This is a thing you can’t do it with out. Come on. I’m talkin’ to you. Come onnnn. (Okay, enough with the Tears for Fears reference). Let’s talk about grout, because with our penny rounds finally all installed, grout was next on the agenda. It has a way of taking things from in-progress to looks-completely-finished-oh-thank-goodness. Observe:
So here’s how we got there. First I have a little “materials shot” for ya:
- Bucket of clean water
- Putty knife & another bucket to mix grout in
- Paper towels because, well, grout is messy
- Sanded grout (from The Tile Shop, $19 with discount) – ours is the Mobe Pearl color
- Rubber float (from Home Depot, $2)
- Flexible Grout Admixture (from The Tile Shop, $17 with discount) – this reduces grout shrinking and cracking
- Sponge. Woot!
Oh and we used leftover rosin paper from Home Depot to prep the room, since it was again helpful in keeping the mess off of our counters.
Grout, like thinset, is another mixture that you only want to make in small batches – since it’ll dry out after about 20-30 minutes. So according to the instructions, I started by pouring a bit of admixture into my bucket and then adding the grout powder second.
Just like with my thinset, I used my putty knife to mix everything together until I got a that toothpaste-y consistency that I found easiest to work with.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy grouting. That may be an overstatement, but after the focus it took to actually install the tile it was fun to do something that took very little thinking. It was basically just using the float to smoosh the grout onto the tile and, more importantly, into the cracks. Sherry helped too. She was less into it than I was. Ha.
Once we made sure we didn’t miss any spaces, we held the float at an angle and scraped off some of the excess from the front of the tiles. Then it was time for some sponge-and-water action. This not only cleans grout off the front of the tiles, but also kinda smooths the grout between the tiles. It’s kinda weirdly amazing to me how simple but helpful this step is.
If you want to see these steps in actions, we managed to film this little one-take video of it. Clara’s need for a cream-cheese refill cut it a smidge short, but you get the point:
Admittedly the task is a bit tedious – and more than bit taxing on your wrist – but we managed to get it all done in one afternoon.
The difference between an ungrouted and grouted tile job still amazes us. Just when we thought we couldn’t love our penny rounds more. You can see the difference below – the left side has dried grout in it, the right side is ungrouted. You can also see how much lighter the grout gets once it dries. Of course there’s still a haze on the grouted tiles on the left, so they don’t look as gleamy as they do once you buff that off with a cloth after it has fully dried.
Oh, and since people had asked before – here’s a picture of the corner seam after it was filled with caulk that matches our grout. We also caulked the seam where the tile meets the counter (that’s still drying in this pic, so it looks darker along that bottom edge). This was taken before we buffed the tile with a cloth though, so it’s kinda chalky. But you get the idea.
Here’s the whole room completely done, though it’s kinda hard to make sense of it at this picture size – since it sort of just looks like a gray wall. Haha. But in person it’s approximately 50 times bigger than this photo on your monitor. And those gleaming penny rounds look pretty darn lip-smacking. Yes, I just used that adjective. The penny tile does that to me.
So here are some close ups so you can get a better idea of what it looks like in real life. Thankfully even when you enter the room from the frame hallway on the far side of the kitchen you can easily make out each individual penny tile. Which is nice because it would have been a colossal bummer to spend 14 hours tiling the room only to have it look like gray paint from afar. Even from the front door it clearly looks like little round penny tile on the part under the microwave that you can see from there. Whew.
This shot is probably best at depicting all the varying tones in the tile. It’s awesomely random. Some tiles are a bit darker and some have a dark ring (or semi-ring) around them – we think it looks really charming and adds to the dimension. And you can see the polished shine on the top right corner of this shot (they look hazy in this pic for some reason, but up at the corner you can see that they gleam in real life). It’s actually a really “marble-ish” look without having to dish out the money for marble.
Here’s another close up to show how some tiles have darker rings and varied coloring. And you can really see how the grout cleans things up and adds some nice tone-on-tone action where dark holes and mesh once were:
We were a little nervous about the grouting step because we had heard that it can accentuate any seams or inconsistencies in the way that you laid the sheets. But our experience was the opposite: it actually seemed to disguise those little mistakes. It’s probably because our tile / grout color combo is low contrast, but if it was dark it could highlight those flaws instead of bridging the gap and making things look more finished and even. So this isn’t to say that grout solves a bad tile job when it’s low contrast (unfortunately nothing solves a bad tile job) but if there are tiny inconsistencies, similarly toned grout might be your best friend. And thanks to using a good sealer, it shouldn’t be a bear to keep clean (we used something awesome on our first house’s tiled shower and didn’t have to scrub it ever again – even while hosting Open Houses a year later it looked as good as it did the day we grouted).
Here’s a better shot that shows the shine- although it’s only on that portion of tile on either side of the range hood. I blame our terrible kitchen lighting, but it’s next on our to-do list! Yes, we have an appointment with our electrician and everything.
Speaking of other still-to-be-completed projects, we also still have to add a range hood and some open shelves. We think our tile will be a pretty darn sexy backdrop for our dishware and such (knowing Sherry, there will be a whole lot of “and such” up there with our dishes – the girl has plans).
Even though grout is done, our job with the tile isn’t 100% complete. We still have to seal it. And before that we have to do a bit more clean up (aka: more buffing to remove small traces of haze in some areas). It’s pretty common for grout jobs and The Tile Shop actually sells haze remover, but we’ve found that just good ol’ fashioned elbow grease (and a dry dishtowel) can also do the trick. Buff, buff, buff. So we may try that first. That is, once our wrists recover.
You know we’ll be back to share all the goods as we go (applying our sealer, planning/replacing the lighting, range hood happenings, open shelves, new cork floors, etc). In the meantime, have you guys ever grouted? Did you kind of like it (me) or kind of hate it (Sherry). The good news is that we both admitted that it was totally worth the hassle when we were done, so that’s unanimous. Glad to have it checked off.
Psst- Take a wild guess who is the most excited indoor train rider in our family. Might not be who you think. More on that here.
We did it. We tiled the entire back wall of our kitchen in a counter-to-ceiling backsplash move that we like to call Project Crazy, and we lived to tell the tale. We still have to grout, add a big ol’ industrial range hood and chunky open shelves (those will just be screwed right through the tile with a special drill bit) but when we squint we can almost picture it…
As for the top seam where the tile meets the ceiling, there’s crown molding that runs around the entire room (although we removed some of it on the window wall) so we’ll be adding that back around the whole room so the top of the tile will look nice and finished once we get to that step.
The black box next to the range hood is an outlet for our range hood, so that’ll be hidden once we install ours. We tiled a few inches behind the range hood duct, but didn’t remove it since once we install our industrial hood that area won’t be visible.
Once we add our floating shelves (which will be 12″ deep) along the oven wall, the space on either side of the window will be 14″ – so it’ll finally look balanced again! I mention this in every kitchen post because I. Can’t. Wait. For. That. Moment.
This entire backsplash process took us around 14 hours total. We tackled it mostly in 2-3 hour chunks in the evening after Clara went to bed or on weekends while she napped (so it’s a good indication of what anyone with a day job might be able to follow). That includes a few hours of figuring out how to cut the tile, which we summarized in this video for you (read a lot more on that process here).
We also shared an in-progress post about prepping the room for tiling, mixing and spreading thinset, and placing the penny tiles here. So that might come in handy if you’re at that stage of the project and could use some reassuring.
It’s really important to place penny tiles in a way that makes the line where each sheet meets less obvious, so we found that a staggered pattern was the best method for us to achieve a seamless result:
That way your eye doesn’t catch one seam and follow it all the way across the room (more on that here). We also played around with each sheet of tile after squishing them into the thinset, scooching them a bit to the left or the right or higher (since they were on a sheet of mesh it was pretty easy to manipulate them) until they looked evenly placed so the seams weren’t obvious.
Just wanted to recap that stuff for a second so anyone looking for an exhaustive post about installing penny tile would have those pics and links all in one place. Anyway, when we last left you, we were just beginning the back wall, which we knew would be tedious (but hoped wouldn’t make us rue the day that we picked penny tile). The good news: it didn’t. We made it all the way across that wall, baby! Without wanting to poke our eyes out with penny tile once (well, maybe once…).
Thankfully, there weren’t many cuts since we could slap a ton of full sheets up in that giant expanse of wall, so although we took our time placing them to keep seams from showing up, we did move faster than having to cut a bunch of tiles. It probably took us three days of 2-3 hour sessions each time. We found it helpful to use little glass dishes to divide full tiles, half tiles, more than half tiles, and less than half tiles. That way if we needed to quickly back-fill an area, like the edge of the wall, with half-tiles or slivers or almost full tiles we already had a little dish of them separated out that we could dig into quickly.
Here’s a video about spreading the thinset and placing the tiles, complete with how to back-fill any tiles that you need to add and how we slid them around and adjusted them to look more seamless. Oh and in the video when I describe it as a brick-layers pattern, I create a horizontal one with my hands, but it’s really a vertical one (two tiles on top of each other and one staggered in the middle of that next to it). Oops. Hope that makes sense when you see it!
And here are some pics of us making our way across the wall. John applied the thinset with a putty knife (and sometimes a trowel). We mixed enough thinset to set about four to six tiles at a time (so it didn’t dry out before we could set the tile). You can see John applying the thinset in the video above.
Then John scraped it with his trowel to make little ridges to help the thinset grab the tile and stick for good. Our trowel was a 3/16th notched trowel since penny tile is small, so we heard that smaller ridges were recommended (you can also see this in the video above).
Here I am placing the top tile on the left side of the wall. John got a kick out of the fact that I could comfortably stand on the counter without having to crouch (oh the perks of Team 5’2″). You can see how we worked from the bottom left corner and went up and out to create a staggered staircase effect. This allowed us to build things slowly without having much of a problem with keeping things level since each tile interlocked down the staircase on two ends to keep it from skewing.
Day by day, we inched our way across…
Here we are in the very last corner, finishing things up. You can see that we scooted the oven out while we were working (to gain more access to the wall and keep from getting thinset on it).
Since a few of you have asked for a shot of the corner to see how the tile meets, here ya go:
Let’s get a little closer…
Basically whatever would be placed next to the last tile on the wall where the wall ends just wraps around and gets placed on the new wall. It’s not 100% perfect but once it’s caulked/grouted we think it’ll look pretty darn good (we’ll snap another pic for you then).
Oh and some other folks asked how we’d be “capping” the 14″ of tile that will be exposed on each side of the window wall, so here’s a detail shot for ya:
We actually got some thin glass tiles that we thought we’d like, but they just looked too brown and sort of competed with the penny tile, so we decided some thin thin thin pieces of craft wood will make great simple and clean little borders that don’t compete for attention. They’re not hammered in completely yet, since we’ll be pulling them out and painting them white like the rest of the trim in the room after grouting (just to avoid getting paint on the grout).
Grellow note: the picture above is probably the most true to life shot of our wall color (in some of the far shots it looks darker/greener/brighter than it is). In real life it’s a soft avocado color (although it can read quite differently on different computer monitors). Here’s a link to it on BM’s site if that helps, since the bad lighting in our kitchen hardly does it any favors. We think once we tackle the new lighting and add the open shelving and some pretty colorful accessories up there (and on the counter) it’ll all tie together really sweetly. You know we’ll share those pics as we go!
Obviously we still have to spread all that grout, but we’re giving our arms a day of rest before picking up the trowel again (well, I guess in this case it’ll be the grout float). As for the specifics, we picked a soft creamy-gray grout that’s a smidge lighter than the tile. You can see it in this sample shot snapped at the store back when we chose our tile (more on that here):
Oh and see how you can kind of see the seam in the picture above (there’s a horizontal line of grout in the middle of the photo that seems a bit thicker/bolder). That’s why scooching things around and stepping back to see how it all looks before moving onto the next tile is so important! We were sticklers about it, but we’re so glad we took the time to keep everything as evenly placed as possible.
Now we just need to grout, get new lighting (and kill that haven’t-used-it-in-13-months fan), add crown molding and some sort of decorative treatment and baseboard to the back of the peninsula, lay our cork floors, install our new dishwasher, and add shoe molding around the room. And probably some other stuff that our tile-drunk minds are forgetting. So we’ll be back with grouting progress in the next few days or so- probably on Wednesday. We’re hoping we can knock it out pretty quickly, but you never know until you’re knee deep in grout… we’ll keep you posted!
What did you guys do this weekend? Do you all have off today in honor of MLK?
Psst- Oh yes there is a Clara vs. Santa wrestling match going on over on Young House Life…