Kitchen Upgrade on a Budget – the Backsplash

The original plan for the backsplash was to use the same granite tile we had for the counters. I’m pretty sure if we’d had some other plan – any other plan – we wouldn’t have put this off for the last year. We tried and tried but we just couldn’t wrap our brains around a layout that would work for the counters, backsplash and area behind the stove without having funny little pieces patched in. Once we decided the granite wouldn’t work back there, the counter itself became a whole lot more doable.

We considered just painting the wall, but decided that would look funny and require more patching that I was interested in messing with. Another idea was a row or two of four-inch tiles with paint above, but that would have also required patching.

A couple of weeks ago when we were at the big box store looking for something else (the bathroom, to be exact) I walked past the clearance tiles. They had several boxes of glass mosaic tiles in two different colors. One had three different shades of brown and the other was sea blues, and they had both 1″ squares and 1″x2″ subway tiles.

I mentioned to my husband that I really thought the blue subway tiles would look nice (I’m a little fond of blue) and he immediately shut me down. He was sure the blue wouldn’t match anything, and glass tile would be way too much work. I only brought it up two or three more times over the next couple weeks before he finally agreed that the glass subway tiles would look nice. The brown ones. I know when to pick my battles, so I happily agreed.

Thursday we went back to the big box store, and to my surprise, my tiles were still there, and in more than enough quantity to do the job. Even better, the subway tiles, which had only been marked down a little bit the last time we were there, were marked way down now. We picked up 3 boxes of tile, an extra bag of mortar, a set of tile nippers, and some 1/8″ spacers. We also picked out the flooring (more on that later) and some extenders for the electrical boxes. The plan was to get started tiling first thing Friday morning.

Pookie had other plans. He’d been coughing all week but Friday he was working on wheezing a little too, so we had to make a trip to the doctor. 45 minutes at the doctor’s office wasn’t going to get me off track, but the hour and a half wait at the pharmacy certainly didn’t help. (He’s fine, by the way – just the proud new owner of a nebulizer which has helped greatly.) By the time we got home and had lunch, it was almost 1:00 and I had to work at 3.

Silly me, I thought about how quickly the counters had gone and decided we could at least get a good start on the backsplash before I had to leave. I had Lyle make up the whole 25 pound bag of mortar (against his better judgment) and set to work. We’d already done some of the cutting in the morning before the trip to the doctor, so I figured we’d just blast right through it.

We had a couple of electrical boxes and a window to work around, so those took some time. By the time we got the first wall section done, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be done before work. I worked through until I absolutely had to leave, right around the time we got to the window. Lyle decided to go ahead and finish that whole wall and leave the rest for me. He, to put it mildly, hates home improvement projects. By the time he got that wall done, the mortar had set up too much to keep using – should have listened to him and only made up half the bag.

I had to work again Saturday morning but was ready to get busy when I got home that afternoon. The last wall went pretty quickly and we lucked out and discovered that the area behind the stove fit perfectly with two sets of tile stacked on each other. (The tiles came on 12″ x 12″ sheets). While we were working on it, my dad came over to get his weekly Pookie fix and admire our progress. He said I was welcome to come work on his kitchen when he starts redoing it. I may be up for the task if he doesn’t get started any time soon.

As we got more and more tile on the wall, it was quite obvious that we’d made the right choice – the tile looked amazing.

Sunday morning (today) it was time to grout. I figured since the grouting had gone so quickly with the counters, this would also be a quick, easy job.

I was so, so wrong.

Just a hint, if you’re crazy like I am: 1×2 inch tiles require a lot more grout and a lot more effort than 12×12 tiles. A lot. A really, really lot. Also, when some of those tiles are back in a corner that’s really hard to reach, and a bunch of them are up underneath cabinets, your back will hurt when you’re done. If your back has any idea what’s about to happen, it will probably start hurting before you even get started.

Three and a half hours later (I think the counters took maybe an hour) I had to stop grouting to get the house ready for a Scentsy open house that I had planned before we decided to get going on the kitchen. To say my house was is a mess after the last ten days of DIY madness would be a bit of an understatement. An hour and a half was enough time to get the living and dining rooms presentable, me showered and most of my stuff set up for the open house. The only person to show up was my neighbor, Codee (Hi, Codee!) who has probably seen the house looking worse than it did today and was more excited about checking out the progress than noticing the mess.

I got all but the last two feet done before I ran out of grout (as in, the batch I had made was gone but I do still have enough left in the bag to finish), and I’m going to be leaving it like that for a while. I still have to put those little corner pieces in on the counters, and that can’t be done until I get the trim pieces put on the front. I’ll want to grout when that’s all done, so it makes sense to wait and do it all at the same time.

Once you’ve applied grout, it hazes over on the tiles and you’re supposed to wipe the excess off. In my case, I had to wipe it off several times, so what Codee saw when she got here looked like this:

Once Lyle got done putting the outlets and magnetic knife block back in place and I finally got the haze all wiped off, it looks like this:

We still have to get the trim pieces put up but that will require grinding a little bit off of the tiles in front of the sink. Somehow when I installed those, I let them hang over the front edge and I shouldn’t have. They were the very last pieces I put in, so I’m using exhaustion as an excuse. I may get that done this week while Lyle’s back at work, but we’ll see. The plan is to attach 1-by strips of oak stained to match the floor in the dining room and then apply several sheets of poly to seal it.

Next up: trimming out the counter edges and a discussion of why carpet in kitchens should be illegal.

Oh, and here is a shot of the counters, complete with grout, that I wasn’t able to include last time:

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4 Responses to Kitchen Upgrade on a Budget – the Backsplash

  1. It keeps getting better and better all the time!! WOW—maybe this could be your new profession!!

  2. Myrna says:

    It looks amazing!! You’ve totally inspired me
    to do something similar in my own kitchen. Great job!!

  3. It looks so elegant and rich in there. Good riddance to bad formica!

  4. meghann says:

    Gorgeous! Absolutely, perfectly gorgeous! I am *so* impressed… xo

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