We have been tiling machines of late.

Well, when I say "machines" what I'm really saying is that we're tiling machines that are old and slow, but apparently still work sometimes and eventually get the job done.

I guess if we're trying to draw a comparison, we're less like...

...and more like...

...in the whole "machine" department. I guess it fits better with the age of our house.

Fair enough? Hey, we're still machines, you can't take that away from us.

What I'm trying to say is that we've been slowly tackling the tiling of our shower walls over the last week and a half, getting about a quarter to half a wall done at a time. There are so many corners and cuts we have to make that it's just sort of a slow go of it. Nonetheless, it still feels great, and I keep going into the room to stare at the bits that are done (usually closing one eye and blocking the parts that are not done with my left hand).

For our project we're placing the tile on the wall using setting type thinset with a 1/16" grout joint. Now this is a major debate for some people, but trust me, friends don't let friends use anything other than the powder mix bags of thinset. I've said it before, and I'll say it again.

I don't care how many will swear by the use of the pre-mixed bucket types of thinset when sticking their tiles on the wall, but we're not doing that. Pre-mixed thinset never fully cures and can re-activate when it comes in contact with water. Since stone and grout are porous, you'd only use pre-mixed stuff in a shower if you really don't mind your tiles possibly falling off the wall and grout cracking. And if you don't mind that...well...wtf is your problem? Am I Right?

But I digress.

Since our tiles don't have those awesome lugs that let us butt each one against the other, we're using the hated green spacers again. You know the ones. We swore to never ever use these spacers again after our kitchen work. It seems like for every one spacer you successfully place, five fall out. It's one of those DIY challenges that tests your ability to stay sane, married, and out of jail for unspeakable acts of rage against tile spacers. Not to mention when the spacer itself is screwed up and wasn't cut right.

The issue with these little green bastards is that their leg isn't long enough and the tile can't really bite onto them, which allows them to jump from their location at will. Yes, the tile spacers hate themselves and what they stand for so much that they all try to commit suicide. These spacers have many issues, to say the least.

I actually found a much better 1/16" spacer option that's sure to work a million times better. They are large horseshoe shaped 1/16" plastic pieces that can far more easily be secured against the tile base. However, we received them after we started tiling, and we had already started with the green idiots. As it turns out, the spacing is juuuuuuust a little different with these horseshoes, so we had to stick with the one we hate. The devil you know...right?

It pained me to use the old green ones. I sort of can't wait for our next tile job so we can use these new ones and then just talk bad about the green jerks behind their backs.

Okay, back to tiling and away from ranting about spacers again. The layout we're using in our subway tile is a standard running bond pattern. Remember, we're looking for basic and classic in our bathroom.

With this pattern, as we put each tile on the wall we smoosh it into the thinset real good, then immediately support either side of the base with a spacer.

Then we place the next tile in the same manner, pop a spacer into the gap between the two tiles, then one of the spacers from the first tile to support the base of both tiles. As long as the tile size is relatively consistent, this approach gives you a consistent line and saves on the number of spacers you use.

One major benefit of tiling in our home, my butt and legs are really starting to get in great shape!

Yes, I'll save you the trip to the header to double check who is writing this post, this is Alex. Are you wondering why my butt and legs are in good shape, or why I'm even talking about it? I thought you might be. You see, as I said, we have a whole lot of cuts in this project. We're trimming the corners, trimming the base slightly in some areas, trimming at the ceiling, and making crazy cuts all over the place where necessary. Like this one around the bench.

The thing is, our tile saw is a messy water spraying proposition. It shoots water and tile dust backwards, forwards, and sideways. So its use is relegated to the basement only. That means each cut I have to make requires me to mark the tile or toe that need cuts, then walk down two flights of stairs where I can then crouch on the basement floor like a Neanderthal tile setter to cut my tile.

Then I walk back up the two flights of stairs and deliver the cut tiles to my beautiful tiling wife, who may then set them on the wall while I make my next trip down to the dungeon.

Sometimes, when I really get lucky, I don't cut the tile to the right length, and I have to go back down a second...or even a third time to cut the thing. This is what I do in the name of getting the tile as close to perfect as we can.

At the end of a weekend day of tiling, I sat in a heap on the couch and wondered why my legs were so tired. Then I realized my ridiculous setup had forced me to turn my house into a Victorian era stair master.

All the while, this is the view we have into the bedroom.

Anyhow, back to the tile.

We've opted to finish the transition areas of our tile with a vertical bullnose border of sorts. This is a pretty typical look and saves on the cost associated with standard bullnose. But the tile assumes a 1/8" spacing, rather than 1/16", so the long bullnose had to all be trimmed by 1/16" on each one. But the one inside corner of the shower will get bullnose on the short side of the tile so that the whole thing looks a little more cohesive. 

The main thing about these little bullnose tiles is that we have to back butter them to ensure good coverage all of the way to the corner.

The other interesting part of the shower is the niche. Seriously, what's a modern day shower without some sort of a niche. We decided to use pieces of marble for the shelves while continuing the tile pattern through the niche's background. Also, most people put a bullnose border of sorts on the exterior of the niche, but we don't prefer this look. Instead, we've put the bullnose border on the interior of the niche, using the bullnose and a good notch on the tile to actually support the second shelf on three sides.

There are a few areas I'm not entirely happy with on the niche and I need to figure out if it will look better once grouted, or if I should take out the offending tiles and redo them. We shall see.

Let's check on the peanut gallery and see what they think of the project.

Yep, still about the same response we usually get.

I am very proud of one thing in particular. When you order tile you typically add 15% for "cuts and breakage." That calculation is based on installers who don't typically plan out how to most effectively use the tile, and are also a bit more rough and cause more breaks. However, we've only broken 1 piece, and we have been extremely conservative in our tile cuts. This means that we were able to return two full boxes of tile, a total of 22 square feet of extra. Our tile cut area looked like this the whole time.

Little slivers all over the place and no raw edge left unused. This meant that we were able to get about $160 back for the return. So our total cost for tile came in at just under $1,000. Not too shabby if you ask me.

We've got a few more pieces to put in before we can move onto grouting, but Wendy and I are both getting really excited by our progress. We'll probably have a four to six week wait for shower glass before it's a real shower, but we can feel the bathroom momentum train running at a decent speed ahead. And we think it's sure looking good.

What do you think? Does the tile look like it belongs in the shower? Are you as excited as we are about being done? Probably not, but you might be so sick of hearing us talk about it that you just want it to be all over and done with! I agree.

Comments 21


9/12/2014 at 1:06 PM

Love it! We're doing this to our downstairs bathroom and continuing the subway tile for the backsplash around the kitchen. Lots of hard work, but worth it in the endAlt smile

(Also, I was down your way over labor day visiting a friend! I waved as we went through old town but opted to not be the creepy fool wandering around looking for you lol)


Ha!Alt smile Hope you had a great visit to Old Town!

9/12/2014 at 1:34 PM

LOVE how anal you are about the tile. We are redoing our master bath - hiring a tile guy. At lease I will know what to look for and how to talk with him about what I want. Thanks.

Paula Pagano
9/12/2014 at 1:40 PM
Looking good!
9/12/2014 at 2:24 PM

I don't know if you have experience with the tiles that have those tabs on them for spacing but be glad you're not using them - they are near impossible to get a good looking grout line - no matter what, you can always see the tabs - the grout just will give you full coverage over it! I'm in apartment building and it drives me BONKERS on every project - you can see the tabs all up and down the shower walls. #venting

9/12/2014 at 2:30 PM

It looks great! I think you should have a contest and offer one lucky reader a bathroom makeover. I promise to feed you and buy you anything you want to drink when I win.


That's a great idea, Karin! You don't mind feeding and watering us for five years, right? Because that's about our average bathroom reno speed these days! ;)

Kristin Saveland Buchanan
9/12/2014 at 2:35 PM
Love!! Looks fabulous!!
Holly Laffoon
9/12/2014 at 3:30 PM
Looks great!!
Franki Parde
9/12/2014 at 5:05 PM

Showering you'al with good wishes...it looks swimmingly!! franki


Thanks, Franki! We're so glad it's finally coming together!

9/12/2014 at 5:21 PM

It looks absolutely wonderful. Its so rewarding when all the planning finally comes together, congratulations. Also, even though your set up meant a lot of stairs for Alex I can't resist but say that while Wendy hated to see you go, she loved to watch you leaveAlt smile


Ha! Good one, Kerrie.Alt smile

9/12/2014 at 9:16 PM

I wish I'd seen this post sooner. I have a great tip for the greenie meanies. You know that poster tack stuff you can squish onto the wall and stick the poster to? Like clay but stickier? After you place the green goblin in it's spot, you just stick a little bit of the poster tack on either side of the green round bits and they stay in place even on slippery tile (at least more than they normally do) HOWEVER, it seems that's a thing of the past now that you're nearly finished and you're right, it does look incredible. I like the choice to round the insides of the cubby in the shower rather than the outsides, as well as the choice to put in marble slabs for the shelves. You have done a better job than most professional tile installers, it's no easy job. You have every reason to be proud!

9/12/2014 at 10:37 PM

I agree with George, your results are very professional. It's taking a long time because it's so meticulous. For example I can see the work that went into centering the niche so the surrounding tiles on the wall are exactly the same size on both sides in framing it (mirror imaging) -- it looks great! Those of us afflicted with the ability (or curse) to see even the smallest things that are inconsistent with an overall pattern thank you for your care in planning tile layout!!

Melissa @ HOUSEography
9/12/2014 at 9:43 PM

Looks great!! Can't wait to see the final room!!!

9/13/2014 at 1:06 PM

Fantastic job,absolutely beautiful!
When the job is complete you will be smiling every morning. Congratulations, you are very close.

9/15/2014 at 10:01 AM

You two do beautiful work...and the process is always so well thought, who cares about speed when the end product looks better than any magazine spread! I love the peanut gallery too! Maybe they are doing their part by letting you pet a head on the way back down the stairs...they do say petting a furry friend calms your nerves and lowers your heart rate don't they? Those spacers could probably make any sane person go crazy. So, I figure those two have earned their paycheck on this project!

Alex Dent
9/15/2014 at 12:45 PM

The bathroom tiling looks great. This is probably too late to be of any use, but I had this "thinking outside the box" idea for keeping your green spacers in place...Repositionable Stencil Spray Adhesive. I don't know if it would work or not but might be worth a try.

Jaime Rowan
12/2/2015 at 11:45 AM

I know it has been a while since this post but was wondering if you'd be able to answer a question about the inside corner you tiled in your shower...? I'm currently tiling two walls that meet and am trying to figure out the corner. Did you tile all the way into the corner on one wall and then butt the tile on the other wall up against the other tile in the corner and then add a spacer? This is what I'm thinking I should do but didn't know if it mattered that the line where the two tiles meet won't be exactly in the corner.

3/4/2017 at 8:34 PM

Curious where you got your marble for the shelves and if you cut to length or it was long enough? Trying to do our shower ourselves right now! Was originally going to use tile but we have a 24" long niche and our tile is 16" long. Thank you!!!

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