Monday, August 19, 2013

Kitchen: Painting and tiling!

So as you know by now, I finally worked up the determination to paint the kitchen. It has always driven me a bit crazy, but I never felt like it was worth the money and effort to fix. I'm not sure why, since painting is really one of the easiest and most dramatic ways to improve a space. In any case, we decided to renew our lease for a fourth year, and I realized that it's totally possible we'll be in this apartment until we either leave Boston or buy a house (which is a ways off). We love the location, space, and price, and I had an aha moment when I was actually looking on craigslist for new apartments simply to see their kitchens...I finally realized I just needed to suck it up and paint the kitchen. We have a large space (even a walk-in pantry) with good appliances, and even though the layout is a little weird it's really the paint color that drives me craziest. It's mint green on top with forest green on bottom, and there are all sorts of weird things going on, like this:

Yeah, that's a pipe running down the wall that's painted three different colors to "blend in" with the walls. And yeah, whoever painted the white trim does not know how to color inside the lines (I know it's tiring to paint endless trim with a clean edge, believe me I've been there, but try a little harder).

When we renewed our lease, I asked our landlord to pay for the paint and supplies for painting the kitchen, thus somewhat committing myself to doing it. He was amenable since it clearly had been at least three years since it was last painted, and frankly we probably would have been within our rights to ask him to repaint but where's the fun in that? Plus based on the other stuff I've done in the apartment, I think he somewhat trusts me by now not to totally destroy things.

I procrastinated and procrastinated, and then finally I picked a weekend at the beginning of August. Must have been just a coincidence that shortly after I decided this, Sam found out he needed to attend a conference in Canada for work that fell during that weekend. Convenient....

I also decided that like with my board-and-batten project last year in the front hall, I wanted to learn something new...not that I'm a master painter or anything, but I definitely have the basics down. I dream someday of buying a home where things are in decent shape but there's still plenty for me to do, and I figure I may as well experiment with various things while I'm still in a rental (to all your landlords out there, I promise I'm only making it look nicer). So...I decided I wanted to try tiling.

I did lots of research about how to tile, and fortunately was able to rely on some of my favorite bloggers who I trust not to lead me totally astray (Young House Love embarks on a tiling project here, Manhattan Nest here, and Remodelaholic here). Then I committed and ordered the tiles from Home Depot and picked up the rest of the supplies from my local hardware store (I didn't ask my landlord to cover the costs of tiling). Here's what I used:

*Tile (I chose white subway tile that comes in sheets of 12" x 12" -- I needed 14 of them to cover the space I wanted to tile):

*Thinset for laying the tile (my local hardware store only had premixed, which seems to have worked fine and saved me the step of mixing)
*White grout (also premixed) -- I originally thought I'd go with black grout after seeing some inspiring images of white subway tile with black grout (like here and here), but decided to go with white because I thought black might make things too busy with my brown cabinets and everything else going on in the kitchen
*Score and snap tile cutter (I got this one from Home Depot, but honestly wouldn't recommend it because it cut pretty jagged edges...that's what I get for being a cheapskate)
*Tile nippers, for smaller cuts
*Trowel, for scoring the thinset
*Grout sponge

So with materials successfully procured and Sam headed out of the country for five days, I got to work. First I painted the kitchen. That was pretty straightforward. My landlord got paint-and-primer in one, which meant I didn't have to prime first (I would have needed to prime over the dark green portion of the walls). The one downside was that he wanted to pick out the paint (really he was just trying to be helpful), so I was sort of at his mercy when it came to paint color. In fact, I didn't know what color I would be painting my kitchen until I came home from work Friday afternoon to begin painting (he picked it up at 4:30pm that day). Fortunately he chose a great robin's egg blue color, with a bit more green in it than the shade in the front's blue in some light and green in others, and I really like it. It's semi-gloss, which has the downside of showing imperfections in the wall much more (of which there are a lot), but the upside of being much more wipeable which is ideal for kitchens.

So here's the new paint, side-by-side with the old paint just to compare:

New                                                                Old

New                                                                   Old
Then I embarked on tiling. I won't go into all the details, but the basic technique was working my way across the wall laying thinset and tiling one sheet at a time (the photo series below shows the basic progression). It went pretty fast except where I had to cut tiles at the end of the walls and around the cupboards and outlet, which frankly was a huge pain and I would recommend paying a bit more for a better tile cutter.

Before I show the whole wall tiled, here's the "before":

To be fair, that's a horrible nighttime iPhone photo and the clutter is at least half the problem (I'm also planning to lay things out differently), so below is another "before" photo snapped once I'd gotten the space clear and ready for tiling:

And the after, with all the tile down, but before grouting (nighttime makes the cabinets appear much yellower):

After letting the thinset dry for 24 hours, I grouted. Everything I read online warned that grouting would be somewhat terrifying because it would seem like I was destroying my lovely tile but that it would make everything look so much more finished. Correct! I smeared the grout into the seams between tiles, working my way across. In this photo, you can see the backsplash half grouted and half ungrouted (with the grouted half having grout smeared all over the tiles, which happens during the process).

(It's a messy process, even more than this photo conveys...first the wet grout is everywhere, then the dry grout is everywhere. EVERYWHERE.)

Then I used the sponge to clean the tiles of excess grout, and allowed it to dry. Another pass with the sponge removed the rest of the grout. Here's a close up on the tile before and after grouting -- definitely a more finished look:

(Note: the little circles you can see in between the tiles is just the pattern that the mesh holding the tiles onto 12" x 12" sheets makes when pressed into the thinset.)

(There's still a little grout haze on the tiles, I still need to do one last cleaning.)

The outlet was a huge pain, I had to use the tile nippers to cut some weird shapes for some of the pieces and I broke a bunch of tiles before getting it to work. Fortunately the grout and switchplate make a BIG difference -- here's the in-process shot, and then after grouting and putting the switchplate back on:

And of course, here's a shot of the finished result!

I had a piece of oak board cut to size at Home Depot to put over the sink as a shelf (there was a smaller glass shelf there before, but it would have required screwing into the tiles to reinstall it), and on it are a few odds and ends and some artwork I threw together. Here's a closer look:

The art is just some craft paper from Michael's that I found months ago and have been saving to use in the kitchen, and the frame is a floating frame I found for free on the sidewalk a few years ago.

And just so you don't have to scroll back up, here's a side-by-side before and after:

Before (admittedly a crappy nighttime iphone pic)               After (admittedly totally awesome)         

So there you have it, that's how I painted and tiled the kitchen! I have to say, I'm pretty darn proud of myself. I'm working on a few smaller updates to the room over the next week, so I'll keep you posted!


  1. The kitchen looks so great!! Can't wait to see it in person!

    1. Thanks Bridget! We need to have you guys over soon!