HOUSE: Newburgh

Kitchen tiling progress!

I said I was going to tile, and by golly, I tiled! Oh, what a weekend. I wanted to get these photos up yesterday, but I’m so achy that even editing photos feels like too much. You’ve heard of “tennis elbow”? Well, I have what’s called “tiling thigh.” In both thighs. And my back, and my arms and even my fingers. The last time I tiled anything was the vestibule more than two years ago (!), and I’d forgotten how physically demanding it can be.

These photos are terrible (bad lighting, no tripod, hands covered in thinset), but I figure they’re better than nothing. I don’t understand how some people manage to take great photos of their renovation projects while they’re doing the work?

WOO-HOO, lookit all that glorious subway tile! It feels SO good to do this, pain and all. This is 7 years of procrastination paying off, folks. The cool thing about tiling is that once you do all of the prep work, it goes up reasonably fast. I actually really love tiling. It’s so satisfying, I think because it’s a finite project that usually doesn’t cover too massive an area. It’s methodical. It’s fun. (Really!)

Yeah, this technique I’m showing off here is called “denial and avoidance.” I suck at cutting tiles. Evan is the tile-cutting master in our house, so next weekend I’ll rope him in to cut all of my edge pieces. I think we’re going to have to under-cut the windowsill, though, because I’m pretty sure it’s impossible for a normal human to cut a shape like that out of a 3×6″ ceramic tile.

This is about 6 hours’ worth of tiling (excluding prep work and supply shopping, obviously). I wish I could’ve kept going into the wee hours, but the aforementioned “tiling thigh” was setting in, and I knew I had to quit. Saturday morning I’ll be back at it bright and squirrely, though. (Side note, how horrible is the current lighting in the kitchen? So sad. As is that stupid cellular shade that barely works anymore.)

Tilestagrams! Clockwise from top left: I got my level starting line up the night before I started tiling, and yes, I did use neon pink washi tape to hold my template tiles in place; my trusty Wood & Faulk pencil has seen me through a number of renovation projects; first row up, shimming courtesy of a ripped-up LL Bean catalog; mixing up the first batch of thinset.

I expect my kitchen will look like this for quite a while now. I really need to box up the non-essentials and put them in the basement. It was fun to move this counter to the middle of the kitchen! I can’t wait to have an island. This thing has been shoved up against the wall for far too long.

I took a few last-minute “after-before” photos (THESE are the real “before” photos) before I started taking down shelving. Here’s a last peek at what the kitchen has looked like for the past 7 years:






Some answers to questions I got on Twitter + Instagram:

✚ No, I didn’t ruin my manicure. I wore gloves, silly!

✚ We’re using the same tile we used in the downstairs bathroom. It’s just the basic 3×6″ subway tile from American Olean that you can buy off the shelf at Lowe’s. It costs 22¢ per tile, which is crazy cheap. What you see on the wall so far is about $30 worth of tile.

✚ Most modern subway tiles (including these) don’t require spacers—they’re self-spacing thanks to little ridges on the sides. If you try to use spacers your grout lines will be huge and you will be sad.

✚ We’ll be using black grout.

✚ Yes, I’m tiling directly onto the wall. It’s a plaster wall with flat paint that’s in good shape, and it’s a non-wet area. I patched any dings and sanded it lightly beforehand.

✚ I’m using a non-modified thinset.

✚ I learned to tile by Googling “how to tile” and also by reading posts on the forums at John Bridge.

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  • Reply jeannette December 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    it looks so clean and shiny and fresh. and shiny. how beautiful, and i’m thrilled its inexpensive, too.

    along the same low-tech, elegant lines, may i recommend a new hot water bottle (or two!!!) for tennis thighs?

    p.s. my tennis elbow, which i got putting SEVEN coats of primer and paint in like four days on the grandma blue LR walls left by the POs, went away after about a year. so there’s that to look fwd to.

  • Reply Amy December 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    Ooh, this is exactly what I’m doing in my own kitchen soon (white subway tile + black grout), but I think my tile is from Daltile at Home Depot (also super cheap)! Is it true that all subway tiles are self-spacing? I’m afraid I’ll end up with slanty tiles if I try tiling without spacers, which I’m sure would look pretty horrible with black grout.

    • Ellen L December 4, 2012 at 8:44 pm

      FWIW, we used Daltile 6X6 tiles from Home Depot for a tub surround and they were self spacing and worked out just fine

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 12:53 am

      Amy, Daltile 3×6 tiles are self-spacing. DO NOT USE SPACERS. It will look terrible if you do! The ridges on the edges are the spacers. You should butt the tiles up against each other nice and tight—you’re not trying to visually space them; the tiles will do all the work for you. Of course you’ll still need to shim as you go to maintain a level line (check for level-ness every 5 rows or so and shim as needed), but please please please please please don’t try to use a separate spacer. It will look really awful. Trust me. You want a nice, tight grout line with subway tile. Use non-sanded grout so it gets in there, and it’ll look great.

      (NO SPACERS!!!)

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 1:00 am

      Also just an aside: The only contemporary subway tiles I’m aware of that DO require some sort of spacer are the ones from Subway Ceramics. They have a perfectly flat, historically accurate edge, which allows you to get a miniscule grout line. Alas, I cannot afford these tiles.

      Any 3×6 tile you buy from Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc., is going to have a self-spacing edge.

    • Lynn December 5, 2012 at 4:49 am

      I just had my shower re-tiled with Daltile 3×6 subway tiles, and I am 99% sure they were not self-spacing. I remember having this conversation with my tile guy because it was a rush job and my choice was going to take longer. But the good news is you can easily see whether a tile is self-spacing before you buy it by looking for the ridges Anna mentions.

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 9:21 am

      Haha, now I feel like a jerk! 😉 But seriously, I was just (as in 4 days ago) looking at Daltile 3×6 at HD, and it was self-spacing. It didn’t have the little “nubs” on it like the American Olean, it was more like a continuous ridge that went around the whole edge. Do you think it’s possible that they make more than one kind??

      If there’s any doubt, an easy way to tell is just to butt two tile up against each other and see if the top edges are at all “shouldered.” Even a 1/16″ space is enough for non-sanded grout to get in and set the job nicely.

      Personally? I’d ask on the forums at John Bridge (with photos if possible) just to be on the safe side. I’m just some amateur with a blog who doesn’t know anything, but those guys over there REALLY know what they’re taking about. Better safe than sorry, especially when “sorry” includes me ruining someone’s tile job. 😉

      I don’t trust tile guys in real life, only on the internet. That probably sounds nuts, but I’ve been burned and misled by too many of them to not double-check everything with the experts posting at John Bridge.

      (I’ll email Amy in case she doesn’t come back to check the comments!)

    • Amy December 5, 2012 at 1:52 pm

      I’m back! Thanks for the advice, Anna! I’ll definitely have to check to see whether or not the Daltile I have is self-spacing. It’ll be a few weeks before I get to tiling, but I’m excited.

    • Amy December 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm

      So, I checked and the 3 x 6 Daltile that Home Depot sells (Rittenhouse Square series) does have a continuous ridge! I’m soo glad you posted about this because I would have just used the spacers.

  • Reply Adriane /// The A & B Stories December 4, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Looks amazing! This reminds me of our bathroom tiling experience, which I thought was fun but my husband very much disagrees with and swears he will never tile again. So….my kitchen backsplash is all on me! It’s on my list, but now I feel a little extra motivated thanks to you!!

  • Reply Kelly December 4, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Looking good!

  • Reply stylencritics December 5, 2012 at 1:04 am

    Beautiful tiles, great job!!!!

  • Reply Tiffanie December 5, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Nice work! Are you planning on getting some kind of fan/hood over your stove during the renovation? I’ve been living without one for almost 13 years in a place with a pretty open plan, and it’s amazing how far that grease can travel. But we’re not vegan, so that might make a big difference!

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 9:43 am

      If we do put a hood over the stove, it’ll probably be non-vented (filter only) and mostly just there as a light source. There’s a window 4 feet away from the stove for ventilation, and I don’t really do any “greasy” cooking—even after 7 years the only crud on the walls is from splatters like pasta sauce. Maybe that’s because of the vegan thing, I don’t know! A chimney-style hood would definitely LOOK good because the ceiling is so high and that hearth is so prominent, but I don’t know if it’s really necessary for us.

  • Reply Monica December 5, 2012 at 3:23 am

    Beautiful! Even your renovation supplies are gorgeous, hello washi tape.

  • Reply j+h @ beyond the stoop December 5, 2012 at 8:17 am

    i love it so far! my mom did a white subway tile backsplash in her tan/goldish-painted kitchen with wood cabinets and black appliances. she NEEDED the white and it looks so classy! i think this tile could be used anywhere… and for someone that NEEDS color, a cheap/fun way could be to use colorful grout!?

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 9:45 am

      I’ve seen colored grout (red and green, I think…) used nicely with square white tiles, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it use with 3×6 tiles in a running-bond arrangement. That seems kind of horrible to me? I guess I’d have to see it in use, but I’m skeptical! I say if someone NEEDS color that they buy some bright tea towels or a cool toaster. 😉

  • Reply süsk December 5, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Wooooooorrrrrd on the black grout. It’s going to look splendid.

  • Reply Maureen December 5, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Greetings from DC! Can’t wait to see the black grout on those sleek and shiny tiles. We have small hexagon white tiles in our bathroom floor with grey grout, which is picking up a certain dinginess 8 years on. I’m wishing we had gone black! Hmmm… maybe we’ll regrout… Keep up the awesome! Love how the revamped site looks.

    • Karrey December 5, 2012 at 4:38 pm

      We went with bright white grout in our bathroom with white hex tiles, and it was SUCH A MISTAKE. Now I’m wondering if we can regrout, too. Grar.

  • Reply hena tayeb December 5, 2012 at 11:14 am

    good job.. it seems like it’s taking forever now but it’ll be worth it in the end.. and you can proudly say that you did it.. looking forward to see the finished space.

  • Reply Lisa December 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    It looks gorgeous, though I have to tell you that your “before” kitchen has been in my inspiration file for my own kitchen reno. Pretty much anything you do seems to be fabulous.

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      Thank you, Lisa! We’re actually not changing the look of the “before” (current) kitchen all that much, actually. Really just adding tile, painting, and moving things around a bit to make the space more usable. We’re keeping all of the units, countertops and the stove and all that! 🙂

  • Reply Jennie December 5, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    “Most modern subway tiles (including these) don’t require spacers—they’re self-spacing thanks to little ridges on the sides. If you try to use spacers your grout lines will be huge and you will be sad.”

    YES, this. That was me commenting on instagram about how bad our spaced bathroom subway tiles are. So sad indeed. *sigh*

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm

      Sorry Jennie 🙁

  • Reply Karrey December 5, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Yay, progress! I soooo want to use that black speckled VCT in our kitchen. I hope I can convince my partner to let me do it when we finally get around to renovating that room.

    • Ryan December 5, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      I used two different colors of VCT in my kitchen and now I wish I’d only done one. I thought I needed some sort of pattern but I’m jealous of all the solid flecked floors. I’m seriously thinking about prying up the lighter squares and replacing them.

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm

      It sure is cheap, that’s for sure, but if our budget had allowed it at the time I would have gone with something more sustainable like Marmoleum (true linoleum).

  • Reply Aruna December 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    It’s amazing how great it looks already! Looks like you used a gloss as opposed to a matte finish on the tiles. We’re debating this choice for our bathroom. We prefer the gloss, but lots of people are telling us we’ll be unhappy because of water spots and to go with the matte finish instead. Have you had any experience with this?

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm

      Hmmm, it’s never even crossed my mind. I guess I don’t think it’s a big deal to have water spots on bathroom tile? We have the time tile in our shower, and I’ve never thought it looks dull or spotty or dirty or anything like that. It honestly would never have occurred to me that something like that could be an issue. I say if you want glossy, go ahead and use glossy!

  • Reply chris! December 5, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    COOL! Hey, Anna, fellow plaster wall person…I have a question…when you tiled straight onto the wall, did the wall require any prep, other than the usual clean/sand business? I’m so lazy…I’ve been looking at my nasty kitchen for over 5 years but. I’m lazy. I just may do this now that you’re given me inspiration!

    • Anna @ D16 December 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm

      Nope, no other prep. HOWEVER: I know with 100% certainty that the walls in my kitchen are stable, sound, and secure, and that the paint is totally bonded to the plaster. If there is anything wrong with your walls at all (water-damaged or loose plaster, peeling paint, etc.) I don’t recommend going directly onto the wall. Also, if you have gloss/semigloss paint, I’d suggest using a TSP substitute to take the shine off in addition to sanding just to be on the safe side.

      And finally…do a test tile and leave it on overnight to check for soundness before doing the whole wall. (I skipped that step, but you should do as I say and not as I do!)

    • chris! December 6, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Awesome! Very helpful, thank you:)

  • Reply Amy December 5, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    This self spacing discussion above is inadvertently hilarious! But wow, Anna, the kitchen is going to be smashing when you’re done. And as for the physical demands – I grew up down the street from a family who owns their own tile business. The father and his two sons are so healthy and strong that they should be in that LL Bean catalog you used for shims. All-American men with muscles, you know? Must be all the tile laying and lugging of supplies.

  • Reply Kathy December 6, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Wow, looks beautiful! Can’t wait to see the “after” photos!

    • Anna @ D16 December 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

      Kathy, I was JUST looking at your blog this morning hoping there would be a new post! How nice to see you here. I hope you and your family are well. x

  • Reply Amy December 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    I have another question! What kind of black grout are you using? I was looking at the reviews on both Home Depot and Lowes and every single one mentions that black grout is anywhere from light grey to dark grey. I did a search on the John Bridge forums and true black grout seems hard to find. The grout in your vestibule photos looks black. What is your black grout secret?

    • Anna @ D16 December 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      Hi Amy 🙂 Hmmm, that’s a good question. The grout I’ve been using is definitely BLACK, as you can see in these bathroom photos (black tile/black grout):
      (Scroll down for tile photos—we used the same grout in the vestibule.)

      I wish I could remember exactly what brand/color we used, because we’re going to have to buy some again soon! It was definitely either from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Hmmm.

      I do know what kind of sanded caulk we used, though, and that was tough to track down. It’s made by Tec (Raven):

      Maybe the grout was from Tec also? I’m going to pick up more supplies this weekend, so I’ll check in here again and make note of the brand/shade.

    • Amy December 6, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      YAY! You’re awesome. I totally wasn’t thinking about finding the right color caulk, so thanks for the link. 🙂

      I love, love, love the way the floor turned out in your bathroom. I’ve seen those photos before, but totally forgot about them (I’ve been reading your blog since 2007!).

  • Reply Shannon December 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Looks lovely! 🙂 I used these same tiles in my kitchen backsplash and had NO IDEA they were self-spacing. I used a 1/16 ” spacer to keep my grout lines minimal but I wish I would have known that little tidbit! ha! 🙂


    • Anna @ D16 December 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      I think it’s crazy that they don’t print it right on the box!!

  • Reply jo December 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    wow! great work. Clean, simple, elegant. Can’t wait til I get my OWN house, so I can create and make it mine. I have a rental right now and it’s just not quite the same as owning your place.

  • Reply Patrick December 6, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Looks great – used the same tiles in my own kitchen renovation. The self-spacing is genius. One thing I learned (the hard way) is that you really need to be thorough when wiping off the grout from the tile faces after grouting. I was left with a grout “haze” that I ended up having to scrape off.

  • Reply Berry December 9, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    I’m catching up on reading blogs in my feed reader, and I happened to see a post about a kitchen that made me think of you immediately. The very first picture has this great white on grey cross as a backsplash behind the stove.

    No affiliation, blah blah blah.

  • Reply Brenda from Flatbush December 12, 2012 at 3:36 am

    We subway-tiled our bathroom 25 years ago, and cluelessly used “real” subway tile, with flat edges and slight “shoulders.” And butted it together at the edge just like the subway tiles on the 100-year-old walls we’d had to demolish (the bathroom was a gut rehab). Used thinset. Years pass, and everywhere exposed to water, the handsome thin groutline flakes off in chunks, because it’s just clinging to the tiny valley in the “shoulders.” How was the original (which lasted a century) different? It was a “mud job”–the tiles were sunk right into wet plaster, apparently. Now water has caused many of them to lift and the whole job has settled just enough to require shaving them to re-glue. If I can afford it, I may have the whole thing torn out and redone. SUBWAY TILES, I HATE YOU. But yours look really nice…and now they come with spacers built in…sigh…

  • Reply Brenda from Flatbush December 12, 2012 at 3:39 am

    Here is a link to a story on my houseblog about subway tile madness/sadness and stupidity:

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