We’ve been thinking about updating our kitchen backsplash for a long time. It was one of the things that stuck out to us before we’d even closed on the house, as something that would Have To Go:
We’ve been putting it off largely because of indecision. There were a couple of limiting factors on the facelift:
1. For reasons unknown to us, the kitchen was done with a snow white tile backsplash, but a bisque enamel sink, counters, and appliances (of which the range and microwave are still standing). That meant that we couldn’t make the white backsplash ALL white, like I’d originally thought of. I was envisioning white embossed seashell 6×6 tiles substituted in for the flowers, and gray-green cabinets. Not with all that bisque, though:
Yeah, I know. I can hear Bowling for Soup's "1985" playing in the background too.
2. Because of where the flowers are positioned, I didn’t want anything too dark/contrasting, because it would look too blocky.
3. Since we plan to renovate the kitchen in a few years, we didn’t want to spend much on a “short term” backsplash. That meant that we would likely only replace the flower tiles, leaving the white.
Because of the mounting number of criteria, we’d considered just leaving the flowers alone for a few years, but they just weren’t fitting into the otherwise coastal and earth toned kitchen-and-surrounding-rooms that I’d been working so hard to cultivate. It was worth the effort and modest expense to change it, since a new kitchen is still quite a few years off (more if I don’t have to look at the flowers between now and then!).
We started shopping at Best Tile, and left when they closed at 4pm on Saturday feeling defeated. It was like a playground for kitchen redesign, but it was no fun going into a place like that (too many choices!) with such limiting criteria. It had to be 6×6, look good next to white, look good next to bisque, not be too “square” looking, preferably make my coffee for me and do the dishes…
We ended up at Lowe’s after that, and surprisingly found ceramic tiles there that we’re pretty excited about seeing in place. But first, surgical demolition.
We had the counters cleared and cleaned and were ready to start around 9:45am, Sunday:
Drilling through the tiles with a masonry bit
Chiseling from hole to hole to crack the tiles. The impact knocked loose most of the grout within a couple inches around the flowered tile we were working on.
Using a pry bar to break the pieces out. As an aside, the raised features of the flowers are pretty visible here. But for that, we would have tried to reglaze instead of remove, but the raised flowers left us few options that didn't involve shattering.
It was a shop vac kind of project.
There were 16 flowered tiles, plus 2 white ones that we were taking out because we thought they’d look better as accents than as white ones. From about 10am until about 2:30, were were demolishing.
until finally, we were done:
Glue lines. D'oh.
There’s no way it should’ve taken 4.5 hours for two people to remove eighteen 6×6 tiles — but unfortunately for us, the installers didn’t use thinset mortar like they probably should have. They just glued them to the wall! Ooft. That made them much harder to break off. But finally, and with no major casualties among the neighboring white tiles to speak of (our biggest concern), we were ready to install the new tiles.
Stirring the thinset was probably the least fun 10 minutes of the day. It’s like making bread, or cookies without a Kitchen Aid. With multiple batches. In one bowl. And somebody was heavy handed with the flour.
Smearing the thinset was pretty messy. The trowel was cumbersomely large for the space.
But up went the tiles! Ta da!
1/8" spacers between the tiles
Thinset mortar, but no grout yet - curing overnight
Looking at it installed, I think I’m pleased. I like the colors. It’s warmer and more earthy than the flowers were, and the cream colored ceramic squares and rectangles tie the backsplash in with the bisque fixtures better than before. The larger, patina ceramic squares have a glossy finish that works with the glossy white tiles.
It’s not perfect — the bars of accent color against the white don’t blend quite as well as I’d pick in an ideal world. But for redoing only part of the backsplash (and only buying ~25% of the tile it would take to do the entire backsplash), I think it’s a pretty good 5-year plan result. I also think the white grout that will go in tomorrow will help lighten up the blocks of accent ceramic, which will help it flow better.
It also helps to just zoom the camera out a little. Once the coffee pot, bean grinder, toaster oven, drain board, canisters, etc. return to their usual homes, the backsplash will blend behind them. Under those normal, every day circumstances, I think I’m going to really love the change.
Tomorrow we’ll plan to grout, seal, put back together, and then post the before’s with completed after’s. Here’s to hoping we like it!
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