Connecting the Dots

I’ve been gone from WordPress so long that they’ve changed the layout for posting. How will I make it?! …I’ve also recently been made aware of the fact that people actually read my blog. So I can’t give up now. I must keep posting, despite the jarring large font and new layout… mounting “pending posts” in my folder on my computer… and endless “real life” to do lists with little scratched off and more always penned in.

On August 24, we started on the design to tile our kitchen floor. In early November I grouted in the last penny rounds. We didn’t work on it every day – but we worked on it frequently, endlessly, and – what seemed like – continuously. It became my albatross unintentionally, as most do.

Here’s where it all started, an innocent evening in late August:


Pattern making. (Little pieces of Trader Joe’s chocolate appear in a pile on far right – the treat that fueled this entire project.)

We stumbled across this design at Once Upon a Tart in Soho in Manhattan last January when we sold the owner our 3-group GB5 espresso machine for his new venture into specialty coffee. (You can read about that adventure here!) He was renovating a quaint little space next to his bakery and unearthed these fantastic floors which, quite rightly, he kept. The shape is an “arabesque” – which, upon further research, is an amusing mish-mash of cultural appropriation, classic Westernization, and Pinterest-amped marketing aimed at the easily digestible needs of mass consumerism. Oh and it’s a dance move I’ve done a million times over.

My peripheral research suggests that the shape is an extrapolation of an Islamic art tradition called “arabesque” that focused on swirling, interlocking patterns with scalloped edges, scrolls, and tendrils. Think Moroccan. Turkish. Mosque floor. Now, squint your eyes a little… look west and think Home Depot – Wayfair – Pinterest – DIY tiling projects. The resulting shape (one specific shape – not the concept of intricate scrolling art) is hugely popular in contemporary renovations, often made into ceramic tiles with some sort of vintage coloring / flair to them. This Manhattan floor was ahead of its time and so were we, unwittingly.

Our (commercial) kitchen features this hip shape quite prominently. The wallpaper vines whisper of an arabesque, only made relevant when studied in relationship to the whole. Our wall tiles are – appropriately enough – small white arabesque tiles from Wayfair. A vintage mirror on one wall is deliciously similar without being obvious. And then the floor. As often happens during this renovation we stumble across design synchronicity mid-process, a confirmation of the harmony of our vision.

At this point, we just roll with it.

Getting started:


I look back on the picture below and smile. This was our Version 1. (We didn’t end up here.) It was a spin off from the Manhattan version. Original version: small shapes in the white space. Our version: grey shapes at the intersection of 2 yellow lines. Different takes on the same idea. It took several days to get to this point:


Version 1. Late August 2015.

But then….

So several DAYS later, we finally had a fully realized pattern, completely designed in-house, over Trader Joe’s chocolate and late August heat. Now, just one other hurdle… the floor isn’t flat. Cross-post reference back to here for a picture of the annihilation of our slate and vinyl kitchen floor tiles and we have some patch work to do!

There was no way to remove the plywood sub-floor because it’s glued and screwed and here to stay. We didn’t want to build up because this floor is already higher than the neighboring floors. So we filled in with thin set, let it dry, and sanded it down with an orbital sander. And it worked!

And we’re ready to “begin”!

We had started in the Dish Pen, using that 35 sq ft as the playground to create our initial design. Thus, the tiles in that room were dry set before I began tiling. To keep the pattern square and organized, I removed tiles in tiny sections (think 1-2 arabesque shapes at at time) and thin set as I went. After we finished that room, we were a little unclear how to continue into the main kitchen. We still weren’t intimately familiar with the pattern – and weren’t sure how it would react to side walls, flanges, cabinets, a larger space. So Fitz dry set the pattern down the first “hallway” of the kitchen:


Moving out of the Dish Pen.

Onto implementation:

Half-way through, Fitz got a bee in his bonnet and decided we needed a “floor medallion,” as people do… Thus we created a central medallion as a focal point for the room. Again, several days of design – several versions – and then the implementation.

I should note that, by the middle of the room, I was swimming in a sea without bearings – no side walls as guidelines, trying to wrap the pattern in even swaths, meet up different sections, find a straight line with no lines in sight, and now my dear Fitz wanted a NEW shape – a BIG shape – in the MIDDLE OF THE SEA. No. Problem. Honey!

Several days of monotonous tiling continued as I wound my way under the freezer, around the Geneva cabinet, around the 2 flanges of the baking table – and the 4 flanges of the kitchen shelves, and finally along the brick wall. I learned a few tricks along the way… namely, I created templates for each white shape (remarkably every single blob of white is SLIGHTLY different than the one next to it, until the full pattern repeats). With these templates I could make small portions of the pattern more easily and check my work as I went, overlaying the templates on the set tiles – just in case I thin set something incorrectly… 🙂

Hitting the utility closet was a welcome relief. The end was finally in sight!

The end – though – was pretty confusing. We had to transition about 1 1/2 inches down from the kitchen floor to the library floor. Fitz created an awesome sloped floor transition that, in rare form, went better than expected! So, then we had to tile this little guy. The idea was to tile half of the floor medallion pattern on the threshold. With a little fine-tuning, this was achieved.

And… DONE:


We made it!

I proudly unveil our kitchen floors:

Was it more complicated than anticipated? Yes.

Was it worth it? Probably.

During the stretch of time in which “Em tiled the Kitchen Floor” Fitz accomplished the following (often with me stopping to help, mind you!): building in the rest of the kitchen “incidentals”, tiling the walls of the Dish Pen, tiling the kitchen walls, tiling the 2nd floor bathroom floor, and tiling the 2nd floor bathroom walls. So. Needless to say, more blog posts to come very shortly! Lots to catch you up on!


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