Let the Tiling Begin!

It depends on how you count it but, tonight, I count a total of 11 tiling projects for this renovation.


It’s not that we have a particular affinity for tiling – or that we want to pour our life savings into stones glued to our walls and floors – or that we want to choose the most complicated and time-consuming path in an already complicated and time-consuming project. It’s just that we have a lot of Wet Zones. Putting in a cafe is serious, messy business! Customer bathroom floors – obviously. Customer bathroom walls – ok, fine, up to the “splash zone” on the sink at least! Espresso bar – hmmmm… coffee spills… milk spills… wet and muddy feet… ok ok yes! Enough? Oh – second floor! Right. Commercial kitchen – definitely need those floors to be easily mop-able…. and the walls too while you’re at it. You have a separate room for washing dishes and running the juice machine? Well, lord knows that needs some wall and floor tiling! And you have a back bathroom with a tub?! Ok that definitely needs some floor and wall action. Add it up. Divide by “is it done yet” and you get… 11 or 1 million.

So, to begin, we needed a wet saw.

At the end of June, we visited my uncle Chris in CT to pick up this most important tool for our 11 projects. This trusty machine has fared us well the last 7 weeks, both simplifying and complicating the jobs at the same time. We certainly wouldn’t be able to complete our projects without a tile saw but, with it, we’ve spiraled into the maze of “eternal tilation”, creating ever-more creative patterns with the wizardry of a diamond tipped blade.

On the way back up to Northampton, with tile saw in tow, we made a few pit stops – taking some pictures to commemorate the day: 2 years since Fitz asked me to be his special person!

The celebration was short-lived though because of the daunting tasks ahead.

We started with our customer bathroom floors. For these, we used an arabesque tile – hand painted in Japan with splotches of blues, greens, white and light tan. The colors are stunning and the tiles themselves are so unique! We received these little gems for free from a kind soul we met on Craig’s List (of course!). I have no idea why she didn’t want them but they are perfect for the color scheme in our bathrooms! As per usual, we had to design within limitations. The limitation here: we didn’t have enough tiles to do both bathrooms! Of course. So we had to supplement with a second accent tile. We chose white penny rounds (that we’d purchased for our kitchen) as the accent.

But that opened a pretty deep can of worms… because, if you thought choosing a pattern with one tile was bad, just wait for two!

We wanted the feel of a mosaic pattern, using the pennies as a border treatment and the arabesque tiles as the feature. We wanted hand-done but well-structured and balanced. Whimsical but definitive. Basically: awesome.

After a couple of nights of agony, we finally decided on a grid-like pattern with a lot of soft edges – and a playful use of penny rounds throughout the space.

It was during this project that I really got a handle on the importance of drawing guidelines for tiling. You’ll see in the pictures above that I set center and drew out the lines for the walls in the pattern itself. Those pieces were really important for this particular design because of its grid-like nature. Also, I used a “guide” to set other lines as well. In the last picture you see a white subway tile as my guide. Later, when we thin set the border, I was able to check straight by inserting this white subway tile into the pattern and lining it up with my guidelines. This kept my border from sinking or curving. Brilliant, I must say! šŸ˜‰

OH. But you didn’t think we were DONE, did you?! Remember, folks, there are 2 bathrooms at Curio! Next up: the men’s room! And – clearly – we can’t do the same pattern in here. Where’s the fun in that? But, interestingly enough, whereas the first bathroom took 2+ days to design, the second one took under an hour! That’s what happens when you really know your materials and are in the zone!

And finally, we are ready to thin set the second bathroom! (Don’t worry – this didn’t all happen in one day!)

We let the mortar set while we considered what color to use for the grout. It was during these projects that I really began to understand the importance of grout in designing tile patterns. There are so many options for color — and for how spaced you want your tiles. All these choices affect the final product – as much, if not more so, than the pattern itself. We ended up with “linen” – a light tan that matches the background color of the arabesque tiles.

It’s… fine. I mean. It’s good. Our other options were white (would have looked SO cool with the penny rounds!! but everyone kept telling us it would get dirty too easily… you guys! no fun at all!)… orange (ah! would have been awesome but maybe too Moroccan? or seizure-inducing?)… grey (probably what we should have done? You’ll see why…)…. and the linen. For better or worse – once you squish a bunch of rock onto your floor, you’re pretty much set with that. So. There you go!

All in all, we’re pretty proud of these beauties! So proud we forgot to take pictures of the final product. Haha! I just went downstairs and snapped some pictures of the women’s room. The men’s room floor is covered in tarps right now as we’re in the middle of sealing the wallpaper with an aresol matte finish. So I’ll post the final pictures from that room soon!

A few lessons were learned during these projects:


You see, we DID wipe off the grout. But… then it was 2am. And we were exhausted. And we figured we’d wiped it off enough. So we went to sleep. Then the sneaky grout fairy came to visit all the crevices of the hand painted tiles… hiding in the layers of paint, weaving her way in forever. When we woke up the next morning, she had hardened to stone. No longer a fairy tale but a nightmare! A nightmare of grout frozen in time over our beautiful tiling work!

Not exactly what we needed as a morale booster right then! So we consulted the Internet and… didn’t really find a good solution for removing hardened grout, especially with nearby large grout lines. In the end (and I’m paraphrasing) it was just a bunch of elbow grease. 2+ weeks of scraping… tile by tile… with a tiny screwdriver, a razor blade, a cheesecloth and a wire brush.

Enough said.

Other lessons:

3. That trench we poured? It needed a vapor barrier. We didn’t put one in. Why? Oh I don’t know. …The previous concrete slab didn’t have one. …The person we hired to help us pour the concrete didn’t suggest one. …We added a few hundred pounds of sand and thought that would seal it sufficiently. …It just didn’t happen.

But, alas, now… when it rains… moisture from the ground seeps up through the line of the trench and shows dark discoloration in our lovely linen grout. Had we chosen grey grout, we’d never have noticed! But, with light grout, we’ll forever be reminded of what lies beneath. What’s so bizarre is that it JUST happens along the line of the old and new concrete, not consistently across the 2 feet of new concrete in the trench itself. Who knows. A mystery for Amber Lane.

If you have a solution, dear Reader, please share!

We’re still very happy with these floors. And 2 tiling projects done! 9 to go! šŸ™‚



  1. Kiki

    you guys are amazing and your writing is hilarious. I am having a blast reading these and looking at all your pictures. Just remember- at the end of this you will have the worlds coolest and most personal cafe ever! I can’t wait to see it! I am so so so proud of you guys. You are doing more work that I could ever imagine doing for my goals. YOU KICK ASS!

    • Wow Kiki!! Thanks for the pick me up. Love the comments. šŸ™‚ We can’t wait for you and Alex to come visit. You’re welcome any time. xo

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