Let’s talk tile!

I’ve been waiting a really long time to say that! But I’m going to wait one more paragraph because I also want to talk about the washing machine. My stairs are really, really narrow, particularly heading down to the basement because the foundation walls are rubble stone and much thicker than the brick that was used above grade. At this bottleneck, I measured about 22 inches. That’s not a typo. I could widen it to 25 by tearing out the wall separating the stairwell from the living room but it looks like if I want a standard size washer and dryer down there, I will need to either grind out part of the stone wall or cut out part of the living room floor – it sticks out beyond a joist, so I could do this. That doesn’t mean I want to. So, I may have to go with 24 inch European appliances.

On the bright side, my dad is smart. He suggested that since there isn’t much holding the stairs in, we’ll just disconnect them, put them aside, and hoist the washer and dryer down with ropes, so at least I’ll save the cost of having them dismantled in my living room and reassembled in the basement. I also want to see if I can do anything creative with the wall framing to get a teeny bit more width in there. I will never gain the extra 14 inches code requires, but I hope I can pick up something.

Now on to the bathroom! First, a reminder. I moved it about 8 feet toward the front of the house and sacrificed one of the house’s 3 original bedrooms. In exchange, I got 3 usable closets (on top of the one original closet that I kept and will use for linens because it’s shallow), larger (but still small) back bedroom, and a pretty generously sized bathroom with 2 sinks and a large window that is across the room from the tub. Here’s a floor plan and photo of the tile:

second floor existing and proposed

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I was really excited to find this tile, partly because it’s cheap and partly because I had no idea what I wanted, except that I wanted something that is nice and not overused. The one downside I can think of is that I only have field tile, no bullnosed pieces for edges or corners. Typically I think these are important details. This might be a silly quirk of mine, but I feel very strongly that tile looks better when it’s made to look thick, like mud set tile that’s 60+ years old, with substantial rounded edges on the trim. You could fake this by shimming out the tile backer board so it just beyond the wall surface. This (my parents’ powder room) is what I’m talking about. The symmetrical corner pieces and similar edge trim both. The irregular cracked metallic glaze is awesome, but I wasn’t under any circumstances expecting to have that.

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The tile I have is way different than that. It’s 3/8 of an inch thick and the manufacturer intended it to have 3/8 inch grout joints between tiles. I might go a little thinner than that, but it won’t be the thin lines seen in most bathrooms.

My tile is much, much thicker than standard glazed porcelain so I think it’ll still have a thick substantial look. Here it is on edge:

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Like I said, all the tile I bought has unfinished edges like these. I could buy bullnose tiles; they’re still made. But I could have never afforded these if they hadn’t been on Craigslist; the edge tiles alone would probably cost a mint. The seller told me that he marked a line next to the tiles with masking tape and then filled in an angled grout joint covering them where they meet the wall. I think that’ll be the plan. Outside corners will be a little bit more work. The grout joint would be way too big, so I’m going to miter the edges of the tile. Meaning, I’m going to cut out some of the clay behind the finished face of the tiles so they can fit tighter together. Here’s a crude illustration. I hope you’re used to my red lines in MS Paint by now.

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Then the tiles can slide a little closer together and the joint width will match whatever I end up doing where the tiles are on the same wall. I’ll need these running up the walls on both sides of the bathtub alcove. If you can picture this, there will be tile all around the tub, but I think it should also wrap around this corner and have one row on the wall to the right.

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On the left side of the tub, the tub alcove will jut in an inch or so beyond the rest of the wall, so there will be small cut pieces of tile wrapping the corner there, too. Maybe sooner or later I’ll find a slab of marble to use for the vanity top, and the tile grout will be a medium grey. That should tie everything together. Oh and all around the room outside the alcove I plan to install 2 or 3 rows of blue tiles for a baseboard since I have a pretty bold color on the wall and the rest of the room is neutral.

Then inside the bathtub I plan on building a recessed storage alcove. I’ve seen people build several, but considering what I have to do to make corners on these tiles, I’m not interested. Instead I’ll add shelves within it, which could be marble or glass. What do you think would be better? If I do marble, I could cut down and reuse a window sill from the old bathroom. On the other hand, my tiles are dark, so maybe the marble would stick out like a sore thumb and I’m better off with glass.

So what’s everyone think? Sound good? And feel free to say no.

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20 thoughts on “Let’s talk tile!

    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Yes, they were handmade in Ohio. I was very lucky to get them 75% off from a nice man whose divorce prevented him from using them. The color is more like denim than slate though. It’s highly variable but some parts are fairly bright.

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  1. amyheavilin

    Oh my gosh. Bathrooms are my favorite. Tiling is my favorite. Designing bathrooms is the root of my joy. I don’t have time to devour this post right now, but now I have plans for tomorrow. Be prepared!!!!!

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  2. Ethan Giller

    Personally, I think you’re crazy to try to miter those awesome tiles… if it were me, I would just have one edge overlap. Sure you’ll see the edge but with the thick grout lines and the handmade look of the tile, I don’t think it will end up bothering you. The mitering will be a long and thankless process, and you’re inevitably going to end up breaking some of them. Although, if you do decide to go ahead, consider using a belt sander to create the angle, instead of a tile saw.

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      I think there’s a grinding wheel in the garage… I might try mitering one or two tiles just to see what happens and then decide if I’m gonna go through with it. Mitering them makes my corners symmetrical. I can’t guarantee that caring about that makes any sense, but I do.

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  3. lifeonhillst

    I love the layout of your floor plan! We did the same thing and sacrificed a small bedroom in favor of an added bath. I think you’re going to be happy with the result. As far as the tiles go, they are great, and the handmade look is really something you’re going to love. I’m with Ethan though, I wouldn’t waste time mitering the tiles. I don’t think it’s something that you (or anyone) will notice and it’s going to be a ton of work. But that could just be my lack of motivation 9 months into our renovation talking…lol. Either way – keep us posted!

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Well, I sacrificed it for closets. I do get a second bathroom sink in the deal though. I’m nearly at a full year of renovating my house while living with my parents, too! We’ll see just how anal I get with those tiles – maybe the mitering will be easy and I really do think it will look better.

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  4. Mary Elizabeth

    Chad, it must be wonderful to start looking at your tile as a reality! Here are some suggestions:
    1) Think outside the (tile) box. Consider a wood chair rail instead of tile bullnose if standard off-the-shelf bullnose won’t work. You can rip it to any width that works to cover the edges of the tile. You can shape it to be slightly rounded at the top, like baseboard. And you can paint it any color you like–I’d suggest a darker blue in a really glossy finish. Then, later on, if you can afford the hand-made bullnose, you can just pull off the chair rail and replace it.
    2) Don’t miter the corners. You may weaken the tiles, and you may break many of them in the process.
    3) For the shelves in your alcove, if you don’t like the light marble, use a piece of silestone or some other countertop material in a dark color. Another possibility is acrylic, and another is wood covered with laminate. How about water resistant teak? I don’t like the idea of glass in a shower ever since I dropped a shampoo bottle and cut my foot years ago. Why do you think most shampoo bottles are made of plastic nowadays? Another possibility is no shelf at all. Just make the alcove big enough for a tall shampoo bottle, and don’t keep a lot of product in the bath.

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      The wood is a good idea, especially since I could run the tile all the way to the ceiling around the tub and only have the wood trim well outside of wet areas. And having the alcove without a shelf may be just fine. I actually left the studs far apart so my alcove can be wider. (It won’t stay that way – I’ll add extra supports giving me 12 inch centers above and below the alcove after the alcove is fully boxed in.)

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  5. Jo

    I love your description as the color of denim. I always say that is my favorite color. Can’t wait to see your progress. I guess you’ll know as soon as you begin working with the tile just how fragile it is (or isn’t). Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      It’s really a range of colors. That’s lucky though because if I ever want to get matchy matchy with it, I can pick pretty much any blue I want and decide that it matches the tile and I’ll be right! I have my fingers crossed that the mitered cuts won’t be too bad, but I’ll come up with a backup if they are.

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  6. amyheavilin

    Depending on how deep the color goes on the glaze of the tile, you could try and hand sand them to make a bit of a bullnose. We did that with our marble bathroom tiles (which, I know is much softer) but it could work. The wood is a great idea, too, and would add another texture and richness to the space. I would totally try and mitre them, too. Because I would always know, even if no one else did. But it’ll look fine if you don’t. We’ve mitred tiles that weren’t as thick (carefully, with a tile saw) but the grinder would work well, too! We built glass shelves into our alcove, and it’s super easy for the handy folks like us. Just use the tiles as the brackets for the glass and use tempered glass (the page on my blog : http://tinyurl.com/kupzg9m). You’ve probably already thought of this, but I’m trying to sound smart. 🙂 It’s super pretty tile!

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Oh, of course I already read all about your bathrooms! But my niche can be extra wide because I framed the wall weird with a really wide space between two studs. I figure once I’ve figured out the exact location of the niche I’ll add extra pieces above and below it to give myself acceptable but non-standard stud spacing. Since mine will be plenty wide I think I can do without a shelf. As far as mitering goes, I agree, and I really am fond of the way that quarter round tile makes the corners symmetrical. Mitering would do the same thing, which is why I thought I would do that both around the niche (which I think will also have to be sized to line up exactly with grout joints! Ugh!) and on either side of the tub enclosure. On one side the wall around the tub will stick into the room just a teeny bit because I need to frame the wall level; on the other side I could wrap a full row of tile around the corner, and then finish the edge with either wood or just grout. But that way you won’t be looking at it head on so it will be less obvious. I also considered the aluminum tile edge that’s very modern and popular right now or regular ceramic quarter round tile in white or black, and I’m pretty sure that any of those options would look really, really wrong.

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      1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

        I think if what I had were a little more uniform I could mix them. If they were a little more uniform and lighter I could make the trim black and it would scream 1920’s deco/craftsman hybrid (coincidentally the same mixture of styles as the 1930’s redo of my first floor interior) and look great. I’ll already have about 2 feet of shelf and my bathtub is shaped so it has a ledge all the way across. I don’t know that I’ll be alone in this place forever, but as long as I am the shelf will have a bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap. That’s it. Maybe I’ll get a rubber ducky just for fun.

        As far as the aluminum goes, I agree with you. It would be even more wrong than the glazed ceramic quarter round.

        The good news is I have some time to decide all of that. I’m going to do the floor first, and hopefully get the sink and toilet hooked up, before I move on to the tub. (Bathroom is roughed in for two sinks, so the one that came with the house is temporary, but that means I can clean brushes upstairs in something I don’t care about)

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  7. Jocelyn

    wow, you layout is so similar to the one I have been contemplating! Can I ask what software you used for your floorplans? I have been trying autodesk homestyler but I don’t like the way it illustrates dimensions.

    Thanks for the encoragement!

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