As previously discussed, we decided to shake things up a bit and go with the ultra wild choice of white subway tile in the tub/shower surround. I know, I know, not the most exciting thing out there, but we’re hoping for the long haul on this bathroom, so conservative that would blend with just about anything was our tile of choice.
As a refresher, here’s what our tub area looked like before.
Ick. I know.
The first plan of attack was to remove that big cabinet above. Ed has been talking about removing this cabinet since the very day we moved in, so he was ecstatic to see it go.
And I have to admit, he was right — showers would be much more enjoyable with a little light coming from above. It already looked brighter in there once that cabinet left.
Next, we ripped off those weird walls and got down to the studs/solid walls.
The one task we hired out in this project was changing out the tub and shower fixtures, so you still see the old ones in this picture. More on that in a bit.
Next, we hung cement board. We used 1/4 in. Hardibacker.
As you can see, we decided not to tile all the way to the ceiling. We debated doing so, thinking it would make for a seamless look, but then what would we do with the crown molding? We thought it would look a little odd just stopping at the tile. So we decided to add beadboard above the tile, so the molding would go all the way around the room.
Next, we started tiling. We figured we’d just start at the bottom and work our way up. Unfortunately, when your tub isn’t level, and the tiles can’t all just rest on the tub, they move around on you and start sliding down the wall with too much weight. Lesson learned, so we made a level line near the bottom of the tub and tiled a few rows, let it set overnight, and then tiled the rest of the shower with no slip sliding around. Worked like a charm.
Sometime soon, Ed will come in with a tiling tutorial post full of other lessons learned and such, but I’ll give you the short version.
1. Spread mortar.
2. Place tiles carefully in a straight line.
3. Let set overnight.
It wasn’t quite the piece of cake it sounds, but the subway tile installation was overall a simple project. And just in case you’re curious, we got our tiles at Lowe’s. We used 3×6 tiles (traditional subways) and then trimmed it in bullnose for a finished look. They had a built-in spacing of 1/16 in., so we didn’t have to use spacers (score!).
Everything went perfectly until we got to the top and realized there was an inch or so gap that we’d have to do something with. We could just move the top down an inch, but then we’d have this weird area of cement board to cover up somehow. We could cut a bunch of white subway tiles down to an inch, but then we’d have this one row that obviously didn’t match. Ultimately, we decided to use it as an accent line. So that the obviously-the-wrong-size tiles seemed intentional and not just a shoulda-measured-better mistake.
We opted for a light blue glass tile thinking it was still pretty neutral and wouldn’t go out of style too soon. It also fit the soft look I (by this point) was going for in there. So we bought 12 or so 4×4 tiles and cut them into 1-in. strips and then ran the bullnose along the top for the border. It didn’t turn out exactly perfect, but we think it looks pretty darn good.
We did have one mishap in this process. We accidentally bought Bright White bullnose, which didn’t perfectly match our White Gloss tile. I thought it looked a little off, but I just thought it was probably the weird lighting (at this point we were still using a single lamp with no shade for light in there and doing a lot of work at night). But then Ed brought it to my attention that we bought the wrong bullnose. Well, once my attention is drawn to a flaw or irritant, you can pretty much bet it isn’t going to go away. Luckily, we hadn’t done the blue glass and top bullnose yet, just one side of bullnose. So after much debating (and a very generous compromise, I’ll add), we decided to keep the one border that was slightly off and go to Lowe’s to get the correct color for the rest. Perfect. You can’t even see the border that much because the shower curtain covers it up. Win-win for all. Ed didn’t have to chip off all those wrong tiles, and I didn’t have to live with a full border that was the wrong color. See, you can hardly tell. (The tile in the middle is the Bright White, and the others are White Gloss.)
Off and on throughout the process, we were working with our plumber to get everything just right on the fixtures. We were happy to leave this step to the professionals just to make sure nothing went awry. Wouldn’t want to find some huge leak behind the walls down the road because we wanted to save a few bucks on the front end. We went with someone who’s worked for us several times before and that we fully trust. He replaced our old steel pipes with copper, converted our two-handle system to one handle, and soldered on the fixtures. It cost us $385 and was well worth it. It looks amazing and doesn’t leak a bit.
So there you have it. Phase 1 of tiling. Full disclosure, it took us several days to complete this project, but no one step was all that hard. Ed will give you all the DIY details for how to tackle a wall tiling project in his post.
I’ll be back soon with Phase 2 of tiling, the floor, also known as almost our breaking point.