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…
Stefanie A says
I’ll admit it: at first when you picked penny tile I doubted a little.
Consider me a believer. It’s beautiful!!! I may or may not want to pet it too…
Jessica Lee says
I showed my hubby this post to say “see, we CAN do it ourselves!” He said “Hell to the NO” oh well I tried and will still remain optimistic that he will jump on the DIY train. Until then I will continue reading your blog and dream. Love it!
Candy from Candied Fabrics says
“Ahh Ahh Ahh” That’s choirs of angels singing! :-) I know you’re not totally done yet, but hooray for a big big job finished! Woot! You did an awesome job of keeping things lined up – and when you get the grout in, it’ll be even MORE awesomer! We’ve done a few tile jobs in the past where the before grout alignment wasn’t as perfect as yours and I am always AMAZED at the multitude of sins that grout fixes! I told this to a friend of mine before she and her hubby embarked on putting tiny glass tiles inside their shower – she says that she kept repeating my advice to her husband while they were tiling, and that during grouting he kept exclaiming how awesome grout is and how right I was (LOL, something nice to hear!)
Anyway, congrats, and good luck on the next step! :-)
In some of the pictures the paint looks very green against the tile. I think the truest pictures are the close-ups, which I love. It’s more of a soft “grellow” than apple green that comes across in some of the pictures.
Now to my main point – that tile wall is GORGEOUS… I love how it has an almost shimmery quality to it! I would pet it with my whole body.
Oh yes- the walls are a soft avocado green! Definitely not bright or lime in person!
yay and exciting!!! we bought our house 1.5 years ago, and we’ve been slowly working our way through the house room by room. the kitchen is next on our to-do list :) right now we’re just going to paint it, but we have big plans for the future… good luck with your grout!
Kristen @ Popcorn on the Stove says
I’m on team 5’2″ also, and Joe is always surprised that when we paint, I can cut the edges by the ceiling while standing almost entirely up the ladder without having to contort myself. Sometimes, it’s nice being small.
I’m really loving the way the tile looks! Can’t wait to see it all grouted up!
I can not believe how much that penny tile just elevated your kitchen design-wise. It looks SO amazing. Fabulous work, guys!
Kate Battle says
The tile looks great! Good job in the corner too! That must have been tricky, but it turned out fabulous!
I spent all weekend priming and painting my cabinet bases…I haven’t shared the painted pics on my blog yet, but the prime pics are up. ( http://retroranchrevamp.com/2012/01/15/prime-time-saturday/ )It took forever! (I haven’t even started on the doors and drawer fronts yet!
I wish I had today off work, then I would be home working on the kitchen…(so not actually a vacation!)
Haha, I love that you add that you ate a sandwich. Hilarious!
Kate Battle says
A girl’s gotta eat! ;)
Kate @ zMOMbie.com says
Can I touch it, can I touch it?! Looks pennylicious! Would not have ever thought to do the entire wall including over the door and it SO WORKS! Random thought, but I wonder if anyone out there actually has used REAL PENNIES? Hmm…but then they might go greenish…Ah, KETCHUP! And, that’s why we keep ketchup in the kitchen, right? To shiny up the penny tile! Wow, I don’t know what just came over me. Apologies.
Sure, come on over and pet it! Oh yes, and we’ve seen people do a floor in real pennies with some sort of clear bar-coat sealer over it so they stay orange! So cool.
DIY Sarah says
The penny tile looks great! I’d love to do that in my house someday!
*knock* Penny! *knock* Penny! *knock* Penny!
(Like Big Bang Theory, you know?)
That’s been playing in my head since I saw the finished wall.
Haha, I always think of “Penny Can!” from Cougartown.
Omigosh, how did you go all last summer without using a ceiling fan in your kitchen? Richmond gets HOT (I know, I live here) and kitchens get even hotter. Ceiling fans are such a great energy-saving tool!! Give it a chance next summer, turn your thermostat up a couple degrees and let the fan do its work. Your electricity bill will thank you.
Haha we just never used it! Not a once! Our first house had one in the kitchen too and we never used that one either, so we switched it out for can lights and loved how much more open the room felt! Of course in both cases (this kitchen and the last) we widened doorways so there’s a lot more flow and the air circulates more easily – so maybe that’s why our kitchens never get too hot!
Looks great you guys!! I absolutely love it!! I picked a more simple project this weekend..finishing up the nursery! Woo hoo! I’ll reveal later this week! I can’t believe how fast you guys are moving through this kitchen….well, yes, I can!
Aw congrats on the nursery Jennifer! Can’t wait to see it!
Chrissy Henry says
It looks amazing! Like one of the most amazing things I have seen you guys do yet! Though I am sure it is not at the top of the difficulty list for projects you have accomplished… it sure looks like it! And made a HUGE difference already.
Good choice on the gray penny tile it looks beautiful!
It looks awesome! Love it! So are you guys going to caulk the corner seam? We were told to do that since walls can shift, and you want flexibility there versus just regular grout because it might crack. Same principle as not grouting the line between the counter and the tile.
Oh yes, that’s what I mean! We’ll caulk the line above the counter and the corner and grout the rest!
It looks amazing! Well done. Can’t wait to see the finished product. I was just wondering how true the yellow in the pictures is to real life?
Colors really depend on your monitor. Do you mean the wall color? That’s actually a soft avocado color and we love it in person- but online it can look anything from yellow to lime green depending on your monitor! So weird!
And I’m just wondering: do you stand in the diningroom to look at your peninsula, white cabinets and tile wall all at the same time? Must be an awesome view. I’d be tempted to sleep in the kitchen just to wake up to that tile!
Haha, it’s pretty crazy to walk around and look at that new tile wall from a bunch of different vantage points! We can’t stop staring.
Wow, what progress! It’s really coming along and looking phenomenal! I love it! :)
Whitney Dupuis says
Wow! I tell ya what – wow! (100 points if you can name that movie.)
Seriously, though, I LOVE it!!! It looks so luxurious and I love the texture that it adds to the room. Fantastic job! Can’t wait to see the finished product.
Do you plan on repainting as well? It looks like the tile and wall color are clashing but maybe that is just my monitor?
Nope, no plans to repaint- we love how the soft avocado walls look in person! Especially once we add floating shelves with some colorful accessories to tie it all together! Could definitely be your monitor if it looks like they clash though- gray goes with soft green really nicely in real life!
Beautiful!!! Do you guys love it?? Can’t wait to see the trim added, I bet the old owners would just die when they see how bright and airy it all looks!!
Oh yes, we love it more than words can say. Haha.
Very painstaking tiling job, it looks extremely well done. I see that someone else already asked (and you already responded) about the wall colour. I admit that on screen I’m not crazy about the wall colour next to the tile, but I suspected that the room’s lighting/the affect of photography was making the colours look off. Glad to hear that in person the colour isn’t quite so lemon-lime!
Oh no it’s a soft avocado color! That looks great with gray! It’s a nice mix in real life. Haha. We just thought white walls with white cabs and gray tile was kind of blah- so some soft color (that ties into the adjoined rooms like the dining room and living room) is just the ticket!
Julia @ Chris loves Julia says
Um. The last picture. The new, gorgeous stove. The pretty white cabinets with shiny hardware. That tile! Yum! and….the white kettle. It’s perfection. That’s your money shot right there. …. I barely notice the hood isn’t in place.
…scrolling back up to gawk.
Haha, you’re so sweet Julia!
It looks amazing! I have just one follow-up question: Do the prior owners know and follow your blog? If they do and are, I think you’re blowing their minds.
Haha, we believe they do! We used to hear from them right after we move in (they’re so nice and seemed to love “watching us do all the work and share the pics” – haha).
Ah. May. Zing!!! It looks fantastic and even better than some professional jobs I’ve seen. Can’t wait to see it grouted. Oh and thanks for addressing that brown fan in your post. I was wondering if it was (er..) staying.
And I’m still so hoping that you will go into the design business for OTHER PEOPLE (ahem!).
It looks amazing!!! I can totally see how it will look when finished (though, it’s already looking pretty fabulous).
It’s so hard to believe it’s the same kitchen that you two started with — at least not without a total gut job. You two really managed to re-use so much. Way to go!!!
I love it. The kitchen is really coming together. I love how bright it is. Can’t wait to see more.
The tile looks amazing and even checked your website this weekend to see if you had posted any updates.
I too was working in the kitchen this weekend. I am tackling Kitchen Cabinet Glide-out Shelves.
One down…. 5 more to go!!!
Really cool! Congrats!
debbie c says
Nice job!! Looks awesome!!! Can’t wait to see the shelving and hood up. Are your shelves stainless or wood? What did you get for a hood? I want to replace our over the stove micro with a nice stainless hood…looking for suggestions on brands.
Our shelves will be white painted wood (we probably have to make them to get the measurements we want) and our hood is TBD. Haha. More details as soon as we know!
thumbs way up!
I gasped when I saw the first photo. Wooo! Looking good!
It’s Sah Pretty! And yes, I *do* want to pet it!
Maybe you can play a game where you lay on the floor and get Clara to walk on or squish your arching arms. Toddler massage!
I also love your scootching technique. I’m glad I’m not the only person who would be that OCD (compliment, I promise!)
Haha- toddler massage sounds awesome. Must explore that…
Teresa @ wherelovemeetslife says
I am really liking that it’s not a true white. It is really adding some texture to the room! Almost there!
Fantabulous! Love it, AND all the great details, tutorials and video. Should I ever get lucky enough to do this one day I know I will have some awesome reference! I also noticed right away in the first picture how the moulding around the door in the top right really pops out now. It looks great, so crisp and fresh. Terrific job Team P!
[email protected] says
It looks awesome! I really love the penny tile? Have you let Clara stand on the counter (with parental help of course) and pet the tile some more? :)
Haha, we’ll have to get her up there stat.
Heather W says
My husband and I spent the weekend watching Dexter season 1. After seeing all the comments on here we thought we should check it out. We got it from the library and couldn’t stop watching it all weekend! I had to make myself stop so I could finally finish getting the Christmas deco down. I am off to the library after work to see if they have season 2 in! ADDICTED!!! Thanks a lot =)
Haha- wait until season 4! Things get crazy at the end of that one! They’re all great though! This season was amazing too!
Wow! It looks SO awesome! I can’t believe what a huge difference the penny tile makes. And I can’t decide if I love it or the counters more. Your white counters have me dreaming of (gasp!) ditching my dark granite for something lighter. I’ve always hated this granite and my dislike grows every day.
I think the wooden trim pieces are a great option for the tile “caps”. But I think they might look better if they’re just painted the green color of the walls. That way they just blend in and don’t scream out “tile stops here!” In the picture in my head, having a white line running down the wall at that point seems odd.
We actually debated that too! Always another option if we don’t like the white color!
Suki L says
That looks wonderful! I can’t wait to see the open shelving with the penny tile behind it. So lovely.
Lori B. says
It looks amazing! And I can’t wait to see it with all the finishing touches :-)
For a novice DIY-er, how difficult would you rate this tiling job?
Tedious level: 10. Actual difficulty (calling for special skills or dealing with exceptional challenges): 7. So not too bad! Maybe medium-hard (with painting a wall being a 5 and painting your cabinets being tied at 7).
Short, Sweet Season says
It looks AMAZING!!! Prepare to get pinned. :)
Jessica F. says
Wow!!! Wow wow wow wowowowow!!!! :D
Looks so shimmery and gorgeous! Can’t wait to see the hood range installed!
Katherine Victoria says
Oh la la!!
Jen @ The Decor Scene says
OMG GOR-GEOUS!!! I’m in love. Now I want to retile our backsplash. LOL! ;) I can not wait to see the hood up and the shelves. That wall is going to be a show stopper when you walk into the kitchen. Awesome job!!! :)
Sherry from BC says
Wow! Is it sad that I was looking forward to seeing your progress this morning more than the dresses from the GG’s? You did a great job, especially on that corner. Are you seeing spots before your eyes. It must have been a monumental job but you will be so proud to look at it especially when it is all grouted and the shelves up. Now I can’t wait to see the shelves and the items you put out for show. No pressure though.
Haha about the spots. We were joking that when we closed our eyes we still saw a grid of round tiles!
Megan E. says
Your penny tile looks amazing! Nice job!
I actually tiled the backsplash in my own kitchen this weekend! Took about 10 straight hours (I was working alone), but it was totally worth it. You can see my pictures here: http://megeletto.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/subway-tile-backsplash/
Wow- amazing how fast you knocked that out! Looks gorgeous!
Meredith @ La Buena Vida says
I really like how it’s looking!
We did NOTHING home improvement wise this weekend. And unfortunately, J does not have the day off :(
Erika K says
Gorgeous! I love the way it reflects light in certain pictures, all shiny and pretty. Fantastic work!
awesome job! Do you think the penny tile would have worked well with the counters in your old house? I have the same granite you guys had over there and am curious if it would work! thanks :)
I worry it might have been too busy but maybe bring home a sample tile (they’re $4 I think) and hold it up to check?
Ashley @ Simply Creative Things says
This looks amazing! You guys are super motivating! My husband and I spent some time in Home Depot this weekend just looking at options for our future (like in 2 years) kitchen makeover. I just can’t help but want to take your inspiration/energy and channel it!
Callie Grayson says
It’s looking fantastic! I can’t wait until your done to see it all together