Tag Archives: backsplash

3 Weeks to Go!

Well we have about 3 weeks to go till our wedding, and I’m pretty sure we have more than 3 weekends of work to do on the kitchen before then…so we’ll see how far we get, and our guests will just have to accept the slow reality of DIY renovation!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and since then I’m happy to say our backsplash is installed and about 2/3 of the way done with being grouted. Here’s some pictures of the backsplash pre-grout:

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And the cutouts Nik made around the window frame:IMG_1048

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And also the new cabinet in the corner:

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We had a minor set back Saturday, when we turned on the tile saw and smoke erupted out of it. We figured out it was the capacitor which had fried…and of course Skil is not opened on the weekend to help us deal with it being covered under the 1 year warranty. So we went to Lowe’s and just bought a new one for $90 so we wouldn’t be slowed down. Once we get the part to fix the old one…is there anyone who wants a tile saw?

After giving all the tiles time to dry out, we applied grout yesterday. We wanted a light gray, and tested out a few ratios of dark gray grout with white grout. We settled on mixing 1 part gray grout with 2 parts white grout:

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And then the fun (read: stress) began:

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Even though I’ve grouted twice before, and should know by now that IT’S GOING TO LOOK LIKE CRAP WHEN YOU DO THE INITIAL APPLICATION BUT IT’S GOING TO BE OK IN THE END, I still freak out when applying it. Grout is stressful because you have to apply it heavily to make sure you get it in all the cracks adequately which takes a while, then 20 minutes after application you wipe it down with a slightly wet sponge, then wait anther 30 minutes to buff it. But it takes longer than 20 minutes to do a few feet of wall, and then you want to keep going with the grout in the bowl to not waste it before it hardens…but it’s time to start sponging, and two people can’t be in the same place at the same time…and you see where this is going.

But after several near-nervous-breakdowns and several hours of time we managed to finish about 2/3 of the kitchen, and sure enough it looks wonderful:

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In retrospect, subway tile was a challenge – not because of the tiling part, which went very well, but because of how time consuming the grouting was. With larger tiles, it’s less work, but with these small tiles there are so many edges and you really have to ensure every edge of every tile gets good grout coverage. But I love the look, and I love the subtle gray grout color we made.

Our cabinets have made substantial progress (although not yet done). The doors all have 2 coats on the front, so just a coat of sealer and the fronts will be done. Then the backs need another coat or 2, and a coat of sealer. And the cabinet frames (in the kitchen) need their sealer.

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So what’s the plan for the next 3.5 weeks? Our goals are to finish the grout and caulk around the tiles, hopefully finish painting/sealing cabinets, drilling and adding hardware and re-mounting the doors, cleaning up the quarter round floor trim with some paint-touchups, putting our pantry door back on, and hopefully making and mounting the shelves for next to our sink. We bought these cool rustic brackets off of Etsy  for the shelves:

DIY Rustic Shelf Bracket Hangers Lip Metal Shelve Mounting Angle Industrial HANDMADE 2

And we’re actually planning to use 1″ thick oak stair treads for the shelf – which will be stained and sealed. But we’ll see how far we get – there’s lots of wedding-to-do-list items for the next few weeks too, and getting successfully married might have to take priority over the kitchen!

 

Making a ‘Splash

We’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics this past week, so I thought my title would be appropriate with all the water sports going on. As we were sitting in the living room painting cabinet doors and watching, we remembered the London games were on during our first summer of refinishing furniture. Hard to believe we’ve been at this DIY stuff for over 4 years!

The ‘splash I’m actually referring to is of course our backsplash, which we finally got started on this past Sunday. Saturday was semi-productive, with a much needed trip to the Durham dump thanks to our friends and their pickup truck (now we can now easily walk through our garage!), however Saturday’s productivity digressed into an early afternoon tour at the Mystery brewing company in nearby Hillsborough, NC followed by a rescheduled babysitting adventure with my friend’s toddler (very fun, but toddlers are exhausting!).

So Sunday we got started bright and early and Nik measured and cut all the quarter round for the kitchen floor trim while I made some progress with cabinet painting. Then we made a big trip to Lowes to buy tile supplies. We ended up going with the smaller subway tile (3×6″ tiles) even though we went in thinking we liked the 4×8″ tiles – the reasoning is all the bullnose edge pieces of tile matched the 3×6″ size and using these edge pieces on the larger tiles just didn’t look right. We spent about an hour sitting on the floor of the tile aisle at Lowes lining up tiles and assessing the look, and finally made our purchase of 320 tiles plus 32 bullnose edge pieces! That’s a lot of tile – but it only came to about $30 for the edge and corner pieces and about $70 for the full pieces. (The 4×8 tiles would’ve been about $110 so we saved a little going with the smaller, more-standard tiles).

Then we ended up getting pre-mixed mastic, which is basically thin-set mortar, easy to use and you only spread a thin (3/16″) layer of it with a v-shaped comb trowel. Then comes the grout…I want a very light gray grout, to show the definition of the subway tile, but not look busy since our counters have quite a bit going on with them. Unfortunately, the grout we want that has sealer built into it only came in white and a medium gray as the next darkest color. Conundrum. I stared at it for a good 15 minutes, upset that I wouldn’t be getting my nice light gray I wanted, when Nik finally had a stroke of genius and pointed out that we have dark gray grout at home in the same brand, so if we bought the bright white color we could mix in as much dark as we want to get the perfect shade of gray! Apparently my PhD training was not enough to instill this type of intelligence in me, but I’m sure glad Nik’s was.

So on to some pictures…we figured we had enough time Sunday night to get one wall started, just to see how easy the process would be with lining up the tiles, cutting them neatly on the tile saw, and using the mastic. I wanted to do this first wall without error, so I insisted on making a wall template on the floor and pre-cutting all the tiles to fit that, then just popping them onto the wall.

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After lining them up staggered, we could measure what needed to be cut and piece it all together before moving to the wall. This worked perfectly, but it was quite time consuming to do it this way, so I’m not sure we’ll replicate this process for all the walls. I think we determined cutting the tile with our saw was a breeze, and the mastic has a decent amount of workable time before it hardens, so we may just cut-as-we-go for the rest of the walls.

Here’s the precut design:

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And then Nik started spreading the mastic:

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We used pennies to space the tile off the granite, and we didn’t have to use spacers between the tiles because the tiles have built in spacers all around each edge that give you that perfect subway tile spacing.

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And here’s the first wall all done, with the edge pieces and corner in place:

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I think it looks pretty darn good…and I can’t believe how easy it was! This week we’re working on making more progress with the cabinet doors, and on Saturday Nik is on his own since I’m making a quick trip to my parents to get my wedding dress fitted, so I’ve tasked him with nailing in all the floor trim that day. I’ll be back on Sunday so we’re hoping to get the remainder of the backsplash up that day. The grout will have to wait a few days for all the mastic to cure, and then we’ll be spreading that on, with a final step being to caulk all the tile edges.

I haven’t mentioned our gardens in a while, and while we’re still getting cucumbers practically by the bushel, our tomatoes are about at the end of their season. We’ve found a few hornworms on them which are huge and squishy and amazing to look at up close (this healthy one was a good 4″ long!)

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I just bought a bunch of seeds to sow a fall crop, including beets, 2 types of pickling cucumbers, buttercrunch lettuce, kale, collards, and brussels sprouts. We should get these fall crops going soon as well, so this might be another task for this weekend.

We also have a pretty plum gold variety foxglove that started blooming, so I have a picture of that to leave you with.

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Counters at Last

Our kitchen feels like it’s coming together at last this week, with the installation of our counters, sink, and new faucet. But then we remember there’s still lots to do: finish the cabinet painting and sealing, figuring out the open shelves we want to install, mounting the microwave, backsplash, wood floors and trim, painting and adding cabinet top molding. It’s still exciting to see colors coming together though.

The extra cabinet we wanted to install on the far wall actually came in last week, so we were able to get that base cabinet installed in time for the granite guys to put the top on. We obviously still haven’t built the island, so that piece of granite is sitting in the garage. Granite is simply laid on top of a cabinet with a thin bead of clear silicone caulk, so we can do that ourselves when we’re ready, and they said the island slab only weighs about 80 lbs. Here’s the rest of the pieces installed:

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I like the green with the counters overall, and I think once the doors are on with new hardware will complete the look. It’s a little…country looking, but I think using hardware with sharper angular lines will help shift that towards a more modern look. This is what helped direct us when we picked a sink faucet, so this is the one we decided on. It got installed by the plumber on Wednesday.

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I like the angular look, but I have one major complaint about this sink that Nik was supposed to address with the plumber since he was the one at home when the guy came. The on/off knob you can see points straight up when it’s off, and it pulls out to the right to turn on the flow, and then you can adjust it towards or straight up to vertical to change the temperature. But if you just pull it out from the vertical off position, it’s HOT water. So to get cold, you have to first pull it towards you, then out. This seems really backwards right? I checked Delta faucets, and they do their temperature control the way I think it should be…but this faucet is a Moen and apparently they do it opposite. I asked Nik to have the plumber switch the hoses so up would be cold…but we all know how that goes when we put men in charge of details such as this! So now I’ve tasked Nik with switching the hoses at some point.

Nik also had him switch the disposal to the left side to be closer to the dishwasher. We thought we’d be able to salvage our old functional one, but apparently when we removed it from the old sink when we were doing the demo ourselves, we removed it incorrectly (no thanks to the youtube video we watched which told us “exactly” how to remove it!) and whatever we did to the edge of it, it couldn’t be reused. That’s ok though – the new one was only $80 and didn’t have years worth of nasty grime and rust all over it.

We have one more decision to make about decor in the kitchen – the backsplash. I’ve been thinking something along the lines of white subway tile would be simple and cheap, and white will further brighten and hopefully open the space, which I’m still wary of because of the dark cabinets and soon-to-be dark wood floor. We also have quite a bit of backsplash to lay (probably 35-40 square feet when you add it all up), since we opted to have counters with no granite backsplash, so anything too fancy would get pricey.  Last night we wandered to Lowe’s and took a look at their options. After our trip, clean white subway tile is definitely the direction we’re going – you can see the counters are pretty busy, so we think any accent tiles, even just a row, will just exaggerate that. I liked the white glass subway tile, but at almost $3 a tile that isn’t going to happen!

We picked out 3 styles of subway tile – a more decorative one on the left (about 3″x6″ and 49 cents a tile), which I love, but it has more going on and could look too busy. Then a larger subway tile (4″x8″, 69 cents a tile) and standard subway tile (approximately 3″x6″, and 22 cents each).

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I kind of like how clean the big tiles look…but the small ones are nice too. We’ll probably do a pretty thin grout line with some contrast (maybe a light gray), since we want to see some definition of the tiles but not make them look too busy with high-contrast dark grout. I think with white grout you lose the tiles:

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Dark grout is a little dizzying to me, unless the rest of the kitchen is very plain. But even this kitchen with very plain counters, I think the grout is a bit much to take in:

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Light gray grout gives soft definition but isn’t too bold/busy, and you can see it even looks nice with a more patterned counter top like ours (second picture). The one on the left also has slightly larger/longer tiles…which I kind of like better. The store did carry one other subway tile size that was more that shape (larger/longer) so that’s an option too.

And we’ll probably do a standard subway tile pattern (staggered, like the ones above). The guy at the store suggested herringbone, which I love, but with Nik’s constant battle with perfection I think this is probably a bad idea. Plus herringbone is a pretty busy pattern, so it might compete with the counters. This kitchen did a beautiful herringbone pattern, but they have very simple white counters unlike ours, so it works:

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In conclusion…we haven’t made any decisions, but we’re getting there! This weekend we should be able to get the microwave mounted and get some more doors painted, and maybe even start on ripping up the floors.

 

Close to the End

This was a very productive weekend for the bathroom, and at this point we are so close to being done! On Saturday, we spent a long time looking at our backsplash tile to figure out the easiest/least wasteful way to cut it and get the coverage we wanted on the wall. We ended up just cutting 3 of the pieces in half, with plans to put the flat cut edge against the wall and the feathered ends hidden behind the vanity so we wouldn’t have to even deal with cutting them even. Here’s Nik doing the down-the-middle cut of our first piece:

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The cuts went ok; we definitely got pieces here and there that got chipped at the edge as the blade cut through but overall it went better than expected.

We laid out the edge pieces and then figured out how to feather in pieces to fill the space above the vanity:

Unfortunately, this design is basically made up of four interlocking quadrants for each piece, so the dimensions were kind of set in stone with ~6″ square increments, and the only way to change them would be to mess with the flat edges we cut, but we only had about 1.5″ of wiggle room there before the uneven edges would show on the side of the vanity. Fortunately, when we laid it out on the verge of panic as to whether the spacing would work, the configuration came out to 31.5″ wide, and our room is 32″ wide. We felt this was good enough and we’d grout in the extra 1/4″ on each side.

So here’s the layout, with the white cardboard representing where the vanity would come up to:

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So on to mortar and laying the backsplash:

Turns out spreading mortar and laying tile on a vertical wall is much more challenging than a floor. The right side had some issues sliding downward so it needed some stressful adjusting to get it to fit properly. But the finished product came out nicely:

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We dragged the vanity in again to see how it looked:

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Then we left it alone to harden over night. On Sunday, we started off by filling and caulking all the baseboard cracks, and then painting the baseboards and door casing with a fresh coat of white trim paint. Then, Nik started configuring the toilet drain. We thought we’d need a flange extender since we were adding the tile, which came up much higher than the old laminate flooring. However, when we put the 5/8″ extender on with the foam ring (a replacement for the wax ring), the toilet was about 3/8″ too high off the floor. So we removed the flange extender and just went with the foam ring, and the toilet sat flush with the tile.

And (finally!!) we got to install our new toilet seat, that started this whole renovation. I wanted to wait till the very end to put this on to signify closure of this project, but then Nik reminded me how annoying it is to go all the way upstairs to pee, so on the seat went.

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We’re not 100% sure the foam ring alone without any flange extender at all is making a tight enough seal (we really needed a 3/8″ extender, not a 5/8″ one), but there’s no leaking when we flush and it smells fine. Unfortunately, the only good way to tell if the seal is tight is if you start to notice a bad sewage smell, it’s not tight enough. So we’ll see how that goes in the next couple weeks before we caulk around the toilet to seal it in place.

Next on Sunday, we grouted the backsplash tile. For me, this was one of the more stressful bathroom experiences so far. Lots of little tiles = more grouting work, and I was worried the grout wasn’t going to buff off of the less-smooth stone tiles.

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The sponging and buffing steps for this was very work intensive, because you basically had to polish the grout around every single tile until you were happy with how that grout line looked. But, I finally finished around 11:15pm last night and I think the outcome was good. You can also see the slightly thicker grout around the side edges of the backsplash, that made up that extra 1/4″ on either side. I put grout in a ziplock bag and piped it into this space like frosting, then Nik smoothed it with his finger. It’s a little thick, but I honestly don’t think it’ll be too noticeable when we get the vanity in.

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We were hesitant about using the same gray grout we used on the floor, but we decided to go with this after we saw the tiles set in the gray mortar and we kind of liked the darker contrast. I also think it makes the whole tone of the backsplash a little more gray than tan.

Here’s a view of our progress, all that’s left is installing the vanity and faucet, adding some decorative trim over the backsplash, and sealing the toilet and vanity with caulk. So close!

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Signs of Spring

When I was a little kid, nature was a big part of my world, thanks to my parents. My brother and I were always interested whatever wildlife we could get our hands on from our backyard (turtles, frogs, tadpoles, bugs of all sorts, a stray duckling, snakes, the list goes on). And my parents were avid gardeners, so we knew all about plants sprouting and growing from a young age.

One of my favorite springtime activities as a young kid was looking for “signs of spring” in the yard – I’d get all bundled up and go in search of new buds and bulb plants coming up out of the leaves or snow. My mom says I knew the names of all the different types of flowers.

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It’s only February now, but our daffodils stared sprouting weeks ago, and the pink cherry trees in our neighborhood are in full bloom. Nik’s fig tree (that originally came from a family tree in Italy years ago, and our clipping came from an established tree in his parents’ yard in Pennsylvania) also had a bud which means it survived its first winter in our ground.  It’s exciting to be in my own house as an adult and appreciate the signs of spring in my new yard.

Since the weather finally got warm this weekend and no more torrential rains are predicted for the next week I put some grass seed down. Our lawn has a fair amount of weeds, but they’re kind of green so I was hesitant to kill them. I’m starting with fescue grass and we’ll see what comes up. Once the grass has become more established I might try to go back with a weed killer.

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I also got a few planters going on my back porch for herbs. I haven’t planted them quite yet, but the soil is in them waiting for it to warm up a little bit more.

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I also got some seeding trays and I’ve started some vegetables from seed in the warm, sunny guest bedroom upstairs. Sure enough, our garden application to the HOA got rejected since it lacked an official survey (but it sounds like they didn’t even take the time to read all the information we did submit), so I’ll have to talk to them this week to see how we can appeal, hopefully still without having to get a survey done, but I think they’re going to be difficult about this unfortunately.

With the warm weather, we’re also seeing more animals in our yard and neighborhood – in the last week, we saw the rabbit that lives in our yard (I named him Peter), 3 deer, a giant opossum, a woodpecker, a baby garden snake, and a large hawk. I’ve also seen bluebirds in the area – I want to get a bluebird house up in the yard to see if we can attract a pair.

Our bathroom has continued to progress. This weekend we got our floor tile grouted – we only made about a fifth of the grout package, and it turned out to still be too much. IMG_0579We scooped some onto the tiles and started smoothing it into the cracks with a float.

The float was making the grout sort of crumbly and dry looking so we added some more water and it went in a little smoother. I still wasn’t convinced it would look nice and smooth when we were done. After applying it, you have to wait about 30 minutes to wipe it down with a slightly wet sponge. It came right off the tiles, and the grout lines immediately smoothed out – problem solved!

We wiped 3 times, then got a rag and buffed the remaining haze off the tiles.

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I don’t think we could’ve asked for better grouting! Next, we used some salvaged pieces of baseboard and shoe trim to cut pieces for the left side of the bathroom to cover where the old vanity was. I gave them a quick coat of trim paint and Nik cut them to size, now they just need to be attached with the nail gun, and the trim that was already in the room needs to be painted to match.

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The next step is adding our backsplash. On Saturday night Nik had a dance performance so I went to Lowe’s to look for tile. I reflected a little while I was in the store by myself, at 8pm on a Saturday night, looking like a hobo in my dirty grouting clothes, spending an inordinate amount of time staring at backsplash tile, and trying to extract as much information as I could about laying backsplash from the  Lowe’s associate I found – turns out their most knowledgeable associates definitely choose to work “off hours” when the store is emptiest, like late on a Saturday night =) But when this bathroom is done, I think it’ll be worth it.

I picked out some tile that I thought would work for several reasons – it is slightly beige toned but still has gray, so I think it will match the walls and help warm up the room. It was about $12 a square foot which is pricey, but we only need about 5 square feet. It has no glass mosaic tiles – all ceramic/porcelain, so we could use the current blade on our tile saw to cut it. And, the shape of the tiles makes sense for our wall – anything with larger tiles, like subway tile, probably wouldn’t look as good along the side of our vanity, which has only about a 4″ clearance on either side.

On Sunday Nik and I dragged the vanity base into the room to hold up the tile and see how it all looked together. The vanity looks very dark in the room, with the light behind it, which we weren’t expecting. It looks more dark brown than light gray. But brown is alright, since the tile has warm tones.

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It’s coming together!