Mantel Overhaul Part II: In with the new tile

We left off on this mantel overhaul more than a few months ago when Blake had demoed the old tile. Due to some unforseen circumstances (and some foreseen ones as well) we had to let that one sit unfinished awhile before we could make more progress. After all, season ski passes don’t just grow on trees. It also seems like all our insurance policies, memberships, and registrations come due in July/August. Then there was this unpleasant suprise that seemed to come out of nowhere:

Cracked windshield, courtesy of a trash truck flinging a rock in our direction

We also became pretty distracted with painting the kitchen and just life in general. The new mantel got pushed to the backburner for awhile.

We had quite the hunt for new fireplace tile. Since we’re frequent shoppers at Home Depot and Lowes, we’ve had many opportunities to check out their tile supply and discover they didn’t have what we were looking for. After some quick Googling, we found some local flooring/tile specialty stores, so we set off on our mission for the perfect tile. Blake was far pickier than I when it came to choosing tile. I was pretty much satisfied with anything that matched our color scheme while he wanted something with good color, texture, pattern, and uniformity (or lack thereof). He wanted that special tile with the “It Factor.” After a few unsuccessful stops, he finally found the tile that he could give the ole “two enthusiastic thumbs up” at a place called A World of Tile. The only problem was that they didn’t have it in stock. So we waited a few more weeks for it to be ordered in. Then, the tile store’s wet saw wasn’t working properly, so they couldn’t cut it down to the 8 inch tiles that we wanted. Blake had to drive to another place in town to have it cut, and we had to wait almost another week for that. At long last, he picked up the tile and was able to get to work.

But before Blake could install the new tile he had to take care of the gaping hole surrounding the fireplace that was the result of demo-ing all the old tile.

He installed DensShield (similar to HardiBacker) to provide a foundation for the tile to adhere to (first installing 2×4’s for added support). He then used thinset to make anchor/adhere the tile in position, waited a few days for it to dry, and then applied the grout to fill in the gaps between the tile. Here’s some pics to provide more details:

Installing 2x4's to anchor the DenShield

DensShield installed and ready for tile

Thinset to make the tile stay in place

Applying thinset to the back of tile before placing it

Placing the bottom tile first with spacers

Top row of tile: making sure it's level

Working from the outside-in for the top row of tile

Once all the tile was in place, it looked like this:

Tile in place, ready for grout

Grout (it came in powder form - Blake added water to make it into a paste)

Blobs of grout, ready to be smeared into joints using a rubber trowel

Grouting complete, drying (it looks darker because it is still wet)

Grout dry (notice how much lighter it is - blends much better with the tile)

Before: Old gray ceramic tile didn't complement the warm earthy tones around the rest of the room

The before close-up: gray ceramic tile

This was actually our first rodeo with installing tile. Didn’t Blake do an amazing job? It looks like a professional did it. We’re definitely encouraged by the outcome, and down the line when we completely gut and remodel our master bathroom (and our half bath, and our guest bath), we’ll have confidence when it comes to the tiling part. Heck, we’ll probably even get a wet saw to cut the tile ourselves. That won’t be for quite sometime though, because we’ll have to get a city permit (we’re talking a major remodel – knocking down walls and moving doorways) and store up some serious cash before diving into that project.

Of course, Blake didn’t work alone. I was at work, but we happened to be dog-sitting for my parents. Sailor helped out by getting into things and being an enthusiastic spectator.

Playing with tape and making a mess

Getting tired of watching Blake work...and wanting him to come play with her

Sailor's had enough....It's about time to be finished with this project!

Next up is building the full-surround white mantel. We’ve already drawn up plans and bought most of the materials. Hopefully we’ll finish that project in the next few weeks!

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