A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Look, We’re Tiling!

The long quest to move the master bedroom to the newly renovated attic space got a little shorter last weekend when we finally had some time and all the materials needed to start tiling the master bathroom. I say “start” because we’re a long way from finishing.

As with any DIY project, we didn’t get as far as we had hoped and spent most of the first day preparing to tile. I hate prep work, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to do the job right.

One big chunk of time was devoted to tile layout in order to avoid “skinnies” at either end of the wall. It’s important to take your time with this part. Ideally you want to end up with half-tiles on either end of the wall, especially if you’re laying them in an overlapping brick pattern, but if that isn’t possible, try to shoot for at least 1/3 of a tile. We were able to start with a full tile in the lower left corner, where it was most visible when walking toward the shower, and end with about 1/3 tile in the opposite corner where it was less obvious.

We also had to figure out where the tiles would end at the floor and ceiling, as well as where they would wrap around the built-in bench.

Another thing to remember: don’t assume your walls are plumb! Make sure that your tile pattern will fit from top to bottom — you don’t want to start out at the floor with a full 6″ tile and then find out that your wall bows out 6-1/2″ at the ceiling! Draw a guideline on the backer board to keep the tiles vertically straight.2009090101

Next, using fiberglass tape and thinset, we covered all seams, corners and edges of the cement board. It certainly didn’t look like it would take that long, but we didn’t finish until late afternoon and at that point decided to call it a day.

IMO, when you’re dealing with tilecutting and using sharp, spinning blades, there’s no sense in working your fingers to the bone and then losing said bony fingers because you’re too tired to pay close attention to what you’re doing.

Now that the prep work was done and we had a good night’s sleep, where to start: floor or walls? The consensus seemed to be “walls” but to exclude at least the first course of wall tile so that the floor could be installed under the edge of the wall tile (to prevent water from getting behind the floor tile). By installing the walls first you also wouldn’t have to wait a day or two for the cement to dry after laying the floor (as if we could tile that quickly!).

Because we also wanted the bench tile to tuck under the wall tile, we set up a ledger board that started one wall tile higher than the bench. To avoid creating potential water damage, we didn’t want to nail the ledger board to the wall, so we shimmed it to the proper height to support our wall tile until the thinset had hardened.


After we set the tiles for the seat and the shower floor, we’ll go back and fill in the rest of the wall tiles below our starting point.

At about eye level, we decided to incorporate a row of the travertine floor tile as an accent and to break up the starkness of the white subway tile. So far, we’re happy with how it’s looking and progressing.


We tiled more than half of the second wall before we called it quits. We won’t be able to start up again until this weekend, but now that we’re on a roll we’ll hopefully make good progress. Fortunately, the largest wall is essentially done, but unfortunately the other walls will probably involve more tile cutting. Rather than renting for $50/day or more, the $85 we spent on purchasing a wet saw at Home Depot was well worth the price.


  1. Nicole on September 3, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Hey, that’s awesome! Looks great. I LOVE subway tiles. LOVE them. Wish I could have gotten some of these in my bathroom. (Well, I could have. Just a little matter of investing more time and money in a room the size of a postage stamp.) 🙂

    You’re SO right about the prep work. The question is: How many times do you want to do the job? And, do you really want to go through the expense again, too?

  2. […] The best advice I can give is to set up a temporary ledger board at the bottom of the shower wall. You leave space to fill in the very bottom row of the wall as the last row. The weight from the tile is only during the setting of the tile, once the thin-set has dried you can remove the board and complete the last row.  (photo from https://bungalowchronicles.com/?p=2545) […]

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