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