Tile Decisions

In my opinion, the second most stressful and time consuming process for us has been tile selection (after lighting and electrical). There are so many tiles to choose from that it can be overwhelming. We got a recommendation to go to Byrd Tile in Raleigh and we are so glad that we did! They did a fantastic job helping us with our vision, design and budget.

Tile Layout

We had many ideas going into Byrd Tile and a binder full of photos and concepts to work with. We have three full bathrooms and one powder room. We knew that we had the start of our guest bath design since we already owned some tiles. Roger and I had purchased (and then carried back in our carry on luggage) hand painted tiles from Turkey that we had purchased on our honeymoon. We worked with Angela Sutton at Byrd to design the bathroom around these tiles.

The tiles from Turkey have hand painted flowers and designs in bright turquoise and royal blue with an occasional splash of red. We first had to select the “right white” tile that matched the Turkish tiles (you will find that there are hundreds of shades of white) and then we actually decided to line the center tiles with a thin red tile to pick up the red colors.

Greg works primarily with Elegant Tile & Stone and though their website is under construction, you can reach Joe Mantisi at jmantisi@aol.com. Joe is excellent and worked with us to lay out all the tiles so that we could ensure we placed the tiles correctly and hand select which tile went where, since they are all different and unique.   Joe has an incredible attention to detail and we could not be happier with the final result.  No one will have a shower like this one!

Final tile installation

Since this shower is designed to be handicap friendly, there is just a white pan at the bottom so that the user only has to step over a small lip. There is no bathtub that may prevent easy access and there is no glass door that may be a safety hazard. There is a large bench built into the other wall so that the user can sit down to shower if need be.

The shower head will be removable and attached to a bar if needed. A bar can always be added at a later date if someone in a wheelchair started using the shower.

Kids' Bath Shower

In the “kid bath” (though we do not have any kids yet!) we used Emperador Dark marble mosaic tiles as a decorative line through the shower and then white tile elsewhere. We also installed a bench seat at the end and a storage  niche in the wall. It was tricky installing the niche since we could not go too high– doing so would cut into the spray foam insulation that is in the wall and forms the thermal envelope for the house. At a slightly lower height though there is no spray foam because the wall  is covered by the roof (the roof slopes down and over the exterior wall making it a 1.5 story home) so we could put the niche slightly lower without compromising our insulation Rvalue.

You will also see that the window in this shower is different than the rest of the house. We had to use a vinyl window here because of the direct risk of moisture damage from the shower. We used a clearance porcelain tile on the floor and are getting a matching dark brown marble remnant for the countertop.

We used a mix of marble tile and glass tile for the powder room backsplash and used some leftover white marble tiles from one of Greg’s other jobs for the floor. We will write a more detailed entry about that bath soon so stay tuned!

Dog Shower

We installed a small dog shower in the mudroom right next to the mudroom entrance since our collie/lab mix is constantly in the mud. We find ourselves wiping her down with a wet towel or the hose daily so this was important to us. Several people suggested that we install this in the garage, but we knew that it would be a frequently used shower and thus needed to be very accessible.

The dog shower has a built in knee wall that adjoins it to the mudroom sink and counter. We used clearance porcelain tile from Byrd and if you look closely you will see puppy prints. We actually covered our pup’s paw pad with Vaseline, stamped it on a piece of cardboard and then used it as a template to paint her prints on several tiles. We wanted to make it look like she had walked up and around the tile wall. At most craft shops you can purchase special ceramic paint that can be used on porcelain and/or ceramic tile. You paint the design and let it dry for a day and then bake it in your oven for 45 minutes and the paint is permanent! This has been a huge hit in the house so far.

Master Shower

For as long as I can remember, I have been dreaming of having a white/grey marble bathroom. We finally made this happen. We purchased honed 12″ marble tile for the bath and selected a matte “silk” glass tile to accent the marble. The shower is stunning!

A few lessons learned from our experience with this bathroom project:

1. In my opinion, it probably would have been easier to pick out the countertop material first and then pick out the tile. There are many options and variations in tile, but the slabs we were finding were much streakier with sharp lines rather than the muted soft feel that we found in our tile. It was a challenge to find a countertop material to match the tile. (More about countertops later)

2. We found that the marble tile was not going to be a safe option for our floor since the house was built on 24″ floor joists (16″ is normal).  We were advised not to use a natural stone product for the floor on 24″ floor joists because the risk of the stone cracking would be too great (porcelain and ceramic tiles are much more immune to this risk).  We did not realize this until after we had already purchased the tile to go onto the floor (thank goodness for Byrd Tile who were able to return it).  Interestingly, we only became aware of the floor joist spacing problem because we were installing electric heat under the tile, and the leveling compound that goes on top of the electric coils and underneath the tile had started to crack.

Heat for under the tile

Now you are probably thinking this bathroom is not “green,”  but here is our thought process. We are planning to live here forever and we want something that is going to last forever, is timeless, beautiful and what I really want. I am not advocating that people make huge sacrifices in everything that they do. This is how we wanted the bathroom to look, feel and perform and this is how we did it.

Joe and Greg knew that the tiny cracks were indicators that the floor was shifting ever so slightly, perhaps because of the distance between the floor joists. For this reason, we decided it was best not to use a natural stone tile on the floor and we instead opted for a 24″ porcelain tile.  (Again, this would have been easier if we had not already purchased the floor tile!  But Byrd Tile was a lifesaver).  Joe also took some extra precautionary measures when installing the porcelain tile to ensure we wouldn’t have any problems.

Master bath floor

In particular, he decided to use a product called Schluter Ditra (which is installed underneath the tile) to prevent the tile from cracking. It rolls out like a mat and its cross-section looks like plastic cardboard.  We settled on a 24″ grey porcelain tile that we thought would pick up the greys in the marble. Joe wanted us to have a 24″ tile so that it would span the floor joists and thereby further reduce the risk of cracking.

In order to make the tile blend into the bathroom better we actually put 3″ x 3″ marble tiles (cut from the scraps that we had) into all the corners in the main space of the bathroom. Not only does this tie the floor into the marble shower, but it creates the sensation of a rug on the bathroom floor.

Upstairs balcony

The outdoor second floor balcony off the master suite was tiled with a water resilient commercial grade porcelain tile. If you are selecting a tile for an outdoor application there are specific metrics you want to use in selecting your product that have to do with its resilience and tolerance to frost. Be sure to go over this before purchasing.

Another lesson learned from our tile experience is that when you are selecting and ordering tile be sure to not only go over the selection sheet before placing the order to make sure the correct tile will be ordered, but verify that the name of the tile is correct on the sheet. Many tiles come in different finishes and you want to make sure you hold the sample in your hand with the selection sheet and make sure the names are exactly the same.

Slate floor

Finally, the mudroom, entryway and foyer were tiled with 12 x 12 slate tile from Charles Luck Stone. They provided us with a great dark grey slate tile at a very reasonable price and we had it laid staggered like brick joints. Note that this design only looks staggered from one direction; the other direction has straight lines running parallel to the direction you are walking so it is important to decide which direction you want to appear staggered.

We chose slate because of its durability and aesthetics but note that there are many slate products out there. We wanted little color variation in our tile (you can order samples at most places to give you a better idea of what it will look like) and we wanted to make sure that the natural clefts in the stone were not too large so as not to create areas that would catch excessive dirt or snag a sock.

We have selected a tile for the kitchen backsplash but we have not quite gotten there yet, so you will have to stay tuned!

As you can see, we have a lot of tile in the house. In fact our whole house is either tile or hardwood floors. It is important to us to only have area rugs and no installed wall-to-wall carpeting for indoor allergen reasons. We could not be happier with the work that Joe and his group did and highly recommend them.

Joe was also very accommodating of our indoor air quality concerns. In our next blog we will detail all the products we used in our tile applications.

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