Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tutorial: Tile Kitchen Back Splash

When I started thinking about switching things up in my kitchen, one of the first things that came to mind was to add a tile back splash. I think it's a relatively inexpensive way to make a big impact, next to paint. So after finding some inspiration in magazines, I set out to tackle my first tiling job.

But first, let's take a look at my original black-and-cranberry bistro style kitchen.

And now for the transformation process. It started with painting the kitchen and dining room "Burnished Clay" from Behr (also used here). I didn't waste any time painting the area that would end up being tiled.

Here's what I picked up at the store:

Total  Materials: about $350

Every tile job is different, but you'll likely need a variation of all these ingredients-be sure to check with the tile manufacturer or a friendly helper at Lowes or Home Depot.

If you're using any kind of stone tile, you'll likely need access to a wet saw. You can rent one for about $60/day, but I actually found a fairly cheap one at Lowes for $89.99. It was cheaper than renting for 2 days, and I figure I may use it again down the line. If you don't have to make a lot of cuts, sometimes the place where you get the tile will cut it for you.

Once you get all your supplies, do a dry run of the tile to make sure you have enough and plan your cuts. Some sources will say to work from the middle of the wall out, but I thought that in my "U" shaped kitchen, most of the half tile cuts could be hidden in the corners. Just do whatever you think looks best!

Next, begin your prep...ready to use adhesive saves time, but mixing thin set is cheaper (just follow the mixing instructions on the bag). I'm not that great with consistency based results, so I chose to go the safe route with the mastic. Either way, you'll need a trowel to apply it. Which one depends on your tile size, so ask someone in the tile department or check the manufacturer.

Now, I'm no professional, but I do watch a lot of DIY network. I had watched homeowners lay tile about 100 times, so I felt pretty confident in the technique. I'll do my best to describe it, but there are plenty of videos out there on the internet if you want a demo.

****NOTE**** Be sure to turn off the breaker that controls any outlet you'll be working around. You will need to take the wall plates off, so unless you want to test your luck-better safe than sorry.

Using the flat sides of the trowel, smooth on the adhesive in a large enough area to lay down a few square feet. The thickness of the spread depends on your tile. You'll want to have enough so that the notched end of the trowel doesn't cut all the way through to the wall-but not so much that it squeezes through between the tiles. It's not an exact science, so just feel it out and you should have a pretty good idea of how much you need early on.

Then, using the notched ends, hold the trowel at about a 45 degree angle and go back over the adhesive. This will create ridges which help the tile to adhere.

Now you're ready to lay your first tile! I'm using mesh backed tile which goes up 1 square foot at a time. For individual tiles the process is a little different because you'll need spacers. Either way, just take your time and make sure your grout lines are as even as possible. With my tile, I decided to cut the mesh 4 bricks up to add a single row of accent tile. I also cut out the end tiles that needed to be cut in half to fit. That's the beauty of mesh-you can really create any pattern you want. Here is the first section I put up.

I topped it with a strip of 5/8'' mosaic tile that I cut from a large 1 sq ft sheet.

The rest of the sheet went up on top of the mosaic tile strip to complete the height as I continued down the wall, removing any bricks from the mesh that would need to be cut later.

When you come upon an outlet, you'll need to make sure that you tile close enough to the outlet box so that the cover has good support. But whatever you do, don't tile over the metal plates. When all the tile is done, the outlet box will have to be lifted out a bit to sit flush with the tile.

I laid all my tile and then began filling in the holes where cut tile would need to be added. Cutting tile can be intimidating, but if you give it a try you'll see how easy it actually is.

First, mark your cuts. Straight cuts and "L" shape cuts are pretty obvious, so I'm going to show you the "U" cut.

I'll admit it, at first glance I had no idea how to make this cut. Then I vaguely remembered something I saw on TV and had a total Eureka moment. What you'll want to do is make many skinny cuts down to the marked depth...sort of like a comb. The stone is brittle, the little notches will likely pop out on their own as you cut. If not, you can take a small hammer to it lightly.

It's not exactly perfect right off the saw, but a metal file will smooth it out nicely. When placing tiles individually into a hole, instead of putting the adhesive on the wall you should put it directly on the back of the tile. This is called "back buttering," and the steps are the same-smooth a thin layer on first, then add the ridges.

Here we are with the outlet areas filled in. With natural stone, I found that the grout lines were not perfect so I cut up some cardboard to create some shims. Worked like a charm.

After all the tiles have been laid, it's sealing time! Unless you're using a pre-sealed tile, you will need to do this step BEFORE grouting. Follow the directions on your product, in my case I just wiped it on with a microfiber cloth and let it cure overnight.

It's tempting to stop here. And I did, for 4 days. Grouting is, however, a necessary step. So enlist the help of a friend if you have to and just get 'er done. Using the drill attachment mixer, follow the directions on your grout packaging and mix it up with water in a large bucket. Prepare a second bucket with cool, clean water for washing the face of the tile. The grout float is specially designed to help you get the grout in all those nooks and crannies. Just slather it on and move the float diagonally across all the joints. Don't worry if you can't get everything covered the first time. Work down the wall for a few feet, do a little clean up with a wet sponge, and then go back and try to get what you missed. It's important not to use a saturated sponge, otherwise you may wash away some of the grout from your joints. Also, be sure to change the water frequently. It's a messy process, but totally worth it. I let the grout cure for a full 72 hours, cleaning it several times with water, before wiping on the sealer again.

One last step- the caulking. I didn't know that grout won't stick to formica or laminate, so if you have one of these types of countertops you will need to do this step as well. Fortunately the same company that makes the grout I used also makes a matching caulk. Using a caulk gun, I spread it where the counter meets the tile and around the window sill. When everything dried, I couldn't even tell a difference between the caulk and the grout.

For a totally pro finish, see if you can find coordinating outlet wall plates. To reattach a wall plate on top of the tile, you'll have to bring the outlet out of the wall a bit. I found these handy spacers to hold it in its new place. Once pull the outlet out with the spacers, you might notice that your screws are now too short- that's ok, just grab some of the 1 1/2" variety from the hardware store. Now, attach your posh wall plate and admire your work!

It was a marathon week, but technically this can be done in a weekend if you're really motivated. In any case, the final results are awesome. Check it out:

So, what's the verdict? Do you like it? I definitely think it was easy enough for a beginner DIYer, so don't be afraid to try this at home!

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wide Open Spaces

When it comes to kitchen storage, is open better?

Or, maybe you prefer traditional cabinet boxes with glass fronts?

Maybe baskets help to strike a balance between bearing all and a little privacy?

Or, is the thought of having no space to hide clutter so terrifying that full coverage is the only way to go?

With so many options these days, how do you even decide? Maybe it's best to mix and match. Whatever you choose, let your kitchen reflect your style and what works for your family. If you're currently hiding clutter in your cabinets, maybe pulling off all those doors is not a great plan-but, you could try just one to add interest. Or, put up some wall shelving to display dishes or glassware. Have a nice set of pots and pans? Hang a rack from the ceiling to show them off.

One thing is for sure- kitchens are becoming more than just a place to cook, so treat it as you would any other room in your house, and let it reflect your personality!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Foyer Remix

One of the best things about having a foyer is redecorating it! It's one of the first impressions people get of your home, so I like to switch it up often. Recently I stumbled across this awesome (but in need of a makeover) mirror at Goodwill that I thought would look great in the foyer.

I love the detail in the frame, as well as the oval shape. So, I broke out the Krylon Oil Rubbed Bronze and gave it a new look. I also picked up a sweet table lamp for $7 and topped it with a linen shade from Target. The lamp puts out a much nicer glow at night than the overhead light fixture, and I love the coziness it adds to the corner.

Along with a gorgeous arrangement courtesy of my husband for our anniversary, I think the new mirror and lamp look great!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Family Dinner

It's easy to get caught up in life, but having family dinners are a great way to reconnect. Since my mom was here visiting at the beginning of September, I promised her we'd have family dinners at least a few times a week. Complete with new dishes and serving-ware (which I also use when I host brunch), we've been holding up our end of the deal.

From crockpot roast to taco salads, and most recently some grilled chicken- we turn off the TV and sit down together to talk about our days (oh, and don't forget to pour the wine!)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Make Me Over: Kitchen

Maybe you read my post about painting kitchen cabinets and had an inkling that I might be doing some kitchen projects soon.

Well, guess what- I am!

It all started with one look at this to die for white kitch.

I love the brightness of this room, it just looks so clean and inviting. So I thought maybe I'd like to take my kitchen from its Bistro days to something a little more classic. So what does that involve exactly? Well, let's take a look.

Since my kitchen and dining area open to each other, they really needed to be considered together.

The first step is to continue the light wall color over to the walls painted red. This is "Burnished Clay" by Behr. Because the red is so vibrant, I'll be using Behr's Ultra Paint-and-Primer-In-One to save on time and coats!

Next I'll try my hand at tiling a backsplash- and after much indecision, I've decided on a brick style travertine.

I had been considering a slate tile, but I think when it comes down to it, the travertine has more mass appeal for later resale. Plus, it will be more neutral so I can change up my decor more easily (given my history, you know).

After tiling, I may take a break...but if I still have some motivation, I'll say goodbye to my light maple contractor stock cabinets and hello to creamy white doors with some character. I haven't yet decided if I want to play around with a two tone look (as in, painting the bottom and top differently-or painting the bottom only and leaving the top alone).

And, you know that boring counter I have?

I'll be covering it with some bead board painted to match, and finish with some base molding.

So, are you a white kitchen fan, or does it scream sterile and boring to you? I think the interest comes in the details, whether it's retro hardware, colorful accents, or textures like bead board.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Crafty Friends=Awesome Gifts

I recently had a birthday, and check out these awesome personalized notecards my friend Amy whipped up for me!

I love everything from the pattern to the colors. Thanks so much Amy!

If you want to see more of Amy's crafty-work, check out her blog, Good Day!

Friday, September 17, 2010


When it comes to lamp shades, are there really any rules? What size and shape really makes the difference?

I decided to do a little experiment and find out. We desperately needed a floor lamp in our living room by our new couch, so I brought down the one from our upstairs reading nook and gave it a makeover.

Here's what it looked like.

lamp makeover

Try to ignore the crooked-ness, I was going to fix that during the makeover process. Armed with Krylon's Oil Rubbed Bronze rattle can, I gave the painted-white-brass-lamp a new look in less than 10 minutes.

There was a problem though-the lamp shade looked awkward. I wasn't sold on it, but I couldn't put my finger on why. Finally it occurred to me that it seemed just a little too short. Isn't the shade supposed to cover the switch apparatus?

This faux leather shade was neat, but just a little bit long. I felt it was overpowering the swing arm feature, and the exaggerated bell shape was a bit too much.

Ah, just right.

The length is a little shorter than option #2, and the shape is more streamlined. I think this is the best fit (and also cheaper!), but what do you think? Hurry up before I take the plastic off!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

To Paint Or Not To Paint

Hmmmm, that is the question I'm asking myself these days with regards to my kitchen cabinets. Although they are in near perfect condition, the light wood veneer and lackluster style screams contractor special.

Adding hardware did help, but I'd really like to add more custom touches. Since I love to cook and entertain, I want it to reflect my style and personality.

Fortunately, the kitchen and dining area really do need to be repainted. I didn't do a great job in the first place, and now that I've repainted most of the other rooms (with improved technique) in the house, the red accent walls stick out as less than stellar.

And then there's the fact that I'm just  bored with the red/black bistro look. It has been 3 1/2 years, maybe it's time for a change. I'd love to do a new wall color and add a tile backsplash. I suppose the colors I choose for these projects will determine whether or not I should paint the cabinets.

I do love a classic white kitchen...

But other colors are appealing as well.

So, what do you think? Should I paint the cabinets? If so, what color? What wall color do you like for the kitchen and dining areas?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Brunch Entertaining

Sure, everyone loves a good dinner party, but what I really love is having a group of people over for brunch. It's casual, and people just seem to be more relaxed when you catch them in the morning-before life has a chance to get stressful. So, I decided a few weeks ago to host regular brunches at my house and see how they went. The first one was wonderful!

Here was the menu:

Breakfast Bread Pudding (sort of a baked French Toast)

Noodle Kugel

Steel Cut Oatmeal with Topping Bar

Bacon (Turkey and Pork) and Turkey Sausage

Smoked Gouda and Spinach Crustless Quiche

Fresh Fruit


I know, it sounds complicated. But let me let you in on a little secret- I made most of the items the night before!

The noodle kugel and crustless quiche warmed up beautifully the next morning, and the overnight crockpot oatmeal was a snap to set up. If you love oatmeal in the cooler months, try this super easy method for the steel cut (also called rolled) variety.

Overnight Steel Cut Oatmeal

Read your package of steel cut oats for proportions, but it's usually 2:1 water to oats.

Combine water and oats in a glass bowl that will fit inside your crockpot. Fill the crockpot with water so it reaches about halfway up the bowl containing the oats. Basically you're cooking the oatmeal in a water bath. Turn your crockpot on low and leave overnight. Wake up, top with your favorite foodstuffs, and enjoy!

steel cut oatmeal

With most of the food prepared the night before, all I had to do the morning of was make the bread pudding, bacon, and slice fruit. All of the food turned out fantastic (except for an uncooperative honeydew melon which refused to ripen, and when I actually burnt some of the bacon in the oven-hey, it happens to the best of us!).

Now if you've read through the recipes and are thinking they sound delicious but unhealthy-don't fret! I heavily modified most of them using things like egg beaters and fat free half and half. If you'd like to see any of my substitutions, shoot me an email or comment and I'd be happy to share them with you.

Overall, brunch was a success. We had a great time, and I'll be hosting another one soon (I promise to take pictures this time).

If you're thinking about hosting a brunch for your friends, let me share some tips.

1. Keep it casual, no need for culinary gymnastics-make food you are comfortable with (unless you enjoy experimentation!)

2. Consider how many people you can comfortably entertain in your home, it could be 4-20, just make sure you think it through!

3. Invite people from different "groups" of friends (maybe single girls and single guys :P), we all could use more friends!

4. Provide different types of food, sticking with the basics like egg, carbs, and meat. I guarantee you will have a friend who hates eggs!

5. Have fun! Don't get so wrapped up in entertaining that you forget to eat :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Neutral Hues

There is definitely something to be said for neutrals. I have learned over the past few years of decorating the house that neutrals can be just as interesting as big bold colors. Over time, your tastes may change, and that once oh-so-lovable bright colored piece of furniture will now stick out like a sore thumb.

Remember our big red couch?

I had grown tired of its subtle chenille pattern, and it had grown tired of us. Abused by our animals when they were little, it had turned into nothing more than a large dog bed. I was yearning for something more sophisticated to fit in with our newly redecorated room. I still wanted to maintain a relaxing casual space (as opposed to a formal sitting room), so I turned to Craigslist to find a replacement.

After a few weeks of hunting and inquiries (and some disappointments), I came across an ad for a queen size sleeper couch. I was immediately interested since I had always wanted to have a sleeper sofa, you know, just in case. I was lucky the seller had a attached a picture, which looked nice, so I emailed straight away for approximate dimensions.

The couch was a little shorter than our red one, which is a bonus since the extra floor space would allow room for a reading light. I was getting pretty excited about getting a new couch, so I made an appointment to see it. In person it was just as lovely, it even has nail head detailing. I loved that the back cushions are attached, a feature I never would have thought about before. It's amazing how you can really learn what works and what doesn't! I was really digging the couch and ready to take it home, but we needed a pickup truck. Thanks to a friend, we came back the next day for it in her dad's truck.

$150 later, we have a whole new look.

From far away it looks like a textured tan color, but up close you can see a subtle pattern which includes some navy and olive. Sure I might have preferred a plain tan microfiber couch, but for $150 this sleeper sofa was a clear winner.

Now to keep my pack of unruly beasts from destroying it!