Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We Heart-h Our New Tile

Since the tiling project required both "Crafter" and "Craftsman" expertise, we decided to write this post together.  In case you missed it, we built the mantel (read about it here) and then installed, stained, and 'polyed' the walnut (read about it here). And then we decided we had to replace those red tiles.

He Says:
Deanne and I strategically planned to replace our tile hearth this weekend because my red cast was coming off on Friday.  The night before my cast removal appointment, we got a little ambitious and decided to start removing the old tiles. This was our third time ripping out tile in our house and it was a breeze the first two times. The red tiles in front of our fireplace should have been just as easy, right?... Well, after a few hours of hacking away at these 3/4 inch thick tiles  with hammers, pry-bars, chisels, we managed to dislodge 12.5 of the 39 tiles.  Typically when we've torn things out of our house we find ourselves asking "what were the previous owners thinking?" (usually with more colorful language) but I have to give them some credit for this particular tiling job.  These bad boys did not want to come up. 

Walking into the doctor's office the next day, I had a pretty big grin on my face when the nurse cut my cast off. My smile quickly faded when the Doctor looked at the xrays and said the words, "4 more weeks." Rather than cringing at the thought of more showers with a bag on my arm or smiling about my new excuse for not doing the dishes; my thoughts instantly went to our tile plans for the hearth. Thankfully (without even knowing the cast was going to be on for another month), Deanne decided to surprise me and remove the rest of the tiles. After about 6 hours, she eventually got the rest of them out (and only whacked her hand with the hammer a few times). Best wife ever.

The next day we decided to forge forward with the tile project, cast and all.  We figured we would just do the best we could with 3 working hands. 

With the red tiles removed, the concrete pad wasn't very smooth so we covered it in a layer of thin-set and laid a sheet of 1/4 inch concrete board on top.  Although it probably wasn't necessary, we secured the concrete board to the pad using some tapcon screws (screws specially designed for use in concrete).  This gave us a nice smooth base to attach the tile to.

She says:
Prepping was the easy part of this project.  As you may know we were initially struggling to decide which tile to use (read about it here).  Eventually, tile #5 won our hearts, but we hadn't picked out a design yet.  I was envisioning a chevron-like pattern that would run horizontally across the front of our fireplace.  

Side note: Let's talk about chevron for a minute.  I remember the first time I saw fabric in a chevron pattern. It wasn't exactly love at first sight.  I actually thought it was kind of dumb.  I shared similar "hate-and-then-grow-to-love" feelings for short socks in the 90's (um, hello, you can't roll or scrunch those?) and skinny jeans (is it just me, or does everyone look the opposite of skinny in them?).  But surprise surprise - this short sock, skinny jean obsessed girl is now totally on the chevron bandwagon. And it seemed like the perfect way to tie in one of today's trends in a subtle way.  

Reed informed me that "chevron" wasn't actually a tile laying term, but that laying the tile in a "herringbone" pattern would give us a similar result.  Same difference.

Chevron (image found here):

Herringbone (image found here):

We picked out two different colors of travertine tile and bought double the amount that we needed from Floor & Decor.  Travertine is a natural stone and the colors can vary significantly - hence the reason we bought so much extra.  We wanted to have our choice of the actual tiles we were going to use. (And thankfully, Floor & Decor Outlets let us return all of the extras).

We laid my first (chevron) pattern idea on the floor to see what it would look like. After misting it with water (to see the true color when the stone is sealed), we really liked what we saw.  And then we measured it and were pretty disappointed.  If we laid the tile the way I wanted it, we would be cutting every tile along all four edges.  And they would be diagonal cuts, not straight cuts = lots of wasted tile (and time). With Reed's hand in a cast and my lack of desire to learn to use the tile saw, we decided to look into other options.

Reed suggested turning the pattern sideways, so the tiles would no longer be on a diagonal.  I'm not going to lie, I wasn't too crazy about the idea.  But we laid it all out, did the measurements, and found we would only have to cut a few tiles in half (easy cuts and no waste) for the top & bottom edges.  Regardless of my pouting (I still liked the first design better), we both knew this would be the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to lay the tiles.  And thus, a decision was made.

I mixed up some thin-set mortar and we got to work. We started in the middle of the fireplace so the pattern would be centered.  While I laid the tile, Reed made the cuts with the wet saw in the backyard. 

After about an hour of work, our 1950's fireplace had been transformed into a more updated version of itself.  There's nothing we appreciate more than a quick and relatively easy house project.  We are especially enjoying being one step closer to completing "operation fireplace facelift".  Grout, tile sealer, trim around the tile, and some new paint inside the fireplace all coming soon!

P.S. The tiles in the pic above are a little hazy- their true colors will come out when they are sealed (in our next post!).  Also, ignore the random pieces of wood trim, they are just there temporarily to make sure our tiles didn't shift while the thin-set dried.


  1. Look at you guys! Looks awesome, I like the choice. Very cool blog, just looked at it for the first time. Hope all is well. Aren't house projects fun? This sorta motivated me for about 10 seconds to do something with mine.

    Tip from the old fart homeowner: Just a reminder if you are tiling a larger area and have many multiple cuts of cement board down, allow a tiny spacing (1/16inch is enough) between them because of expansion and to tape/quickset the lines kinda like in dry walling) :)


    1. Thanks Dillon. We've had a lot of fun writing it. What projects do you have brewing?

      We did have one seem in the concrete board and we actually did exactly what you what you suggested - leave a small gap, tape, and thinset the seem (I just forgot to mention it in the post). Thanks for the reminder! If you have any other advice, send it our way. We can use all the help we can get.

    2. Nice job guys. Do you have any of those old 6x6x3/4 tiles in good shape you would be willing to sell? Searching for one for an identical 1950s hearth I'm working on. They are hard to find. Thanks, Matt

    3. Sorry Matt. We had a really hard time removing the old tile. Most of them broke in the process so we didn't really have any to save. If we did, they'd be all yours. I'd recommend checking your local Habitat Restore. The one by us has a pretty good selection of salvaged tile. I'll keep an eye out next time I'm there. Good Luck!

    4. Ok, Thanks. Already checked there...nothing. Only other option would be to remove the 3 other corners and replace them with a different color/design, and double/triple stack em. LOL. I'll figure something out. Thanks.

  2. It is quite admirable that you were able to remove the tiles without damaging the main flooring. That can be pretty difficult because you have to very careful and deliberate with how you do things. You can just hack away at the tiles recklessly. Also, the new tile flooring pattern that you've chosen looks really good. :)

    Alana Geikie

    1. Thanks Alana! We appreciate the kind words! :)

  3. I agree with Alana because it's quite a feat to not to damage your main floor while installing a very nice patterned tile set. Deanne really showed her crafting prowess here. The tiles seem to set a contrast on the whole room. All in all, you guys did a wonderful job! :)

    Robbie Marinero

    1. Thanks Robbie, we are loving the new tile!