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subway tile backsplash step by step tutorial part one, how to, kitchen backsplash, kitchen design

Prep Your Work Area
You will need to prep your space by adding a tarp or cardboard over your countertops to protect your surface. You’ll notice in pictures below that we ignorantly did not do this on our brand new $4,000 countertops. We were scraping little pieces of grout off our countertop for months!
Also, scrape, fill, and sand any uneven surfaces. This is a vital step to ensure that your tiles lay flat on your wall. Then wipe down your walls with a damp cloth to remove any residue.
  • subway tile backsplash step by step tutorial part one, how to, kitchen backsplash, kitchen design
Make A Plan
If you search a “How-To” on subway tile backsplash, you will get one of two pieces of advice on where to begin: in the corner or at the ends of your cabinets. We had two different methods for each tiled wall.
Method 1 – Stove Wall
We figured that it would be best to leave the small, awkward cuts for the corner rather than at the beginning of our cabinets where everyone could see, so we started where the cabinets begin and worked our way in. This allowed us to have full pieces of tile on the large, more noticeable part of our wall. It left the smaller cuts to the corner where they’re more discreet.
Method 2 – Window Wall
Unlike the stove wall, this wall has a feature point: the window and sconce. We knew that the tiles needed to be centered on the sink and around the window in order to look well-done. We laid our first tile right behind the faucet and worked our way up and around the window to the ceiling. After that, we went to the left and right, and, luckily, the tiles ended up being fairly even at the end of the cabinets.
In conclusion, think about these two things when making your plan: (1) what is your feature point and (2) where is the best place to disguise smaller cuts? Each wall may take a different course of action.
  • subway tile backsplash step by step tutorial part one, how to, kitchen backsplash, kitchen design
Lay Your Tiles
Now that you have an action plan you can start laying the tiles! It absolutely helps to have two people for this job. Patrick cut the tiles while I laid them. Even with two people we were up well past midnight finishing this step. It’s the most time-consuming, yet the most important part.
I used pre-mixed mortar since it wasn’t a huge project. It’s a little more costly than powdered mortar, but it’s definitely worth not having to add just enough water to find the perfect consistency. You will still need to give it a good mix with your mixing paddle attachment and drill before using.
To Start:
If starting at the end of your cabinets, you can use a bullnose tile for a finished look. This is optional, but I think it gives the cleanest look. On the stove wall, I started with drawing a straight line from the upper cabinet to the countertop. I applied mortar and laid a vertical line of bullnose tiles with my 1/8″ spacers in between to get me started.
Establishing the Pattern:
The classic subway tile pattern was intimidating to me, but it’s so simple. You’ll want to take several full tiles and simple cut the in half. At the point in which you start, lay a full tile then a half tile on top. Repeat that pattern on the first vertical row. This sets your pattern for the rest of the wall.
  • subway tile backsplash step by step tutorial part one, how to, kitchen backsplash, kitchen design
Applying Mortar:
Using your notched trowel, apply a layer of mortar to a small 1’x1′ area. (This doesn’t have to be exact. The point is to keep your working-area small.) Go back with the notched end and make rainbow-like shaped lines in your mortar without taking too much off. Lay the tiles from the bottom up, making sure your bottom row is level.
Apply your spacers on all sides of the tile, even at the bottom on your countertop, to insure uniformity. When your grout lines are uneven, it makes the finished product look more hand-made rather than sleek and uniform. You can remove these spacers once you move to the next area. They can be difficult to remove if you let the mortar set completely.
Press tiles into mortar snugly. Wipe off any excess mortar from your tiles with a damp sponge or towel. The mortar will be nearly impossible to remove if you let it set on the tiles.
For smaller tiles or tighter areas, you can apply the mortar directly to the back of the tile.
  • subway tile backsplash step by step tutorial part one, how to, kitchen backsplash, kitchen design
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