How tiling is like reality TV

I should have known. It was like a scene out of reality TV where someone says, “I completely trust my alliance. That million dollars is mine.” You just know that they’re going to be the next person voted off.

A month after  I naively wrote “I actually enjoy [tiling]. It’s not hard work.” the reno gods were still chuckling at me as I glowered at the untiled walls of the basement shower.

I decided I really do mind tiling, and I did everything I could think of to avoid it. I delayed, I procrastinated, I spent my time on other things (important things like baseboards and tractors and carpet, and less important things like parties and first snowfalls). However, none of these were tiling and none were enough to distract me from the ugly cement board, the cartons of tile and the need to bring the two together.

So I appealed to my alliance.

I negotiated with the reno gods: “I don’t need the whole Lotto Max jackpot. Just a little bit will be enough to finish the tile!” I bargained with Matt: “I don’t think I’ll do a good enough job. What if it ends up crooked and we hate it?” I pleaded with my Dad: “Please call your tile guy!”

The reno gods were silent. Matt was supportive: “You’ll do a great job. I have confidence in you.” My Dad was befuddled: “You, the woman who drywalled her own basement, are now intimidated by a shower stall?” But because he’s my Dad, he called his tile guy.

The tile guy said it would be $900.

$900? Just for tiling? With materials I already own?

$900 for professionals versus $0 for me. Ummm… “I guess I’m tiling a shower.”

So I booked a day off work. I booked my Dad. Just like the challenge part of the episode, I threw myself into the mud pit (mortar bucket?), and we got to work.

The first step was to figure out our starting point. Between the bench, the niche, the accent band and the vanity, there were lots of spots that I wanted to line up. However, the most critical was the top of the vanity, so we drew our level line from there.

Level line for tiling

Despite any appearances, the line is actually in line with the top of the vanity, and it is level.

Once we got going with our tile, the most important objective was keeping everything level and even. For me the solution was using spacers. I wanted fairly narrow joints, and every single one had to be the same. I may have gone a bit overboard.

Tile spacers

Too many spacers?

I had two bags of spacers, but those were quickly emptied. As I progressed around the shower, I kept going back to areas that had already set up and removing the spacers so that I could reuse them.

The other spacing issue I ran into was with the accent band. I’d chosen a marble mosaic tile that was slightly thicker than the white subway tile I was using the rest of the shower. I could have camouflaged the difference with a chair rail or another type of tile, but I really wanted a flat, clean, simple look. My tile supplier suggested putting a little extra mortar on the subway tiles to build them out to the same depth as the mosaic.

Back buttering the subway tile

Back buttering the subway tile

I back buttered for two rows on either side of the accent band. Because I only did it in this one spot, the walls have a very slight curve. I’m hoping it’s imperceptible unless you know it’s there (obviously, all of you will be diplomatic enough to not point it out when you come to visit, please).

Carrera marble tile accent band

Everything looks pretty even between the carrera marble accent tile and the subway tile. Doesn’t it?

The back buttering was tedious, but not particularly difficult. The trickiest area–and the point that I started to go slightly insane–was the niche.

When we were building the shower, I thought the niche was a great idea. No bars of soap and bottles of shampoo set on the bench or the floor. No caddy hanging from the shower head. Just a convenient built-in shelf.

It turns out niche functionality, good. Niche tiling, bad.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I wanted the pattern to continue from the walls right through the niche. That meant dozens and dozens of cuts. In the whole niche, there is only one full tile. Ugh. But, I have to say, the result was worth all of the extra figuring and cutting. And yes, the next photo is completely bragging.

Tiled shower niche

Look at that brick pattern marching right along!

We used a small piece of marble we picked up at Home Depot for the base of the niche, as I wanted a single solid piece on any horizontal surface. It’s slightly sloped so that the water, but hopefully not the soap, will run off.

In the end, tiling the shower is not as fun as sitting on the couch all weekend watching a reality TV marathon, but my early fears proved unfounded. I did do a good enough job, I think. Everything is nice and straight–and it will look even better when it’s grouted.

I may not have won the million dollars, but I didn’t get voted off the island.

11 thoughts on “How tiling is like reality TV

  1. Holy cow Julia!!!!

    What a great job !!!!

    I am sure you are getting a big hand from Grandpa Thomson too.

    Well done and thanks for sharing.

    Auntie A.

  2. AMAZING! Job well done and I”m extremely impressed with your patience for actually following through with this project! I would have given up in tears after 2 tiles! Want to come do some in my bathroom when we renovate?? Please???

  3. Wow, you did a fantastic job. And I really like the hedgehog look of millions of spacers, lol. I have done that too, taken spacers away from finished areas to put in new areas because I’m too “frugal” to buy another bag. I’m super impressed with that niche, it turned out beautifully!

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