One of the biggest eyesores in this house were the bathrooms. The master bath needed so much work, it was a little intimidating for novice DIYers, but the main bath seemed doable. Have you ever seen Disaster DIY on HGTV? That was this bathroom, only in a design sense. I mean everything functioned well, but boy was it U-G-L-Y! Large ceramic floor tile for a backsplash, boring laminate counters, lime stained toilet, boring bath tub surround, UGLY! I started with the vanity because it took up so much space in there and it was the first thing you noticed. As usual we were on a tight renovation budget so I needed to be creative. I wanted new counters but stone was not in the budget and replacing laminate with laminate seemed asinine. After spending hours on Pinterest and reading design magazine after design magazine, I decided to price a tile counter. I didn’t want to go the typical 90s ceramic tile counters (think the Home Alone kitchen) so mosaic glass or stone seemed like a more contemporary option. Since we were keeping the floors the same I needed to find something that wouldn’t clash with them. I found the perfect mosaic that had a mixture of neutral browns and tans and even the maroon to match the floor tile. Perfect!
For the same price as a new laminate top, I could have a nice contemporary glass counter. Glass and stone mosaic aren’t cheap, but I didn’t need very much for the counter. I also stick to big box stores like Lowes and Home Depot because I can get most of my materials reasonably priced and both of those stores offer military discount!! I hope I don’t ruin that discount for everyone else, as much as I use it
Next came the installation. Most DIY sites recommended plywood or cement board as the underlayment. But I thought why not just use the counter that we already have. It’s flat and I already know it can stand up to water. The only issue was the rounded edge. My husband cut that off with a circular saw to give me a straight edge to lay the tile on. First, he made measurements to ensure a straight line.
After he cut it, I gave everything a good sanding so that my mortar would adhere to it. Then I was ready to lay tile. Make sure you use a thin-set mortar rather than mastic in your bathrooms or any area that will have exposure to water. $13.47 at Lowes. You will also need a large bucket, a large mixing attachment for your drill, and some tile spacers.
When mixing your thin-set, you want a thick, creamy peanut butter consistency. Your bag of thin-set will have instructions on ratio. Start with your water, then add the thin-set. This cuts down on the dust. I still recommend wearing a mask. Keep adding more water or thin-set until you get the right consistency. You’re going to mix it once, let it sit 5 minutes, then mix it again. Only mix enough thin-set for 30 minutes of work. After 30 minutes it will start to get too hard to use. For mosaics I use a 3/16″ V notch trowel. Mosaic tile is pretty easy to work with. It usually comes in 12″x12″, glued to a mesh. But still, take your time and lay them nice and even and use your tile spacers to ensure even spacing between each 12″x12″. I always keep a level handy to check for high spots. When laying large ceramics or stone you can use a rubber mallet to help level the high spots, but I just use my hand when working with mosaics. You can go over your work and adjust the tiles slightly when you’re done, but don’t wait too long.
Once you have laid your tile you will need to wait at least 24 hours for your thin-set to dry. Now it’s time to grout. You choose your grout depending on the grout line. If it is less than 1/4″, you can use Unsanded grout. If it is 1/4″ or greater you need to use Sanded grout. You can find this instruction on the bag itself. Both Sanded and Unsanded grout run about $14 at Lowes. As you can tell they look very similar so double check you have the right product.
Once you’ve figured that out, all you need to choose is color and buy a float. This is a rubber spatula-like tool that presses the grout into the grout lines. I really like using the smaller floats for mosaics because grout makes a huge mess. The smaller float allows me to manage the mess better.
Again, follow the manufacture instructions for mixing ratio and only mix enough for 30 minutes of work. Once you’ve got the technical stuff figured out, it’s time for the fun part. I love when I get to the grout process. I can finally see what the tile is actually going to look like and grout fixes a whole lot. All those little imperfections or crooked tiles that are driving you crazy seem to disappear once you grout! Scoop some out and start rubbing it into the grout lines. Use your float on and angle and it will help push the grout into all those little crevices. Wait 10 minutes, then wipe it down with a large damp sponge. You can get one in the same aisle as the other tiling tools.
Do not use a lot of water. Once you’ve wiped your tile, you will still see a light haze. That’s ok. Leave it. You can do a more thorough wipe down when your grout dries completely. I always wait at least 24hrs. After the 24 hrs is up and you are haze free, it’s time to seal the grout. This is the easiest part, but it’s very important. The grout sealer seals out water, helping your grout last longer and keeps your surface mold free. I always use the spray sealer since it is so easy to use. You just spray your grout lines, then wipe off the excess on your tile. This the product I use and it’s $9.98 at Lowes.
You’re all done!! Just make sure you wait at least another 24hrs before light use of your counter. Here is our final product.
We did this about 3 years ago and I have no complaints. My kids beat it up, leave toothpaste, water, soap, you name it after every use and it still looks great. I use regular bathroom cleaners and glass cleaner to make it shine. Happy tiling, everyone!