Kitchen Transformation: To do list, and a little tile anxiety

As you can see from the latest photos, our kitchen remodel is almost finished. For the most part, I am thrilled with the result. Each time that some new part has been installed, I’ve been pleased, both with the individual item and with the way in which the overall look and feel of the kitchen has come together.

There are only a few tasks remaining for our contractor and their subs to complete when our carpenter returns from his vacation* next week:

  1. Finish installing the cabinet doors, shelves and knobs
  2. Install the new gas range (still in its box in our garage)
  3. Install the refrigerator (which we’ve had in our makeshift kitchen – aka the dining room – during the remodel)
  4. Install the microwave (which has already been test fit into its spot in the upper cabinet next to the refrigerator)
  5. Install the powder room lavatory and faucet
  6. Reframe the recess in the half wall into which the nook radiator fits, and reinstall the radiator (note to self: take before and after pictures of this)
  7. Install the wood base and quarter-round molding in the kitchen, breakfast nook and powder room
  8. Tile the backsplash
  9. Paint the walls (final coat) and trim (two coats)

Oh, wait! We’re doing the tile on the backsplash, and painting the walls and trim! As part of the cost-trimming process for the project, we decided to take on those tasks (along with the demolition). The painting is partially done, and can be completed as we have the time. The tile backsplash is a different matter. Code requires that the vertical surface around our gas range be non-combustible to 12″ above the burners, so we can’t have our final building inspection until the backsplash is in.

Let me state for the record that neither Paul nor I have ever tiled anything. (Actually, Paul tells me that he made a mosaic ashtray when he was about six. I’m sure that experience will prove helpful, 40 years later.) Now, I know that tile installation is not rocket science; in fact, I’ve often watched tilesetters installing the stuff and thought that I could do that… and do it even better. Tomorrow, we’ll see whether that’s true.

We have done a lot of planning for our first tiling experience. In September, we took a tiling class at our local tile shop. Did you know that properly mixed thinset mortar should be the consistency of Adams peanut butter? Me neither. Now we know that, and a few other things besides.

A couple of weeks ago, after the cabinets and countertops were all in place, I carefully measured the backsplash area. I laid out the entire pattern, including the grout joints, on my computer. I figured out how best to arrange the tile pattern to simplify cuts around electrical outlets and at the ends of the runs. Walls being imperfect, I’m sure that the tiles won’t lay out on them exactly as they did in the pristine confines of my computer, but it’s good to have a plan from which to start.

Today, we did some prep work in the kitchen. We struck centerlines, plumb lines and level lines on the wall. Paul screwed a ledger board onto the section of wall where the range will be, level with the adjacent countertops, to support the tile in that area while the mortar sets. And I laid out this mock-up of the tile pattern on one of the counters, just to verify that we really like it before putting it up on the wall.

3901-tile pattern

In keeping with the period and character of the house, we decided to use a simple pattern of subway tiles. (Subway tiles are rectangular tiles, laid in a running bond pattern like brick. They were used on the walls of subway stations from the beginning of the 20th century, and became popular soon after in bungalow kitchen and bath construction.) The 3″x6″ tiles we selected have a matte-finish glaze. As an accent, (and to help the layout around the electrical boxes), we selected 1″ x 6″ tiles with a ribbed pattern and a shiny glaze. They’ll add a little bit of sparkle and interest to the pattern.

If you paid any attention to the title of this post, you will have noticed the word ‘anxiety’ at the end of it. If haven’t come across as anxious about tiling, it’s only because I’m pretty good at hiding that sort of thing. But people, it’s my kitchen! My beautiful, shiny new kitchen! What if I mess it up? I would ask for tips and tricks from any experienced tile installers out there, but by the time you read this it will probably be too late. We’ll be tiling tomorrow morning. Photos to follow.

* Yes, our carpenter has been on vacation for the past week. After all, this project was supposed to be completed at the end of September. Who knew that it might run more than two weeks over schedule due to contractor errors? Don’t most construction projects finish on schedule? Oh, oh, oh! I know the answer to that one…

9 thoughts on “Kitchen Transformation: To do list, and a little tile anxiety”

  1. Is the tile done yet? Is the tile done yet? Is the tile done yet?

    Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts you two are doing a splendid job.

    Will there be pictures when the stove is installed? πŸ™‚

  2. By the time you read this it will be too late probably; however, as someone who has done one kitchen tile job, I will say thatI know you can do it.

  3. I never post here, but always check your blog and have been following the kitchen remodel. We did ours years ago and I still love how it looks, although we made one big mistake; no knobs on the cabinets makes for dirty cabinet doors. Sigh.

    In any case, hope the tiling goes great. My sis-in-law did hers and while I’ve not visited the “live kitchen” yet the pix looked great. I’m sure you’ll do just as well, if not better! πŸ™‚

  4. Planning tile in advance on the computer? I’ve done that. Good luck with it. Never works for me–turns out that in real life, or at least MY real life, none of the measurements are quite right, and there are little details that get in the way of your idealized plans, and you end up having to lay it all out again by hand. Thinset and grout have fairly straightforward goal consistencies but are surprisingly hard to mix. Both get all over the place when ordinary mortals are involved–it’s never as tidy as the pros make it seem. In short, it’s harder and therefore more rewarding than you expect. There’s quite a sense of accomplishment when you finish. Good luck!

  5. I’m laughing too at the idea of computer-based layout. Last time I pre-laid my shower floor on the floor in-real-life, it still came out 3/4-inch different when I put it back in with thinset in real life. Lesson learned: Keep the saw handy and keep an open mind ready for changes on the fly.

  6. I’m sure that mosaic work all those years ago will be quite helpful. Did you go get a jar of Adams Peanut Butter to make sure the mortar or grout or whatever it is, is thick enough?

  7. Subway Tiles! What a great idea. When I lived in Manhattan I used to love to imagine living in a time when the subways were new. Even when old, they had a grandeur about them. And yes, subway tiles.

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