Monthly Archives: April 2014

Baby got BACK.

…as in BACKsplash. We got ‘er done, FINALLY and COMPLETELY (!) and here comes the best part…sharing it all with you! 🙂

Ever since our contractor finished correcting installing the final corner of countertop in our kitchen, I fantasized about the backsplash and the day we’d have one (so for about 10 months now). Ha, I’m not joking. We lived with bare drywall/plaster behind our countertop forEVER…there were scratches, pencil marks, scuffs, notes, measurements…you name it, our wall had it.

See? Not so pretty to stand and cook in front of.

So, let’s start with the easy part: the choice to use a “free” material to complete 75% of our backsplash. In our room by room update, you may remember seeing bamboo as the backsplash. We should have bought stock in the bamboo flooring industry for crying out loud, since we’ve used it now in 5 applications between 2 houses…this makes it the 6th. Somehow when we bought it for our first house, we ended up with a ton of extra material. Hence the free-ness of it this time around. By now, we’re just trying to use it up in smart, unique and easy ways. I’ll never forget that moment when the light bulb went on above Anthony’s head as we were standing in the kitchen looking at the bare, nasty white walls.

The conversation went something like this: “so, this may be totally crazy, but what do you think of bamboo on the walls as the majority of the backsplash?” “ummm, love it. let’s do it!” Done and done. One of the quickest home renovation ideas we’ve both arrived at. Here’s why we thought it’d work well:

  • with all of the white in this room, we wanted some contrast and some warmth in our choice of backsplash.
  • laying it out horizontally meant large areas of coverage could be accomplished fast (side note: this is the exact opposite of what happened with the tile we chose, lol…at least 75% of our backsplash went up quickly!?).
  • we’d installed it in the full bath of our first home and knew that it would be extremely durable when water landed on it.
  • did I mention it was essentially FREE at this point?! We had nothing to lose…except for the boxes of stuff that went up on the walls and allowed us to GAIN storage space back!

The installation process for bamboo took about 3-4 days of working nights after work for a couple of hours each time. Once that was in place, we started looking into what tiles we may want behind the stove and range hood. Man, there are lots of options out there. We looked online at tons of stunning kitchen reno’s. We looked through Houzz every night. We went to the big box stores and the small, boutique tile shops nearby. I looked through all of our tile samples at work and asked reps for what new styles they were aware of and any discounts they could offer. Long story short, we knew we wanted a fun shape (even though we LOVE the classic simplicity of subway tile, we felt that this was our opportunity to add some interest to the room), and a bit of color and texture.

Enter a recommendation from one of the reps at our local Architectural Ceramics stores. They are Walker Zanger tiles from their Ashbury Mosaic line. We fell in love with the shape and these 2 colors. We immediately thought about alternating them to create a fun pattern on the wall behind the stove.

Once we found out that they were only in stock in the California warehouse and shipping was going to cost over $200, we had to rethink things. 😦 How is it possible that the most perfect tiles that we had searched so long and hard for, were so far away and cost so much to get here? I mean, yes, they’re ceramic tile and they need to be packed and shipped carefully, but SERIOUSLY?! For $200, I could charter a plane to get them here. Is that what they were doing?! Needless to say, we were very skeptical. Architectural Ceramics was giving us a discount because we work in the design industry, but our theory is that they were trying to make up costs by changing us an arm and a leg for unnecessary shipping costs.

After a little more research and asking around at work, a colleague reminded me of a local tile shop not too far from our office. Chesapeake Tile was outstanding. I emailed them to get a quote and immediately got a response. After asking about shipping, I learned there was a warehouse in TX that could get them for us and that shipping was only going to be $87. #thatsmorelikeit

7-10 days later, many of these boxes were sitting in our dining room. Very unassuming, just staring at us from the corner…waiting for us to get the courage to start one of the more visible and time-consuming projects we’ve done since moving in.


We unpacked them and were faced with full mesh-backed groupings of tile that needed to be taken off one by one, since we were going to hang them individually to allow the alternating color pattern to work.

A few beers and some good music later, we had this scene on our hands. 🙂


Before installing tile, we had to apply primer to the wall. There were 2 reasons for this: it sealed in the new plaster work the contractor did and helped the thin set mortar really bond. It’s amazing the difference a bright white wall made after months of dingy grayish white! I was almost ready to stop right there and leave it white…HA, or not. We have 867 sf +/- a few feet of white surfaces in the kitchen already. 😉

We used Kilz Primer since it has really good coverage and blocks out any stains or marks on the wall. We also used this (a few coats of it) on the panelling in the playroom to bring it from a nasty, dirty, it-used-to-be-white-but-was-seriously-stained-yellow back to bright white again.

Here’s my first pass at setting up our pattern. It’s not the pattern we ultimately ended up going with…but the fact that we had this many individual tiles ready to go was exciting in and of itself. 😛



These were absolutely integral to a successful installation. They were kind of a pain since every 6th one would fall out, but 96% of them stayed in and allowed us to know if we had evenly spaced tiles.

One last countertop mock-up before GO time…!

Step 1: schmear thin-set on the wall.

Step 2: use a notched trowel to make sure that you apply the proper depth of setting material to the surface. The rule of thumb is the notches in the trowel should be approximately 2/3 the thickness of your tile.

This was the thin-set we used. We spent a good deal of time researching a Bondera-type wall mat in lieu of using thin-set but ultimately decided against it for a few reasons; our main concerns with it were longevity and the requirement to have to grout within 8 hours of applying the tile to the wall. Ain’t gonna happen as parents of a toddler! We’re lucky we got half the wall done in one night much less the whole wall and then grouting it soon after.

Once it was time to start applying tile to the wall, a part of me was all giddy excited and a part of me was totally nervously anxious! We’d hung the backsplash in our first house, but it came ready to go in 12″ x 12″ mesh backed squares…this was one…single…solitary…tile…by one. HERE GOES!


We started by sticking the first row of tiles next to each other, with spacers as we went. Take note of the spacer location…that’ll be key in a second. After finishing the first row and starting to stack the second row, it was immediately clear our system had a fatal error…see how close each of the first row of tiles is, measured at the fattest, most rounded middle part? Well, once we layered the light blue ones in, they didn’t fit. The vertical part of the shape didn’t have enough room. So, we moved the spacers up to that area and started setting the light blue ones in and alternating tiles up and down…grayish tile, light blue, grayish tile, light blue, grayish…you get the picture.

It was so nervewracking since I for one, was convinced we weren’t going to be able to keep it straight the whole way up by eyeballing it! Anthony may have worried about the same thing, but he never let onto it…someone’s gotta remain calm and confident around here. And it’s not me by any means! 😛

Once we got rolling, we were cooking with gas…ha! Not really. I hate cooking with gas (true story, I’m one of the few people who begged for an electric stove when we were shopping for our new appliances), I just wanted to use a cheesy pun. Lol.


Getting there…cutting each tile surrounding the range hood was oh-so-fun. We have our contractor to thank for that. They jimmied the thing into its location so tightly, we were afraid to take it off.

A final close-up before grout made it’s appearance…! Notice the spacers that hated consistently doing their job.


After heading to the HD to choose our grout, we chose this baby in Snow White. It took 1.5 bags to complete about 20 sf.


It’s shaping up to be a real wall finally!



If you look closely below, you can see the whole process in one image. Whoever said a picture is worth 1,000 words wasn’t kidding. 🙂 A fully grouted bottom part of the wall, a top left corner that’s drying and a right corner awaiting grout.



What’s that? It’s close-ups you crave? Sure thing. I gotcha covered.

And then, just like how they make a full-blown meal with the magic of tv, we had a full-blown completely tiled wall. Just like that… 😉 A few late nights, a few days of our stove sitting in the middle of the kitchen with just enough room to sneak by and a few 6 packs of beer later, we had a COMPLETED BACKSPLASH! Bada-bing-bada-boom.

Before the big reveal, here’s a before photo, just to remind you of the blah-ness…


And here’s what we get to enjoy on a daily basis now!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Sorry for the long post, there were a lot of details, a lot of decisions and so much effort that went into making this project a reality! I’m just glad to see less and less remnants of a construction site…I see enough of that at work. 😛 And, I think Anthony is glad to never have to cut any number of tiles around a range hood again.





April 3, 2014 · 11:14 pm