wall, we were! Although the wet wall required the most time, we were in the zone and it was, surprisingly, smooth sailing.
That is, until we moved onto the stove side! Our cabinets and counters, while independently level, were off by a very small amount with each other. Our floor does slope, causing the cabinet on the left to be slightly (and I mean slightly) lower than that on the right. We started by screwing in a dummy board below the surface of the counters taking into account this seemingly minor difference, which would help to give our tiles a place to sit and stack upon each other:
As our tiles continued to grow towards the upper cabinets, that insignificant difference in level magnified more than we would have liked, but you know what? We’re going to go ahead and call that one Old House Charm. No amount of fussing or pulling off tiles and reapplying tiles seemed to better the situation. Simply put, there were too many differences competing with each other – the downhill floor! The imperfect drywall! – but once the tile is grouted, the itty bitty curvature of the pattern will be (almost) non-existent.
Looking back at these photos now, I’m realizing that we may have gotten a bit too caught up in the details (me? No way!). All in all, we’re pretty thrilled with our DIY job! Our favorite part may be where the tile meets our pocket door, which was trimmed with the same molding we’ve been using throughout the home. We brought the tile up to the same height as the nook above the sink, capped it with a bullnose, and we continued it down to the baseboard:
We ended the tile at the corner, which feels clean and uncomplicated (hi, CC!):
And the matte finish? It’s so subtle! So pretty!
Remember when we were planning on using charcoal grout? That idea has been nixed completely, and instead, we’re moving forward with Whisper Grey. (Thank you for your input on that, by the way!) In the end, we felt that the soft color would feel more casual and lend a home-y vibe; I mean, that makes sense, yes? From there, all the edges will get caulked, and we’ll check tile! off the to-do!
See how we grouted, sealed and caulked right here!