Tuesday, April 02, 2013

O Editor, Where Art Thou?

Well, on the floor.

Yes, literally on the floor for most of the past month. You see, I had this flash of artistic vision as to what my kitchen ought to look like ... and then, what the floor ought to be. I wished for natural slate, but after running a thumbnail across a sample in the tile store, realized that two big dogs would leave toenail scrapes everywhere that would ruin the look. The solution: porcelain tile with a slate look ... and when nearly three years had elapsed, we had the cash to make it happen, more or less.

I have no idea what made me think that I could lay tile in any accurate or appropriate manner. Or what made me think that it would be easy. All I can imagine is that angels were whispering things to me in my subconscious, and then laughing themselves senseless afterwards.

Lowe's had a nice tile called "Castlestone Harvest" that I fixated on, and off we went at the beginning of March, me thinking we could tile the kitchen/family room in a week. I knew from talking to a slate tile salesman that we'd need to lay out the pattern before we ever mixed a bit of adhesive, and we did, at least the first bit.

We began with the white marble hearth. Multiple persons tried to convince me to tear it out and have a cohesive tile not only on the hearth but on the fireplace itself, but I held to my black/white-and earthtones design. From that hearth tile, we ran a laser line to the front of the house, finding that there was a line to the front door entry tiles, off by half an inch due to sloppy chalklines made by the original builders, who were paid cheaply by the hour, and did not care about their work.

We began from the back room's focal point, the hearth, and put in a border of itsy-bitsy tiles -- and built out from there, adhering to our laser line to keep things straight.

Now here's the thing: if you want your tiling done right, and in a timely manner, hire a professional crew. Yes, it's damned expensive, but unless you are an artistic-vision control freak, you really want to spare yourself the physical agony of tiling.

It hurts.

Even with knee-pads, your knees and ankles will kill you. Your back will scream with the effort of bending, and your elbows from the lifting of heavy tiles. Your hands and wrists will swell from the effort of placing and pressing and leaning and prying up -- tiles are heavy, as compared to plates and pots from dinner or shovels and rakes from cleaning horsey paddocks. Indeed, nothing I have ever done has ever compared to the effort involved in tiling.

Truly, it was a learning experience.

Things I learned:
  • Yes, Virginia, you DO have to remove the baseboards. You'll be thankful you did, later.
  • Buying tile from "big box" stores will get you unevenly-sized tiles. That can be okay if you know it in advance and have a tile saw to trim off that aberrant 1/8" on the one side.
  • If you're going to do it yourself, buy a decent tile saw. Expect to spend $250 at least.
  • And a laser line to make your chosen reference points perfect. No, seriously. Use the tools of the present age.
  • Open up your boxes of tile two or three at a time. One of our boxes was apparently a "return" -- the returners had picked out of the box all the bright and interesting colors and replaced them with grays from other boxes.
  • After grouting, and smoothing the grout with a sponge, let the thing dry, and then wipe off the haze with a dry old towel. It will save you a bazillion arm swipes with the wet sponge as you clean up the grout haze. You still need the wet sponge step, but it is greatly minimized.
  • YouTube is priceless. Watch a hundred how-to's.

Now here's the thing: it's easier to hire someone to lay the tile, if a lot more expensive. But the fact is, every single one of those tiles is set by me for color contrast, direction of "grain," visual impact, and focal points. I knew where I wanted the eye to land and be led. Opening up several boxes of tiles and finding four or five outstanding colors and squeaking "Ooh! I know exactly where this tile should go!" is something an installer would never be able to replicate.

The result was simply stunning. The cabinets (a bit weathered after 20 years but I wanted to keep them like that) and the family room sofa and chair, the stained white marble hearth, and the tables absolutely glow on the slatey floor. We have an area rug to use, but can't bear to do so yet -- the tile is so lovely.

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, I'll have a day when there aren't baby toys scattered everywhere, and I'll post a pic or two of the rooms. One special one that picks up my Audubon bird prints that hang on the wall ... not planning it in advance, the colors of the tiles echo the predominate colors and tones of the prints.



Tweetywill said...

Two comments:
1. This is precisely how I would have pictured your kitchen floor to look.
2. I can attest, having laid laminate flooring over the entirety of our downstairs and the upstairs hallway, to your description of the physical pain. In fact, I do believe that you were the one who reccomended Velerian(sp?) to aid in sleeping when one's body is so sore it hurts to lay on the bed. For which I thank you.

Rajib Hossain said...

Very nice! Love the neutral color. We installed the frameless glass on our shower and I love it.
white marble tile