The Wall Tile Begins!

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With the floor tile checked off the bathroom list, we wasted no time moving to the wall! Eager to get our plumbing fixtures in place, it only makes sense to do so after all the tiling is so complete; the thought of grouting behind a toilet is our idea of a terrible, horrible time.

THE NIGHT BEFORE. We applied a thick line of silicone caulk along the tub, using painter’s tape to keep things mess free. Tip: Dipping your finger in water before smoothing the caulk will prevent it from sticking to you, and your results will be cleaner. 

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DAY ONE. We rolled out sheets of rosin paper to protect the new floor tile, and we firmed up that all of our ledger boards were, in fact, perfectly level. This was super important, since we’d be starting at the base of the room and building up from there (more on that in a second). A small amount off, and our tiles would slowly shift downhill – not good!

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By far, the hardest part was doing ALL the math before getting started. Ugh, the math! Because we were starting 100% fresh in this room, we even took into account the baseboards we’d be installing. We measured and re-measured every wall, we weighed the pros and cons of starting with the tub line or the baseboard line, and we played out every scenario – good and bad – depending on which wall we started on. (Did this keep me awake at night? Yes!)

You might remember that we chose 4 x 12 matte white subway tile from the South Cypress Storka line. We waned something larger to play with the smaller hex we chose for the floor, and I think the 4″ height provided a little more give no matter where we started – but again, we purposely chose (5″) baseboards that would align the best with the tile and the tub height. All this to say, there was no accidental planning – everything was thought to death. Ultimately, we realized that we could – thank goodness! – work left to right, with a full tile as the base. This would leave an almost 3″ height around the base of the tub, which we were happy with.

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You’ll notice that we haven’t been using spacers – another decision we weighed for, oh, far too long. Our contractor told us that we didn’t need them, since the tiles had slightly rounded edges and the teeniest, tiniest bump out on every side. The manufacturer, on the other hand, recommended an 1/8″ spacer, which we were hoping to bypass. Personally, we love a small grout line, so I asked my friend Daniel – who better! – what he thought, and he promised me that we could skip the spacers. The grout line would appear larger than you see in these photos, since it will also sit in the easement on the edges of each tile. So, sold! Less work, and small grout lines. Win, win.

By the end of day one, we had finished only the smallest wall to the right of the door and most of the vanity wall. It was this outside corner that gave us fits:

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DAY TWO. We started fresh on the second day by first focusing on this corner. We Googled and YouTubed every possible solution for an outside corner, and you know what? There are no less a hundred ways to do it! In the end, we decided to miter the corner – leaving only a small space for grout or caulk – and although it took us a good hour (or two?) just to do this corner, it looks pretty good! By no means is it perfect (perfect from far?), but a mix of exhaustion and time spent had us calling it ‘done’ and moving on.

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Because we were dealing with so many tricky cuts around the plumbing, wall corners (inside and out) and the windowsill, I found it was almost easier and less stressful to back butter my individual tiles before applying them to the wall. When we were lucky enough to have a huge chunk of bare wall, I’d mortar a large area, but more often that not, that wasn’t the case! By mortaring each tile, I wasn’t worried about dry cement on the walls while we double checked math and worked on the wet saw. (I also kept a trash bag on my bucket of mortar to keep it going longer!)

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Speaking of tricky cuts, we had some intricate details that Scott would carefully draw out and cut with the wet saw. Finishing caulk will fill in the gaps, but I was impressed with how close he was able to get!

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We chose to stop at a 4′ height around the room, capped by bullnose tiles. We debated a black pencil liner (like Dana’s bathroom), but we nixed it to keep the focus on the hex border we spent for-ev-er working on. By the end of day two, we finished the vanity, toilet and window walls. Hooray! It. Was. Exhausting. Our marriage survived, so I guess that’s all we can ask for. (Ha!)

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The shower tiling – which will go tub to ceiling – has only begun. We got the first row down and level (with spacers to leave room for caulk), and once we get past the soap shelves (I can’t say niche anymore, it’s too odd coming out of my mouth), it should be easy – I say as a I knock on wood!

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We’re waiting on some extra bullnose pieces, and fingers crossed they’ll arrive by tomorrow. Our goal is to finish tiling Saturday so we can grout on Sunday. Also on our ambitious Sunday list? Putting up the baseboards! And caulking! We will see, but I think we can do it!

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  • Carrie - January 14, 2016 - 8:14 AM

    Looks AHHHHMAZING! Well done, and I love that you skipped the spacers. That ultra thin grout line is perfection! Can’t wait to see it all come together :)ReplyCancel

  • allison - January 14, 2016 - 8:29 AM

    Looking awesome guys! you are kicking it! one question- why did you decide to have do baseboards and not tile to the floor? I cant wait to see it all grouted!! wahooo!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - February 9, 2016 - 2:50 PM

      The tile we chose didn’t have a base tile option, and we were fine going either way – so baseboards it is!ReplyCancel

  • mandy - January 14, 2016 - 9:05 AM

    Beautiful! Actually I’m planning black hex tiles and large white subway tiles for my bathroom reno too. So this just confirms my suspicions that it will be gorgeous!

    Question: what are your thoughts on the white vs. black grout debate?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 14, 2016 - 9:31 AM

      We have been so torn on the grout! I wanted to go with a clean white because I think it just looks fresh and pretty, but Scott wanted something a bit more dark. The darker you go, I think the more imperfections will show up on cut tiles (especially), but the lighter you go, I fear that keeping the shower clean will be tough!

      In the end, I think we’re going with a super soft gray like what we did in the kitchen. We bought 2 colors of grout (Platinum and Delorean Gray from Home Depot), and I think it will be a game time decision. We have been torn on this for a while!ReplyCancel

      • Anne - January 17, 2017 - 10:37 PM

        Joining the conversation late but had to say what a beautiful job you’ve done! I LOVE white tile too. But also thinking grey grout because it’s less maintenance. Where did you land with that, platinum or delorean? My husband and I are stuck in this too.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - January 14, 2016 - 9:19 AM

    How come you didn’t use Red Guard or something similar around the tub area?? As someone who just came out of a renovation due to mold I’m extra careful, but I also thought it was standard.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 14, 2016 - 9:34 AM

      Hi Sarah – I haven’t heard of Red Guard until you just mentioned it. I spoke with our contractor and asked him multiple times what the next steps were for tiling the shower (we trust him wholeheartedly and have loved working with him!), and he said we could simply tile on top of the Durock. I did some quick searches online and I see mixed reviews on whether or not Red Guard is necessary – some say absolutely, others say not! Hmm. I suppose it never hurts to add it though! An extra barrier against water is always a good thing.ReplyCancel

  • ten - January 14, 2016 - 10:14 AM

    This is looking good so far! I’m excited to see the finished product. Nice work!

    Do you guys own the tool to cut tile? Or did you rent it from somewhere? I’m looking to DIY a tiled kitchen backslash in the near future.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 14, 2016 - 10:23 AM

      We got our wet saw off of Craigslist! When we’re done with it, we’ll probably pass it along – Craigslist style – again.ReplyCancel

  • Alison @ Deuce Cities Henhouse - January 14, 2016 - 12:05 PM

    Holy cow, guys! I can not even believe your mitered tile corners – they look kind of perfect to me. Someday I’ll have to tile my bathroom and I will for sure be revisiting all of your tile posts before I do a thing. Keep at it! It’s gonna be amazing when you’re done!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - January 14, 2016 - 1:06 PM

    I just finished tiling my bathroom and am waiting to connect the faucet/tub drain. Can you go into how you guys do that? I am apprehensive about doing it and I love your step by step pictures!

    Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 14, 2016 - 6:57 PM

      Hi Amanda! Do you mean how to install the finish pieces (the actual faucet and drain) or the behind-the-wall connection?ReplyCancel

      • Amanda - January 27, 2016 - 2:05 PM

        Hi Kim, sorry just saw you responded. I meant the actually behind the wall drain connection. Thanks!ReplyCancel

        • Kim - January 27, 2016 - 2:11 PM

          Hi Amanda, that part of the job was actually completed by our contractor before we tiled. I’m sorry we couldn’t be of more help! I will say that YouTube tutorials are our best friend in times like this though. :)ReplyCancel

  • SLG - January 14, 2016 - 5:17 PM

    This looks so beautiful! I’m now reconsidering my plan to do 3×6 subway tile and wondering if I should do 4×12 instead.

    I know this isn’t the topic of this post, but do you mind sharing which bathtub you used? I’m about to renovate an upstairs bathroom and have seen so much conflicting info on cast iron vs. fiberglass, weight requirements, water depth, etc. Would love to know where you guys landed.ReplyCancel

  • Josh | The Kentucky Gent - January 15, 2016 - 9:45 AM

    The tile looks great! Y’all have SO much more patience than I.

    Josh | The Kentucky Gent
    http://thekentuckygent.comReplyCancel

  • Dani @ Danielle and Co. - January 15, 2016 - 9:49 AM

    I am so impressed with your tiling skills! I’m so nervous to tile for the first time – it’s nice to read a realistic portrayal of how hard the work is, but that it also sounds doable. I love the contrast between your floor and wall tile choices, too!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 15, 2016 - 10:09 AM

      I think as long as you set yourself up to know that tiling doesn’t happen in a day! For us, it’s 3 (LONG) days minimum, but this wall tile will easily go into 4 day – plus a few weeknights, maybe? We are excited to get it done, because we know the results will be worth the hard work! (Something we remind ourselves when we start to get moody about our slow progress.)ReplyCancel

  • Cara - January 18, 2016 - 7:31 AM

    This space is going to be beautiful!! I love everything you guys do and you have certainly inspired my own home’s look:) Question, which tile color did you get? Silk Matte or Snow White Matte? I’m going to get a sample for our kitchen. We are going with the Ikea Laxarby lowers with a full wall of tile on the hood wall (think: Chris Loves Julia) Do you think this will look good??ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 18, 2016 - 8:18 AM

      YES! They would look fantastic. We got the Snow White Matte. :)ReplyCancel

  • Erin - January 19, 2016 - 12:41 PM

    oh, I see someone above mentioned Redguard. I know it would super duper stink to have to take out the tile above the tub that you’ve already done, but I would do it if I were you.

    The previous owners in our house had a shower done with tile over cement board, and it slowly leaked which we didn’t discover til it started coming through our dining room ceiling below. It was thousands of dollars to redo the shower, and we even had to redo some of the hardwood flooring in our bedroom because of rot from water seeping under the floors.

    Ours was particularly bad because there was a bench in the shower (so a horizontal surface) with nothing but cement board under the tile, but it leaked at more places than just the bench. I would be so nervous at risking all your hard work. If you haven’t tiled the soap shelves yet, I would Redguard them even if you don’t do the walls, b/c the flat bottom is prime leakage territory. =( It looks gorgeous!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 21, 2016 - 9:30 AM

      Thanks for the input, Erin! We did end up doing more research on RedGuard and spoke with our contractor again, and we agree that it would be necessary for a tiled shower floor and bench. Because we have a bathtub, there won’t be any water settling onto the surface of the floor that can start seeping into the walls/floor/drywall/Durock. But I definitely recommend anyone reading these comments to check with their contractor before tiling!ReplyCancel

  • Lindy Brewer - January 27, 2016 - 9:53 AM

    You guys are my heroes! Your attention to detail is perfection. We did not tread the DIY tiling waters in the past, but maybe in the future we’ll feel more brave.

    And I love your dog portraits. I’ll be ordering some day 😄 Love your blog, thanks for the inspirationReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 27, 2016 - 10:16 AM

      So sweet, thank you, Lindy! I’d love to work with you on some paintings! :)ReplyCancel

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