Today, I want to talk about the super riveting topic of soap shelves! But seriously, have you ever thought about it? Until we really got to tiling, we weren’t super aware of all the things we’d have to think about. Things like outside corners! Inside corners! Bullnose trim! Tile above the baseboards and tile around the tub filler – and shower head and hand held and transfer valve. To be fair, we didn’t just start blindly, but as thoughtful as we were about every decision, I’d be lying if I told you we didn’t cross our fingers more than a few times.
We fell down the internet rabbit hole on a handful of occasions as we debated which way would work best for us on each task, and not surprisingly, there are quite a few methods to do ev-er-y-thing. The trickiest of all the tricky things, though? Those soap shelves. Never again will we take grabbing the shampoo off of a carefully crafted shelf for granted. Never, ever.
Any tutorials we found online were brief (with little to no illustration), although this one was the most helpful and extensive. Between what we learned with Lisa and the collection of shower shelf photos we’d amassed, we found a happy medium of what worked for us, so if you ever find yourself in a soap-niche-tiling-situation, hopefully this will help you, too!
WHAT WE DID. Needing to keep the subway pattern the same from left to right, we worked (obviously) from left to right. We continued tiling up the wet wall, so that we could continue on to the largest wall – the one with the soap shelves. Once we made it to the right of the soap shelves, we worked backwards from right to left so that we could get as close to each niche as possible. Once we reached the point where we could no longer avoid them, Scott would hold the next tile up and mark it with a pencil exactly where the cement board ended. We wanted the tile to be as flush as possible with the edge of the shelves.
We continued working left to right and, again, right to left until we had worked our way around both shelves. Scott made the cuts very carefully on the wet saw, while I mortared each one into place. We were thrilled with how things started shaking out, but I will say that it was a slow process! At a minimum, we were cutting around the shelves for a solid 2 hours, and this doesn’t take into account the inside of each shelf.
As we tiled between and above the shelves, we used tape to hold them in place so they wouldn’t begin to shift:
Not wanting to add any weight to the more delicate pieces while the mortar was fresh, we spent the next few hours working on the bullnose trim around the tub. It was so, so important to level every trim piece, ensuring that the tiles stayed aligned as we built them up.
Once we had our bullnose borders in place, we went back to the shelves, double checking that the mortar had hardened enough to continue building upon the cut tile. Because we are so slooow, we got the green light to move forward! Scott and I finished tiling to the ceiling in the shower before moving on to the inside of the shelves:
Above, you’ll see the remnants of each cut tile that surrounds the shelves. As each cut was made, we saved what was left and laid them out in the same continuous pattern. To be honest, we weren’t sure if this would work, but omg we are so happy it did! The remaining tile pieces fit perfectly in the back of the corresponding shelf, eliminating any disruption to the pattern!
With the back of the shelves in place, we moved on to the top, bottom and sides. Each shelf is about 13″ wide by a foot tall, and our tiles are 4″ x 12.” We didn’t want grout lines where any toiletries would sit, so we picked up 4″ x 16″ bullnose tiles with the bullnose along the 16″ side.
We measured each side of each shelf individually – both length and depth – and we gave the longer tiles a mitered edge where they meet. When installing the bottom tile, I applied additional mortar to the back so that there would be a slight (indiscernible) slope forward, which would keep water from pooling around bottles and settling into the edges. Once grouted, I was a little bummed to see that some parts of the bullnose were still visible – that teeny, tiny edge of orange ceramic. But! I taped around the tiles, applied a bead of caulk, and all was forgiven:
You can see that we did finish the grout like we hoped, and over the weekend, Scott installed the shower plumbing fixtures, while I finished caulking and touching up the baseboards. I say things like installed the shower fixtures and caulking and touching up like it’s no big deal, but my goodness, it is a big deal! We caulked, spackled, painted, touched up and plumbed for a good 10 hours, but you guys, it’s finally starting to look like a usable bathroom!
A full reveal on the bathroom tile (plus a few things we learned along the way) is coming later this week – and we’re throwing in a giveaway to celebrate. Hooray!
Sources: Subway tile: Storka Manhattan Snow White Matte 4″ x 12″ // Bullnose tile: Storka Manhattan Snow White Matte 4″x12″, 4″ x 16″ // grout: Polyblend non-sanded Platinum // caulk: Platinum unsanded Color Fast caulk
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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!)
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!
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!)
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!
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!
At this point in our three-room renovation, every item on the to-do feels mountainous. We’d love to say, let’s pick a shower curtain this weekend!, but I tend to make decisions a thousand times harder than they need to be. (Every person who has ever met me is shaking their heads in agreement right now.) First, I think, I must research all my favorite online stores. Then I should pop into a few of said stores to see the fabrics in person. Of course, I’m famous for switching gears, too. But what if I make my own? Yes! That’s what I’ll do. Now to find the perfect textile with the perfect weight in the perfect shade of – gray? Blue? No, definitely a pattern.
Welcome to Scott’s life. (I’m mostly kidding, but also kind of not.)
I feel as though we’re in the middle of this vortex – the eye of the storm, for sure – as our current tasks are things like tile the bathroom floors!, tile the bathroom walls!, install the plumbing fixtures (and hurry, because CC needs a bath, like, yesterday)! and, of course, build the PAX! but first install the bedroom baseboards!
But today I want to talk about completing one of those to-dos, because over the holiday break, we finished tiling the bathroom floor! I mentioned back here that we’d be going with traditional black hex (specifically, these guys), and at the start of this year, we were able to check that one off the list.
Our contractors installed cement board leaving us with a blank slate, but I’m going to start by saying the one thing we wished we would have done different. Below, you can see the obvious seams in the board, and we really should have mortared those areas first. Instead, we applied additional mortar into the cracks as we tiled, but because the mixture was still wet, some of the tiles did dip into those seams. It’s only noticeable closest to the tub, but I made a mental note to mention it so you don’t do the same, please!
Cautionary tale aside, we knocked out the job over the course of four days, starting with DAY ONE: Because we’re not expert tile layers, we like to first do a dry fit. We did the same in our entryway, and we think this is definitely a stress reliever on Mortar Day, especially if you’re using squares of mesh tile. Scott is the resident wet saw master, while I call out measurements, piece together the puzzle and use a utility knife to handle the detail cuts.
You can see below that the dry fit really highlights the individual tiles. Despite this, mortar saved the day (keep reading!), just as it did in our home’s entry.
While we loved the all black floor, I had been campaigning for a white hex border. Before we called it quits on day one, I used a pair of scissors to cut out a 2×2 pattern of white tile (I had ordered one box of this coordinating white hex for this reason) and laid it on top of the black. Scott was immediately sold, and we started DAY TWO by cutting the black hex out and dropping the white hex in.
Because our door jamb is pretty thick, the pattern juts out to create a little entryway! This little detail made us super happy, and YES, there will be a floor transition in our future:
Continuing on with day two, it was time to mortar! We started along the straightest edge in the room (the tub), and without a doubt, the tile gave us fits at time. It’s so easy to become misaligned once you get started, but luckily the mesh backing is really forgiving once the wet mortar is below. We pushed, and we pulled, and we added dozens of little spacers where we needed to ensure an even overall look. (The next morning, our fingers literally throbbed from the pushing. And pulling!)
DAY THREE. All that pushing and pulling allowed us the luxury of waking up to a floor that showed no signs of seams (just one area where it had slightly dipped into the cement board crack, ugh), and we got right to grouting! We chose charcoal gray grout from Lowe’s to blend in with the black, highlight the white and stand up to regular traffic.
DAY FOUR. To get a head start on the wall tile, we installed ledger board around the room. The ledger would give the wall tile a level lip to sit on while also allowing our baseboards to retain their profile. We chose inexpensive MDF to mimic the depth of our 1/4″ wall tile, and once the wall tile is in, baseboards are installed and everything has been painted (baseboards), grouted (wall tile) and caulked (baseboards and tile), they’ll be nice and sealed away from potential water damage.
Speaking of wall tile, we’ve started, and I’ll be sharing a progress report this week!
Sources: matte black hexagon tile: Elite Tile Retro .0875″ x .0875″ // matte white hexagon tile: Elite Tile Retro .0875″ x .0875″ // mortar: TEC Skill Set // grout: TEC Charcoal Gray
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