Joni’s Condo Kitchen Remodel: Setting the Tile, Finally

Patti here. I’m helping my friend and fellow nurse Joni spruce up her kitchen. See the whole project.

Well, we got some tile up over the weekend. Whew, it was a lot of work. With this, as with everything else, there was quite a learning curve. We were extremely careful to plan the placement, have all of our supplies ready and be versed on the instructions before we started (Photo 1).

We cut out a template for placement to make sure we had everything right, then applied the thinset (a thin mortar) with a trowel with one side having quarter-inch notches in it.

We put the thinset on with the flat side of the trowel, then ran back through it with the notched side of the tool, then back over one more time with the flat side of the tool. The reason for the smoothing is that we have some semi-transparent tiles that would show the trowel lines had we not knocked them down.

We placed the first sheet of tile up and had to finesse it into place, which created a lot of thinset oozing through the seams. We didn’t quite know this as we had to leave the paper coating on for about 20 minutes (2). We then soaked the paper with water and removed it, much like removing wallpaper.

It was a mess underneath. We moved on to the rest of the wall (3), which is behind and above the stove, in the same fashion. We noticed the tiles slipping down the wall so the margins were no longer matching to the sheet already up!

We tried to hold the sheets of tile in place, which, I can tell you, was not effective. To keep tiles from slipping down the wall, I nailed a trim piece (which Joni had from the cabinet we had removed previously) directly under the tile (4), and I then hammered nails under the tiles themselves through the paper backing, to take some of the weight of the top tiles off the bottom tiles. The problem is that the thinset was moving down all along, even though the tiles stayed in place.

Now I’m not sure if this is a common problem or if the mix was too thin. I do believe we applied it too thick, except that is hard to assess in that the thinset on the top areas was very thin and beautiful and on the bottom very heavy and messy (5 and 6).

Joni worked on the project for about nine hours Saturday and was so wound up and frustrated that she was unable to sleep. I got a very distressed call Sunday that she was just done! She wanted to hire out the rest no matter what the cost, and she thought we wouldn’t be able to salvage what was already up, thus wasting $300 in tile.

I assured her the best I could and went over to her house Sunday evening to take a look. By that time, she had discovered that if she applied water to the surface of the tiles, she was able to chip and rub the excess thinset off (7).

I helped her for about an hour and got it almost entirely done. It’s vital to get the grout lines clear of all white thinset so that it doesn’t show against the darker grout. Joni feels much better about it now.

I think it looks beautiful and that we have the most difficult area by far done. The rest of the job is only five tiles high, just above the counter, which isn’t much weight and the tile will have the counter to rest on. Also, we need a few spacers so there is a grout line at the junction where the tile meets the top of the counter. But this is for Joni to decide.

It may be that when I get home from camping this week, the tile job will be done.

I think we’ve done pretty well for a couple of novices on a tight budget which, by the way, I think we’ll still be pretty close to, unless Joni hires out the rest. I think it would be nice to finish ourselves so that we know we can do it, but as I said, that’s totally her call.

It looks so good with the chocolate-colored wall above the cabinets (8 and 9). It looks like it was totally meant to be that way. I love it and am still having fun. Go figure.

And here are comments from the star of the show, Joni:

It was blood, sweat and tears over this little area behind my stove. As Patti explained, all the thinset settled to the bottom of the wall and the wood trim kept it there behind the tiles. I was attempting to remove the hardening thinset between the tiles for the grout lines (as recommended) once that was removed.

To make sure the tiles were flat against the wall, and not floating on various thicknesses of thinset, I used a 2-by-4 to gently tap the tiles flat and even. Then, thinset would ooze out between the tiles and I would have to start over again. I’m glad I spent the time to make sure all the tiles were flat against the wall and the nails (about 40 of them) kept the tiles in place. The spaces between the tiles are very close. Fortunately, with the type of tile it is, it looks great.

It turned out beautiful and I love it! I feel good about the job we did. I am getting bids on the remaining backsplash and will let you know what I decide. I love my kitchen and Patti has been great. My kitchen has a great vibe!

1 Comment on Joni’s Condo Kitchen Remodel: Setting the Tile, Finally

  1. Kelly M

    Well, if it’ll make Joni and Patti feel better, they tackled one of the most difficult tiles on the market to install. Kudos to them for sticking through with it — I don’t think I’d be as brave!