Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kitchen backsplash

I had been really looking forward to this part of the project given our success with the granite floor. With Chris at work, however, I'd be installing the backsplash solo. This means keeping all my "customers"  (wetsaw, mortar, tiles) happy single-handedly to avoid a tour-de-farce mess.

We had ordered and received from Home Depot glass mini-subway tiles (1"X2") on sheets. The brand is Merola and the color is "ice." In Fort Lauderdale, I had watched the kitchen guy cut my glass tiles with a wetsaw so I knew how easy this is despite common assumptions that it is some kind of difficult craft that needs years of mastering. We had purchased an inexpensive wetsaw from the Home Depot and I took the time to return to HD to get a new diamond blade, one that specifically mentions its willingness to cut glass. This may not have been necessary but it always feels good to start something crucial with a fresh whatever. And I did not buy the most expensive brand they sell. I chose the mid-range brand.

Here's the most important secret to know regarding the installation of glass tiles on sheets. They are heavy and they will slide down your wall the instant you turn your back to sneeze. In order to keep this movement to a minimum, you will need to use a high performance mortar. This is where you have to read the labels very carefully. Most buckets of pre-mixed thinset mortar carry the not-for-glass-tile disclaimer. I found the bucket that did not carry those words which is about as strong a recommendation as the maker is willing to go with. I had done a considerable amount of research and had decided to mix the mortar myself, but HD sells nothing smaller than a fifty pound bag of it, and that is much more than I needed. Also, I had no appetite for carrying fifty pounds across the width of Central Park, a trip I feel guilty about doing in a taxi.

I also discovered I'd need a trowel other than the one I used to install the granite floor. This one would have to have shallow pointy triangular teeth. So now we own two trowels each costing $10. I'm not going to throw them out, but I doubt we will ever use them again. I should do a calculation to determine the annual cost of keeping them in a small coop NYC apartment given their size and the overall cost of a square foot of space in this neighborhood. Actually, that is a calculation I should do with everything I own. I'd sell them on EBAY but then I'd have to do the calculation of time, effort and postage that would surely outweigh a break-even. Maybe someday a friend will need them.

Gay men in cities treat tools as do straight married women treat baby clothes.

Having done a plan that would mean the least amount of tile cutting, I began to trowel on the mortar which is a fiesty white blend that is definitiely more muscular than the mix prescribed for the floor tile. I slapped on the first two sheets, determined the cuts I would need to make and ran to the saw. After repeating this pattern a few times, I checked out the lines of my rows and found that the sheets had migrated a bit in deference to gravity and in defiance of the mortar. Forewarned, I did not panic. I nudged them back into line, inspecting them from a variety of angles and rechecking them until the mortar had dried sufficiently to still them forever. There is something about setting tile in place that I find immensely pleasurable. Glass tile is particularly wonderful because it changes a flat and flimsy wall into a luminous and emotional surface that changes with the passage of hours bearing sun or shadow or rain or moon.

After giving this installation the time required to set, I commenced the grouting of it. Here's where I made a mistake. Wanting to avoid the dusty mess of a bag of grout powder, and because I was going for a standard color: pure white, I selected a bucket of pre-mixed grout. Never again. Pre-mixed grout is much more watery than it should be, making the grouting process one hell of a big sloppy mess. I spent more time cleaning up the far flung globs of grout than I did on the actual installation.

I'm quite happy with the backsplash, even where the rows went a little warbly, giving it a hand crafted look. Background music for setting glass tile: Michael Buble's It's a New Day, Miss Kittin's Frank Sinatra, The Spinner's Could It Be I'm Falling In Love, Lauren Bacall's Welcome To The Theater and a mess of stuff by Jackson Brown from the Pretender album.


Jess said...

Congrats! I tip my hat to anyone who takes on a tiling job and gets it done so well! I'm not all that handy (I can do minor things, like replacing a light switch or fixing a gasket in a bathroom faucet), and I'm always impressed when a fellow homeowner tackles something like this. It looks terrific!

Peter Maria said...

I agree with Jess that this looks terrific. Good job! Are you done with everything now?

How about donating those trowels to some useful charity like Habitat for Humanity? Good deed AND a tax deduction.

Tony Adams said...

Peter Maria, that is a great idea. I'm going to check in to see if Housing Works will take them. I also have almost full buckets of paint etc and leftover tile (we'll keep some for replacement, but not all).

Tony Adams said...

PS: Peter Maria, more to come.

Region Dauphiney said...

very impressive and v attractive. fail to see handmade look. (on the edge?) Nice job pere tony

Tony Adams said...

Dear Region,
If I look at it sideways, the wavy parts show up, and along the top is a row of cut pieces that are of various sizes.

Tate said...

Looks fantastic! Nice job.

Mark said...

Again, I must commend you on your bravery. And your musical selections.

It looks awesome!

Will said...

I tiled my kitchen and pantry in my Boston house and tiled my kitchen and all my deep window sills here in New Hampshire, so I know some of the problems you faced. I think you did a terrific job. I actually love tiling, I find it fun, relaxing, a nice puzzle to solve and very satisfying to do work on your place yourself.

rusty, out on the factory floor said...

' always feels good to start something crucial with a fresh whatever.'
So true, whether one is preparing a dinner, a love affair or a home renovation project.

Anyway, I've tiled floors and walls and I no longer do walls.
Your backsplash looks great.

kitchen units said...

Your backsplash is really wonder and sharp. I am also planning to renovate my kitchen. I hope that I will tile floors and walls very well.

Mark S. King said...

Goodness, you are so gay. In that Modern Living Magazine, Home Depot sort of way. Oh, and the backsplash looks fabulous (they have people who do that, you know).

Tony Adams said...

Dear Mark S. King,
I'm awfully aware of the fact that there are people who do that sort of thing - if you can get them to focus on your project, if you can pay their ridiculous prices and if you work with them at every moment to make sure they do what they promised and within the same century. These factors are magnified in NYC. There is also the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed doing this.