One of my favorite parts of my kitchen remodel is my subway tile back splash. It is so bright and timeless, which was the goal of my kitchen remodel. The other benefit to subway tile is that it is really cheap– I got my tile on sale for $0.17 a tile! The entire backsplash cost less than $60.
The backsplash is also relatively easy to do yourself. You will need a tile saw, and maybe someone with experience using one, but the rest even a novice can do themselves!
The first thing you want to do is plan. Figure out where on the wall you want your backsplash to begin– does it need to go further than the counter in any areas? Are there going to be any odd spots you need to account for?
There are 2 different patterns for subway tile layouts. You’ve probably seen this floating around pinterest. You can do a repeat every 2 rows on half, or you can do a repeat of 3 rows on thirds. Doing a repeat of 2 rows is not “wrong” as the graphic shows, and it is more of an aesthetic choice. Because my tile ends in an open area, I decided to do a repeat of 2 which means the smallest tile I would have on an edge is a half. Cutting tiles in thirds would mean you would have smaller pieces on the edges, and I do not like how that looks. I also used white grout, so the extra work of the 3 row pattern was not worth it to me.
The most visible part of the backsplash is the outside edges and the line along the countertop, so I worked from the outside inward and from the bottom up. You want a whole tile along the bottom edge, and for your cut edge to be along the cupboards. Your counter and cupboards most likely aren’t perfectly square, so it’s better to hide any uneven lines under the cupboards than along your counter.
I also worked from both outside walls inward, so that the cut tiles met in the inside corner of my backsplash. If you are tiling into a corner, you also need to decide which side will overlap the other and leave space for that when you are tiling. I also laid out were the tiles would end in the back corner in order to keep the offset pattern going. This is where it is important to play around by laying out tile and measuring so you have thought through a plan before you begin the project.
Most of the tiles you will use are “field” tiles, but there are special tiles with a rounded edge around the top for any areas with an open top edge. This is pretty easy to measure for. It’s also good to use a framing square and mark out where the top and edges of the tiles should sit so you line them up straight as you are starting.
You adhere the tiles to the wall with an adhesive called tile mastic. You use a special float that gives a brushed pattern to lay out the mastic. It’s nice because the thickness of the mastic covers any minor imperfections or old glue stuck on the wall so you don’t have to spend a lot of time smoothing it out. It’s also really easy to clean up the mastic with water if it gets on the face of the tile or all over the counters (or your clothes).
Tiling goes really fast when you are in open spaces and you don’t have to make a lot of cuts. You just have to make sure the tiles are tight to each other and to the wall as you go. I was so happy that I took the time to plan the layout so I didn’t end up with any surprises.
The work did slow down as we had to make detailed cuts around the cupboards and window trim. For some of the cuts, we made patterns out of cardboard and traced it with sharpie on the tiles. Since the saw is a straight blade, it’s hard to cut notches that fit perfect. The good thing about the tiles being so inexpensive was that if we messed up on one, it wasn’t that big of a deal to discard it or try to use it as smaller piece somewhere else.
After we finished tiling, it was time to grout. The grout comes as a powder that you mix yourself. For this step, I completely covered the counters with plastic because once the grout hardens, its permanent!
The grouting was pretty easy since the tile spaces are so small. I try to get as much wiped off the face of the tile as possible by dragging the grout float at an angle across them. After 30 min of drying time, I wiped them all with a lightly damp sponge, and after a few hours, I cleaned the haze with ammonia mixed with water.
The tiling took 2 weekends to complete (we only worked on the weekends), and then another 4 hours for the grouting.I think a professional could crank out the project much faster, but we were sort of learning as we went!
I’m so happy with how bright and clean it looks. I was a little concerned the bright white tile would make my counter tops read more gray than they are, but it still feels really white overall. I also love how it makes my cupboards pop and look like the focal point of the kitchen.