One Room Challenge Fall 2021, Week 6

As a guest participant in the One Room Challenge, I’m redoing our living room. And by redoing I mean starting completely from scratch decor-wise, adding some walls, and adding a fireplace.

In last week’s post, I got the fireplace drywalled. So that means we’re ready for tiling!

Choosing the Tile

After giving it some thought, I landed on tiling the front of the fireplace with two different styles of tile.

Typically in a 1950s house you would see a stacked stone fireplace. I do like the look of those, but feel like they go better in a midcentury ranch than a Cape Cod style. I also wanted a more contemporary vibe.

So instead I went with stacked handmade-look subway tile on the chimney breast, and penny tile on the hearth. I feel like the fireplace nods back to the 1950s bones of the house while still having a clean, updated look.

If you’re curious, I used Bora Bora 3×12 Crackled Subway tile in Bone from Splash Mosaic Tile on the chimney breast:

Bora Bora crackled subway tile

And Nero 6mm Matte Porcelain Penny Round by MSI on the hearth:

Nero matte subway tile

I’m really happy with them both! Here’s a sneak peak at them together:

Midcentury modern style tiled fireplace

Supplies Used for Tiling

Before getting started with this part of the project, I gathered all of the supplies I’d need for tiling. Here’s my supply list:

  • Subway tile
  • Penny Tile
  • Tile saw with diamond blade
  • Hearing & eye protection
  • Mask for the dust that’s generated when & mixing mortar & grout
  • Porcelain tile thinset (mortar)
  • Tile spacers
  • Black unsanded grout
  • Bone unsanded grout
  • Grout float
  • Square notch trowel
  • V-notch trowel
  • Pointing trowel (not really needed but I used it to help load up thinset & grout)
  • Toothbrush
  • 3 large buckets
  • Rags for cleanup
  • Large sponge
  • Schluter System tile trim
  • Scissors (for cutting penny tile backer material)
  • Durock cement board
  • Cement board joint tape
  • Rock-on cement board screws
  • Utility knife

Those last 4 items were because I still needed to prep the hearth first. (More on that later.) But everything else was for the tile job.

Getting Ready to Tile the Chimney Breast

I laid everything out first for three reasons. One, I can’t picture things in my head, and wanted to make sure it would look ok. Two, I needed to make sure there was enough tile. And three, I had to figure out how many cuts to make.

A column of subway tile laid out with spacers

Once everything looked ok, I made the cuts on the subway tile using an inexpensive tile saw with a diamond blade. 92 cuts, to be exact.

Using a tile saw

Normally I would cut as I went instead of doing them all at once, but this was a very simple pattern and I had extra tile if I messed up.

I’ve only used a tile saw once before, so it was still a little intimidating. But I just made sure to keep my fingers away from the blade and it was all good!

Tiling with subway tiles

Other than using spacers between the subway tiles, the basic process of tiling itself was the same as with the penny tile. So I’m going to skip ahead to the hearth where I used penny tile, and just call out the differences.

Prepping the Hearth

Getting the hearth ready for tiling meant cutting the Durock cement board to size. To cut it, I scored it along the smoother side with a utility knife. Then I just snapped it.

I was a little worried about doing that, thinking it would be hard, but it really wasn’t. It did make a pretty big mess though since little bits of cement got everywhere. But that was no big deal.

Next, I screwed the board into place with the special cement board screws. Then taped the seams & screw holes using the special cement board joint tape. Basically, I’m a direction follower, so I got the special stuff. I’m sure there’s a reason they are needed, but I didn’t look into what it was.

Here’s the hearth all ready for tiling:

Fireplace hearth ready for tiling

Steps for Tiling

For both the subway and the penny tile, the basic steps are:

  1. If you’ll be using Schluter System trim material, put that down first because it goes under the tile. On a similar note, if you have existing baseboards, remove those first and reinstall them when you’re done. Otherwise, skip this step.
  2. Lay out the tile to make sure it will end in a good spot and you won’t have any tiny slivers.
  3. Cut the tile (typically as you go)
  4. Mix the thinset mortar.
  5. Put down the thinset mortar, working in small areas and keeping your dog from strolling across.
    Applying mortar
  6. Comb the thinset with a square-notched trowel (for larger tiles) or v-notched trowel (for penny tiles)
    Using a trowel to comb thinset
    Larger tiles may need buttering on the back too, but I didn’t do that.
  7. Press the tiles into place, using spacers if they aren’t in sheets.
  8. Remove any excess mortar that squeezes out.
    Removing excess mortar from penny tile
  9. Wait at least 24 hours.
  10. Grout in small areas, using a float to press the grout between the tiles.
    Grouting penny tile
  11. Gently wipe the tiles with a damp sponge many many many times to get the haze off before it dries. (Rinse in a bucket of clean water that you change as needed.)
  12. Wait least 24 hours without walking on it.
  13. Seal the tile if needed.

I mentioned small areas a couple of times because both the mortar and the grout have short drying times. In fact for the chimney breast, I only mixed part of the mortar at a time.

Penny-Tile Specifics

There were a couple special challenges with using the penny tile. I figured it would be easier than using the subway tile, but boy was I wrong.

Sure, many of the cuts are easier, because you just snip the backing material with scissors. But when I had to cut the individual penny tiles themselves, it was kind of an ordeal.

They broke. The backing got stuck in the tile saw. I didn’t even try using tile nippers because I can just never get those to work.

Finally I ended up using the Dremel Ultra Saw US 40 (affiliate link) I’d bought previously to cut up the floor. I just put a diamond tile blade on that and it worked like a charm.

The other part that makes penny tile hard is that if you aren’t careful, you can end up seeing the individual sheets. (Just google bad penny tile installation images for a bunch of examples.) That is not the desired look!

To try and prevent that, I staggered the sheets when laying them out. Then I took my time to get the spacing right. I’d read that you can adjust the sheets at first after you lay them down, but I had a very hard time sliding them around.

In the end I think it turned out ok, but it was a struggle. I probably spent more time laying the little bit of penny tile on the hearth than I did laying the subway tile on the entire chimney breast. Oh well 🙂

Next Time

I know I’ve spent pretty much the entire One Room Challenge so far talking about the fireplace, but I haven’t forgotten the rest of the room.

So next time I’ll talk about some of the furnishing choices. Meanwhile, don’t forget to check out the other One Room Challenge participants here!

Categorized as DIY


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