September 10, 2013 by Leah
So, back in July when I painted our cupboards and installed all new hardware, I also ordered 470 Mexican tiles via eBay. Then they came really fast, and they’ve been sitting in our (unused) nursery for six or eight weeks. I also ordered a new sink and added that to the mounting pile of boxes in the nursery. After a very busy summer, I decided last week would be the week to get everything installed, since it was the only week Aaron would be home and we wouldn’t be in Alaska between August and October. I figured it was a four-day – five, max – project. After all, the Internet said installing a tile countertop and/or backsplash was a fun projected for any do-it-yourselfer.
It took three days for me to chip the old laminate out with a crowbar. I had assumed it would come up easily, in large pieces, based on how often the trim pieces fell off our counters, but this was not the case. The stuff on the counters came up with hard work (and some blood loss). The stuff on the walls came off with more hard work and blood loss, and took most of the painted drywall paper with it, leaving cardboard-looking drywall innards and one strip of paper that wasn’t going anywhere. I was a little worried I’d have to install backer board on the walls, but I was able to seal it up with an oil-based primer and then use thinset mortar (rather than the tile mastic I had planned on using for the walls) to even out the installation. (This is not the method one would use for tiling a shower or other wet environment. FYI.)
Once the counters and walls were stripped down and primed, I enlarged the sink opening a bit (it was Aaron’s VERY good idea to test the new sink in the old opening at this juncture) and got Aaron to cut cement backer board to fit the counters so we’d have a good surface for the tile installation. Then I mortared and screwed the boards into place. That was Wednesday (Day 3).
The tiling was the most fun part. My awesome friends who own a construction business loaned me their tile saw (and jigsaw, which came in handy for enlarging the sink opening), which was a godsend. It really is easier to cut tile as you’re laying it than it is to precut and have it not fit correctly. Mortar is messy, and I had a hard time getting the consistency exactly right, but I’ve only had two tiles fall off (so far), and they’re not too difficult to replace. I got the black tile in over the course of Thursday and Friday. Part of the reason that took so long (other than the fact that I have a toddler) is that we had an epic storm on Thursday night and lost power for 12 hours. Elias and I had to go rescue Aaron from his death trap of an office (100-year-old building that sits atop a hill) and then I tiled by the light of my headlamp until I ran out of charged drill batteries (which allowed me to mix mortar without killing myself thanks to a paddle attachment).
On Friday, I realized that the edge tiles needed to be braced while the mortar set. I jerry-rigged braces for the spots where the tiles were above drawers or the dishwasher, but called in a consultant (Aaron’s awesome coworker) to help me figure out what to do about the ends of the cabinets. Answer? Clamps. Clamps and pieces of wood. Brilliant. I also laid out the color pattern for the backsplash on Friday, because Elias took a nice long nap. I had just ordered what amounted to a multi-pack of “solid colored tiles” for the backsplash, so I didn’t really know what I was getting, but I think it turned out even better than I’d imagined.
I finished up the backsplash and edge tiles at about 1:55 on Saturday afternoon (I know this as I was supposed to be at a baby shower at 2) and let them sit overnight. Sunday, I grouted and installed the faucet and water filter base in the sink, and then Aaron helped me install the basket strainers (betcha didn’t know those came separately from sinks) and the sink itself. (Elias also got a fever and started throwing up and it was Aaron’s last day in town before a business trip, so the grout is probably the weakest part of the whole installation due to shoddy and distracted workmanship.) Black grout is a nightmare. The whole “lightly sponge the tiles” part of grouting is just useless. Part of the problem there is that my tiles are rustic, so they’re all slightly different shapes and sizes, and the installation was done by an amateur, which didn’t help. So it’s not like I could just lightly sponge beige grout over perfectly installed and aligned tiles, like all the guys on YouTube seem to do. Whatever, several cleanings of counters and floors later and I am feeling a little more confident that we won’t be eating grout. Once I seal the stuff tomorrow, I will be even more confident about this fact. Also, I have lots of extra grout for touch-ups if required.
Anyway, after about four hours of sleep, we made the two-hour round trip to drop Aaron at the airport yesterday morning and during the drive I realized I needed to call a plumber to hook up the sink because otherwise I was going to lose my mind. We had a shallow one-bowl sink and our new one is a deeper, two-bowl sink – and the bowls are at different depths. The drains are also closer to the back wall of the cabinet under the sink, somehow, and the sink is narrower than is standard for a double sink. I spent a LOT of time trying to find help and instruction for plumbing a sink (and connecting our new water filter), but there is not a lot of help out there for a complete amateur. So, I got the number of a plumber who came by 15 minutes after I called and said it would be maybe an hour’s work to get everything installed and hooked up again. I was so happy. My research and our work on the fixtures and basket strainers meant we have the vast majority of the necessary parts and saved some labor time, so all the time and effort wasn’t a total waste. Cross your fingers with me that he can do the work this afternoon. Whenever he arrives and hooks up our sink, I will count Phase 2 complete. Today is Day 9, in case anyone is counting, and I really miss having running water in my kitchen.
So. I now need to paint the kitchen walls, which probably needed to be done anyway. This will allow me to touch up the cabinets where I got mortar or grout on them, and clean up around the edges of the tile (I’m considering putting wood trim up in some places, too). I’m a fan of color (obviously), but I think something neutral will be required here. I actually hate the current wall color a lot less now that there is some other color in the kitchen to bring out the hues in the paint.
Then, at some point, we will do new floors. I want medium wood or wood-look, but again, the new colors make me hate the current floors less. So that’s good. I’m also looking for an awesome, colorful Moroccan wall lantern that is wired for electricity and preferably has some kind of switch on it (<— impossible to find) to be my piece de resistance above the sink.
Finally, here are some pictures.
Original: beige on brown on beige.
Here you can see some of my crazy contraptions for supporting edge tiles: