Tiling: Part 1!

howtotile1

I am really not one of those people—the people who get sick a million times every winter and spend the rest of the year dreading the cold months with a palpable sense of terror and despair. I generally weather the winter months just fine, save for three years ago when I contracted Swine Flu and was quarantined to my dorm room with little more than a box of Kleenex, a few DVDs, and some cough syrup with codeine. Which really just ended up being kind of a fun vacation, at least the parts I remember.

But this year has been so different! Head colds here! Sinus infections there! I am a walking cesspool of virus and disease! Over the course of the past week, I have demolished entire jumbo boxes of Puff’s tissues with ease, spent more hours in bed than I previously thought possible, barely showered, and asked in earnest “what’s a credit card?” during a bout of fever. I am so done with this bullshit.

This got me thinking about the last time I was sick, which, as it happens, was only a few weeks ago. I remember this time vividly because I chose the opposite recovery strategy: instead of lying low, biding my time, and staying hydrated, I decided to live large. Nothing would hold me back. It was time to tile my kitchen’s backsplash, and neither searing headache nor minor fever would hold me back.

I don’t know if it was the tile or just a much, much less miserable virus, but distracting myself with tiling while also feeling generally terrible turned out to be an OK strategy. There were no bowls of steaming soup or cups of tea, but there were headachey trips to Home Depot and then Lowe’s looking for a simple saw (later ordered on Amazon anyway), and some fun coughing fits while hauling a 50-pound bag of thinset powder down a street and up five flights of stairs.

The important question isn’t why I got myself into this, but what I got out of it, which was basically not feeling totally useless and hopeless. Which, after the past week of feeling nothing but despair and misery, I can say is worth a lot.

BEFORE

I talked about tiling my kitchen backsplash a while ago, and mentioned that it was proving difficult to find white 4″x4″ tile to match the existing tile that the landlords installed about a decade ago. In theory, matching this tile seemed like a pretty simple proposition, but there are many different brands of tiles, each of which boast a range of different whites. Added to that is that even the same white may vary between dye lots. Oh, and glazes tend to change slightly over years of exposure to sunlight. So yeah—100% matching tile, not happening. Like ever.

I know a lot of people had strong, valid opinions and ideas regarding this very important topic. There were ideas about doing something different behind the stove to break it up, about using a different material entirely, about ripping down the existing tile and replacing it entirely, but ultimately it all seemed like too much. Backsplash tile is supposed to be utilitarian and functional, and that’s all I really wanted. Tearing down the existing tile seemed just a little over the top for a rental (EVEN for me), and would probably lead to a whole mess of drama of replacing the drywall, discovering mold/monsters in the walls, dying, etc.

subwaytile

So ultimately I just decided to match the tile as closely as possible and move on with my life. This is, after all, a Brooklyn rental apartment, and that’s kind of how it goes here—things don’t always match, nothing is perfect, and that’s OK. Hell, most of the NYC subway stations are tiled with white 4×4, and it’s all a crazy patchwork of different whites. Look at that picture! There are at least 4 different whites there. But it’s fine. It’s whatever. It’s New York. Deal with it or GTFO.

So, my backsplash! It’s not perfect, and I’m fine with it. And I really think that once the kitchen is finished, the mis-matched tile will be hardly noticeable.

supplies1

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My beautiful tile-happy friend, Anna, came over to teach me how to tile since this was my first time, and I’m super grateful. There was a LOT I didn’t know, and I now realize that my plan to “kind of wing it?” was severely stupid and I’m so lucky to have an Anna in my life. If you don’t have an Anna, I will try my best to teach you my limited knowledge of tiling now.

Firstly, supplies! I really should have taken these pictures before I used everything and mucked it all up, but you’ll definitely want:

1. Tiles. Duh. Don’t be stupid. I used U.S. Ceramics brand Bright White tiles, which are $20 per box (each box covers 10 square feet).

2. A couple of big-ish buckets.

3. Thinset mortar. I actually used a mix of pre-mixed thinset and powdered thinset during this project, and to me they seem to work the same, although powdered is supposed to be stronger. Thinset comes in either a grey-ish color or white—I’d recommend white but it doesn’t really matter with solid ceramic tiles.

4. A box of disposable latex gloves. Tiling is MESSY and you’re doing yourself a HUGE favor if you can just periodically remove your gloves and toss them. It seems wasteful, but it’s really kind of necessary.

5. Notched trowel for applying the thinset. Try to take care to wipe this thing down FREQUENTLY. Or be like me, let a hard cast of thinset completely dry around the handle, and learn the meaning of real shame when Anna asks to borrow it a few weeks later and says when you hand it over, “oh, you don’t take care of your tools, do you?”

6. Rubber float for keeping the tiles even and applying grout.

7. Nippers. If you have to make any small cuts to work around irregular stuff or remove spacers or whatever, you need these.

8. Sponge.

9. Score and snap tile cutter. This handy tool is very easy to use and only about $20, and way less scary than a wet-saw.

10. A level! You really need to make sure your tile is staying level, so this one is important.

tileprep

First, you need to prep the space. For me, this meant removing the shelf and patching the holes in the wall, removing the last column of existing tiles (it had a plastic trim piece at the end, which is installed under the last row of tiles, so the tiles needed to come down to remove it), and painting the wall where the old thinset took the outermost layer of drywall with it. Because thinset is water-soluble, the surface it’s being affixed to should always be painted—never tile directly over unpainted drywall or joint compound. At the same time, thinset won’t adhere as well to glossy paints, so either rough up the surface a bit with sandpaper or scrub with TSP, depending on how glossy the paint is. I’m really not an expert on this.

Next, Anna and I mounted a piece of wood to the wall to support the bottom row of tiles. Tiles will move with gravity while the thinset is wet, so they need a solid surface to sit on while they’re drying.

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Mixing directions will be on the back of the thinset bag, but it should be about the consistency of mashed potatoes or peanut butter when mixed. It’s important to get the consistency right—thinset that’s too watery is bad news. Make sure the grooves stay rigid after being applied with the trowel and it should be OK.

Obviously, putting ANY amount of thinset down your drain is a terrible idea, so this is where the buckets come in. Mix the thinset in one bucket and fill the other with water, which you’ll use to wet your sponge and keep tools clean throughout the job. Later, when you’re finished, use the bucket to give your tools a cleaning and dump it outside, where it won’t fuck anything up. If you have access to an outdoor hose, you are SO LUCKY.

We decided to back-butter these tiles, applying thinset to the tiles themselves instead of directly on the wall. This allows for greater precision, which was important because the new tile is butting up to existing tile, so it was really important to constantly make sure things were level and looking OK.

When applying thinset, it’s important that it be multi-directional (the grooves act like suction, so using multiple directions improves adhesion…or something). Each tile needs to be pushed gently into the wall, and it’s a good practice to use your finger to remove any thinset that might come out from around the edges after every tile. This keeps the job clean and orderly instead of chaotic and nightmarish. You’ll also thank yourself later on when you don’t have to scrape your grout lines before grouting.

Every five tiles, Anna recommends using a lightly damp sponge to clean the surface of the tiles, the grout lines, and around the edges of the row. Again, this keeps things feeling clean and manageable and makes clean-up at the end much, much easier.

Also every five tiles, run your rubber float over the tiles just to make sure that things are all on the same plane. Especially when back-buttering, it’s easy to have inconsistent thinset thicknesses between tiles, so it’s important to frequently check if everything is flat and even and make adjustments accordingly if they aren’t. You don’t have long to remove an odd tile and add more thinset, so consult with the float frequently.

I basically just went on like this for the entire wall, building from the bottom row up. Tiles likes this are self-spacing, so there’s no need to use spacers (you’ll have huge, sad grout lines if you do!). If I’m being honest, all of this took a lot of time and energy and overall was surprisingly torturous. Tiling is a weird thing that makes you feel miserable while it’s happening, and then for some reason hungry for more when you’re done or between sessions. I simultaneously want to tile all the things and never tile again ever.

tileafter

And here’s the current status! I’m totally ashamed to say that I STILL haven’t grouted, which is why it all looks kind of dumb and unfinished. I know grouting shouldn’t be that difficult, but I really need to be able to set aside a few hours for it and I’ve just been either super busy or super sick and it just hasn’t happened. The main point of this post is to shame me into making sure it happens soon though.

SO. You can definitely see where the two different tiles come together. It’s not a great match. BUT. BUT. BUT. I really think that once everything is grouted (the old tiles will be re-grouted), the tiles will look much more unified. AND when I get around to mounting the second half of the ledge (it has to be cut down a bit first), the transition point will totally recede and nobody will even think about it. I think. I hope. If I keep saying it, it’ll definitely be true.

2 Years Ago Today. . .

max

…I met this guy. Still the best day of my life.

Life
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My babies have new collars!

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When we got Mekko just a little over a year ago now, we immediately went to the pet store to pick up all the crap we’d need right away. We weren’t planning to get a dog, so we just ran through the store like crazy people, picking up a crate and treats and food and a leash and collar. It was madness! We had no money! When it came to collar selection, we didn’t put too much thought in and just threw a basic cheap red nylon collar in the basket and called it a day.

I always kind-of-sort-of kept my eyes out for a better collar in the intervening year since, but I never found anything that really fit the bill. We’re not really the types of dog owners who try to get fancy with our dog paraphernalia——I basically just want it to be functional and cheap and OK-looking. If I had a bunch of disposable income, I’d probably change my tune and our dogs would have all the fancy shit that their simple little minds handle. Linus would have a selection of polite lambswool cable-knit sweaters, Mekko would have her nails gold-leafed, and they’d only eat the finest cuts of steak and I’d hire someone to manage Linus’s eye-crusties. But for now we just focus on making sure they can eat and go to the vet and all that.

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Well, it FINALLY occurred to me to check Etsy! DUHZVILLE. I always kind of forget that Etsy is, like, a real thing with real stuff that I probably want in real life (this is definitely for the best), but then I remember and there’s always SOMEBODY selling pretty much exactly what I want. I know I’m not, like, blazing any trails here, but Etsy is a pretty great resource in my experience.

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ANYWAY. I found these wonderful, super simple natural leather collars from Lakeside Leather (all the way from Ireland!). I love how they’re totally unadorned, and I LOVE the tone of the natural leather. If I’m not mistaken, they’ll age and wear over time and develop a really great patina with use, which I’m also excited about. I know zero about leather-craft, but they also seem really well-made and I think will last the dogs a long, long time.

They were also cheap! So very cheap! Mekko (large size) and Linus (small size) were only $20 together, plus shipping.

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Looking pretty good, you two.

 (I wasn’t paid or perked to talk about these collars, I just like them.)

PS- The Homies over at Apartment Therapy are in full swing! I placed last in the nomination round, but now slates have been wiped clean and I’m in 4th place but it could be 1st place if you scoot your cutie booty over the contest and give me your vote for Best Home Design & Inspiration Blog. If you voted in the nominations round, you have to vote AGAIN for it to count in the finals. Voting only lasts a couple days this year, so get to it!

If you do, I promise to never say “scoot your cutie booty” again.

If you don’t, all bets are off.

The Cutest Tool I Own

Max and I both had the morning off today, so we took it upon ourselves to live the Brooklyn Hipster Dream for a couple hours. We brunched. We bought Kinfolk. And then we stopped at one of my favorite nearby stores, Dry Goods.

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Dry Goods on Atlantic Avenue is pretty much the cutest store in the world. The women who own it have such great taste, find the best stuff, and pull all of it together into one tiny wonderful place. They know exactly what everything is, who made it, the history, everything. They pull stuff from literally all over the world, but somehow they have a very consistent and defined sense of style that pervades the entire place. It’s just a great shop to have around and be able to support every once in a while. I should really go back and take a few pictures of the store.

Anyway, while Max was looking at cookbooks, my eyes settled on this little GAM 6-in-1 hammer. I distinctly remember having one of these as a kid (I think my mommy gave it to me), and all the time I used to spend taking it apart and putting it back together again and again. Without terms like “well-designed,” I just remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever and super fun to play with. This was the type of hammer I used to hang and rehang crap all over my walls, and I just remember it coming in handy all the time.

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I never really appreciated how cute it was, though! Look at that thing! I have a serious weakness for brassy bits, always and forever.

I don’t really need another hammer or screwdriver, but I like that this is small enough to sit in a pencil cup on a desk or squeeze in a kitchen drawer, and it’s great to have something small that I can easily throw in a bag when I need to bring a few tools somewhere (this happens more than it seems like it should). So maybe I did need it? No, I definitely needed it.

(for some reason I’m having a really hard time finding a place to buy this little guy online, but luckily Dry Goods just started selling online! Here! Valentine’s gift for your man? For your lady? For your dog? For you? I don’t know your life!)

ps- Homies nomination round ends tomorrow. I’m so close. Just saying. Your move.

I Like This
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Bathroom Light

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So remember back in November when we did a super quick, super intense, super kick-ass makeover of Max’s childhood bedroom? And we bought that rad 1920s light fixture that totally made the room?

Yeah. Well. I might have omitted some important info that I have now chosen this moment to reveal.

That light was actually one of a PAIR. They were only being sold as a set, but at $150 for both, it wasn’t exactly a huge investment to just go for it even if we only really wanted one.  Surely we could figure out a place to put another gorgeous light fixture, right?

I’ve been down this road before. A few times. Hence this post, where I explain all the times I’ve charmingly rationalizationed and ended up with an absurd lighting hoard that I’m slowly trying to whittle down by just hanging lights all over the place. This strategy is working moderately well, so I’m sticking with it.

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But I decided without even that much waffling (look at me! making decisions with ease!) that this light would be awesome in the bathroom, and it totally is. It works for a lot of the same reasons it worked in Max’s bedroom. The small size of the room matches well with the scale of the fixture, making a small-ish light look like a big, substantial, amazing light. Additionally, super dark walls make the white glass pop like BLAM. Chrome-y bits be shiny like WOAH. These are all technical design terms that are helpful to know FYI.

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The best thing about the light in the bathroom is that our medicine cabinet is so tall that the light fixture reflects off the mirror and almost gives the illusion that we have TWO great lights. That is, if you’re easily confused by mirrors or otherwise just kind of dumb. Luckily, I am both of these things.

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Just check out that glass situation on the bottom! I kind of get lost in how pretty it is sometimes. I know that this art deco style isn’t really in line with the style of the rest of my apartment, but that doesn’t bother me. I always think bathrooms are perfect places to let loose a little bit and make choices that are a little different from the rest of your home. It’s nice to walk into a tiny bathroom and be pleasantly surprised by an element of the space, and I think that’s totally what this fixture does. The DIY’d fixture that was there before was totally cute and fine, but it just wasn’t very interesting or exciting.

Before hanging this fixture, I took the whole thing apart and washed all of the pieces individually in the sink. For the metal bits, I used Barkeeper’s Friend, which made the chrome look absolutely incredible and shiny and new. For the glass, I just used regular dish soap and water, and it was really worth it. Nothing looked that dirty to begin with, but it’s always amazing how a little cleaning can take something to the next level of amazing. I experience the same general revelation whenever I decide to take a shower.

I’ll shut up about the light fixture. It’s beautiful, I’m very happy with it, and I have a very weak spot for art deco and I maybe need more deco pieces in my life.

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Max bought some flowers for the bathroom because on Sunday they aired a Beyonce concert on TV and we had a bunch of people over to watch it. So weird because the concert was super short and then this football game broke out and I totally lost interest. At least we had flowers?

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In case you follow the central dramas of my relationship as closely as I do, I figure it’s pertinent to note that I HAVE WON THE BATHMAT DEBATE. After about a year with no bathmat, we went several months with this wooden bathmat before it got moldy and smelly and weird and put in the garbage. Max has, historically, hated bathmats and found them to be gross and in poor taste, whereas I associate having no bathmat with, like, lazy douchebag bros who can’t enjoy the finer things in life, such as smelling OK or clothing made of natural fibers or not stepping out of a shower directly onto cold tile.

This war raged for so very long and was so hard-fought and just when I thought I had no life left in me and I would be forced to accept a bathmat-less existence, Max came around. Angels sang. It was all very dramatic and theatrical, as you can imagine.

Ultimately, my victory was hard-won, and I absolutely deserve all the joy that this plush, sufficient-looking bathmat from Target can offer. It really feels great underfoot and it’s nice to finally feel like a civilized human again after this relationship has turned me into such a goddamned monster.

Turns out it’s very washable and dries nicely in the dryer, too. I know this because Linus took the liberty of testing out its wee-wee pad potential right after I took the photos. I always thought Linus was on my side here (more plush surfaces = more places to nap), but I guess the proof is in the piss, as it were.

linus

Little traitorous bastard. Now the internet knows your shame.

ps—you can find my last Design*Sponge post here, if you’re interested: Cleaning Vintage Enamelware
pps—oh, shit, it’s Homies time again. you can vote for me if you want, I won’t stop you or try to get in the way or anything.

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