Sink or Swim - The Bathroom Tile Saga Continues...

My last blog post was October 20, 2010, and I was waiting for my tile saw to arrive. It is now January 10, 2011. I didn't want to blog again until I was completely done with my bathroom - right or wrong, good or bad, crappy tile job or not. Well, I am pleased (in that Cheshire Cat sort of pleased) to report that the bathroom is done, the tile saw was a champ, and I have moved my restoration work downstairs. I will not be silent for 2-1/2 months before blogging again (lucky readers!) - things are moving quickly - at least for the moment. That, as we all know, can change like the weather.

So, the tile saw arrived, and it worked as advertised. Unbelievable! We did have to call the maker and have them send a replacement pump as the one with the saw refused to work out of the gate. Fortunately, we already had a substitute, so we didn't lose any real time, and once we received the replacement, we hooked it up and it ran great for the entire job.(A word from the wisened... if you meter lots of clean water through the pump at the end of each day, the pump should stay nice and clear for the next time.)

We started tiling the weekend of October 23. I only worked on the tile on the weekends since it takes a while to set everything up - it didn't make sense to try and cram a few odd hours of tiling in after work. So we tiled every weekend from the 23rd of October until I believe the weekend of December 18. Over Christmas we grouted, and New Year's we caulked, sealed the grout and accessorized the room.

By the time we had frittered away most of the Indian summer, we had a tile saw set up on an open back porch and a Buffalo winter on its way across Lake Erie. We made a makeshift windbreak, which turned out to be a rather tacky but effective Florida room on that porch, by putting up doubled 4 mil plastic sheeting for 'walls' and screwing it to the porch with sheetrock screws and scraps of lath. The porch is on the south side of the house, so it gets maximum sun. On sunny days, the porch was 10 degrees warmer than the house, and my dad would have to come out of his sweatshirt, as he was my cutting guy.


Although the tiling seemed to take forever, there is a great deal of tile in the bathroom, and the pattern is fairly complex. I had never tiled anything like this before, so at first, especially, it was slow going until I got my confidence up. I set goals for the day and for the weekend and tried to meet them. I did pretty well most of the time, but honestly, the whole time I tiled the shower walls, I was terrified that my tile job would fail and I'd have a swimming pool in my kitchen below!

See, most normal people either take on a new task and do something simple, or they get a professional to either guide or help them. Normal people with disposable incomes just hire it out. And then there's me. Yup. I'm a "jump in the deep end and figure it out before I drown because I refuse to be rescued" kind of girl. Not sure why. Always done it this way. No wonder I broke two teeth last year from clenching and grinding them at night...

Regardless of my personal issues, the bathroom is done, and I am really quite proud of myself. I learned a new skill, and I am actually looking forward to tiling my kitchen in a few months. Here are the highlights....

The lighter tile - it's a rose-beige color - I salvaged from the original bathroom walls. The room had tile wainscoting to about  48". This gave me plenty of field tile and bullnose to use. My mom volunteered to strip the mastic off the tile so that I could re-use it. I love the result. The woman at the tile store where I got most of the rest of the tile suggested this dark brown tile (called Nutmeg) to contrast with the rose-beige. I used white field tile, white cove mold, and a beaded liner, a listello and a chair rail tile all in white. None of these whites were meant to go together, so there are slight variations in the colors, but at the same time, those variations look right when you see it all together.

I had planned to put a beautiful Chinese carved rug that I already have in this room, but it was too large by about 6". I had bought all of my other room-sized rugs online, and I found this rug and ordered it sight-unseen. When it came in, I found that it had the exact rose-beige color in it that matches my tile. (When these things happen, you just say 'thank you' and don't spend a lot of time congratulating yourself for being so good...) I loved the buttery yellow that runs through this rug, and at the time I was trying to figure out a wall color that would work with these tile colors. I didn't want to do the obvious and use the tile as a paint chip to get the exact color for the wall. Instead, I chose the yellow.

Of course I painted the walls before the floor was finished, and before the first tile went on the walls, so it looked a little bright. I immediately began second-guessing the color, but had no time to stress over it, so I just let it go. I figured the worst that could happen is I repaint the room after the tile goes in.

The floor is the original pine flooring, but it had some water stains and some other, um, issues, so my floor guy advised me to go with a dark stain to minimize the visibility of the problems. I went with a dark walnutty-mahogany color and two-toned the woodwork so that the trim is the same blond color as the rest of the upstairs wood, and the door, window and built-ins are dark like the floor. It's not conventional, but it works.

It was a happy day when the first tile went up. I began with the cove mold and subway field tile on the short wall behind the door. I figured that would be the best place to put my apprentice mistakes. Truth be told, there are no mistakes there.... they are in other places, but I'll never tell where. Ha.

As the white tile took over the room, the yellow began to look less awkward, and the room began to take a beautiful shape. Beautiful to me since I was very tired of staring at that green board and backer board!

However, as I began to add the diamond pattern of rose-beige and dark brown (or as Dad called them milk chocolate and dark chocolate!), the yellow began looking awkward again. And again I told myself to worry about the tile now and the wall color later. I have these odd conversations with myself often. Doesn't everyone?!

The 'end cap' on the shower wall presented an entire array of interesting problems to solve. I did the best that I could and left it at that. None of the tile I was working with had outside corner pieces or bullnose. This meant that to turn these outside corners we would have to do outside miter cuts and fill with grout. I used a piece of Emory cloth to smooth the tiles as much as I possibly could so that a slight bump wouldn't draw blood. A cut tile edge is sharp as glass, and you can nick yourself pretty good if you don't smooth the cut edges.

I did have bullnose in the rose-beige tile, so I decided to use that to cover the end. That would take care of most of the linear area. But what to do with the awkward space in between the bullnose pieces? I decided to zip out to the home stores the morning that I was going to do this end cap, and willed myself to find something that would work. I do this when I either have no ideas forthcoming, or I have no money to finance the ideas, or I have no time to create some big idea. That day, it was all three. (I do not recommend this strategy - it can really bite you. Leave this kind of desperation to the professional idiots.)

I found a glass tile mosaic sheet that had all the browns and neutrals in it that matched my tile. Incidentally, I didn't even bring sample tiles with me. (Again, not recommended.) I counted on my color memory, which is pretty good. As a backup, I also bought a square of hex and square tiles in case the glass tiles were a bust. It was a good plan. I popped those glass tiles in and voila! I'm my own hero. OK. Moving on.

Most of the rest of the tile went up without much incident. We finally finished the week before Christmas, and began grouting. When I picked out all the tile, I asked the woman at the tile store to select my grout for me. I know that sounds odd, but the one thing I have done a couple times now is grout, and I'm just not able to visualize its end effect as well as I do most things, so it was just simpler to trust her ability. She chose a bone color for the white tile and a color called 'acorn' for the brown tile. Her reasoning was that the bone grout would be such a contrast with the darker tile that I would lose the effect of the tile, and all you would see would be the white grout. This made perfect sense to me, and I just kept my fingers crossed that I would be able to keep the two grout colors separated so that they wouldn't just look odd and dirty.

The bone colored grout went up first, and fast. I was so pleased with myself! Finally. I had wrestled this impossible job into submission. Yup. Cue the ominous music. The acorn colored grout went up next, bringing with it a screaming fit of frustration. I do not recommend these. They piss off your helpers and you look like an idiot. But if you can pitch one in private, it does feel pretty good to get it out of your system. (She says, sheepishly.) Fits notwithstanding, I did finally complete the grout mission, and moved on to cleaning, sealing and accessorizing my new bathroom.

It wasn't until I rolled the new rug out on the floor that the yellow finally settled in and behaved itself. Before, I could feel it slapping me around, pecking on my shoulder, nagging at the back of my mind. Now it is simply part of the room. It's actually harmonious. (Unfortunately in this shot, the yellow looks a bit McDonald's, when it's really more of a '65 Mustang butter yellow.)

I wanted a bathroom that I could use every day, but that would feel sumptuous at the same time that it is practical and easy to clean. I wanted a small chandelier since the bathroom is the only room in the house that would not have a ceiling fan to offset the lack of air conditioning in the house, and I recently rediscovered my love for chandeliers.

The vanity mirror is one I've had since I was a teenager, and I have always loved it because it is unusual with its pieced glass frame and oval shape. I designed the bathroom around these components and a tub I could either get a quick shower in or lounge in for a nice hot soak.

The slipper chair in the corner is the only piece left from my childhood bedroom suite. At the time, it was covered in pink and white striped vinyl that matched one of the companion papers in my bedroom. (Incidentally, my love for chandeliers comes from loving the one my mom put in my bedroom when I was a baby. I used to lie in bed and look up at it, or watch the prisms make rainbows on the walls out of shafts of light.)

Probably 10 years ago, mom had my slipper chair recovered for me as a gift. I picked the fabric and cording based on the bedroom I had at the time. When I realized that I might have room for it in this bathroom, I dug it out of my furniture that is in storage and hauled it up to the room I put it down on the rug and the mauve in that carpet that I never really noticed was now visible.

Since I needed new towels, a shower curtain and a window treatment, I did what I always do. I went online. The towels and shower curtain I knew would match each other, but the window treatment I wasn't 100% certain of. And then, would they all match the rug? Ordered sight unseen, what are the odds? The window treatment matched the towels exactly, and although that particular color blue is not in the rug, the blue and green in the rug blend such that you think it's there. Yeah, I know. It's weird, but if you look at a patterned rug, you can see colors that hint at being there even if they are not.

One of the last pieces of the puzzle to come together was the vanity cabinet and sink top. I had already purchased a cabinet and sink that I intended to use, but when we tried to place the cabinet, it just wasn't possible to get it to fit against the tile. It hit the wall right where the decorative band goes through and there is dimensional tile in that band that was interfering with the cabinet.

The reason for this was that I wanted to tile the whole wall behind the cabinet in case I ever wanted to change the sink base size or style. If I tiled up to the current cabinet, it would be hellish to improvise in the future. So I made a little bit of trouble for myself, but nothing I couldn't fix. I needed to find a sink top without a backsplash as that would interfere with the dimensional tile as well. I found one, and then picked up the exact sink base they showed it with on the box. Works for me!

Once we got that sorted, and my plumber did all the finish work, it looked beautiful.

I did have to have the tub refinished - something that I knew was at least a 50% possibility at the outset. I bought the tub used in the middle of winter last year. It was full of ice and dead leaves, so I couldn't see what the finish looked like. Overall, it was white - the color I wanted - it was the right size, and the plumbing holes were on the left side. Once I got it clean - after I finished the rest of the room - I found that there was no glaze left on most of the porcelain. It felt like chalk. So I ended up having it refinished and it looks great. I can't wait to soak in it... The only thing left is getting a radiator cover ordered.

While I don't recommend jumping in at the deep end, ordering stuff sight unseen, and pinning a very obvious feature of a room on dumb luck at a home store, this time (at least), it just came together. Of course, there was also a lot of carefully calculated planning, and an overall vision that I wanted to achieve, but some days it's better to be lucky than smart.

Next project: stripping and refreshing craftsman woodwork on the first floor. We've already begun....


Views: 700

Comment by Therese Smith-Cramer on March 17, 2011 at 2:57pm


Hit it's the woman from the Tile Store.  The bathroom looks great!  For someone who has never tiled before, you did a excellent job, it looks so professional.  The chocolate tile turned out to be a perfect contrast for the rose colored tile you had, and with the white tile everything all fell into place and became a family.  See what you can do when you jump out of the box.  I love the ceiling over the tub, that is really really nice.  And the yellow on the walls is the best paint choice you could have chosen.  I'm so happy with the whole job, congratulations!

Comment by Karan Andrea on March 17, 2011 at 3:53pm
Yay! Therese - thanks SO much. You liking it means a LOT to me, and when I talk about the brown tile, I always give you credit for the color choice. I would never have come up with that color, but I absolutely LOVE it! And the yellow is really pretty with it all. Wait till you see my kitchen! I'll be blogging with pics from it soon! :)


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