We are getting pretty close to getting our kitchen renovation “completed”. I say that in quotes because we actually have a phase 1 and phase 2 plan for our kitchen renovation, but the first phase is pretty much complete. In the future, we want to add more counter and storage space by putting in extra cabinets and a peninsula for counter stools, but since it will be a bit before we can afford to do that, we needed to come up with a plan in the meantime. The kitchen had an existing extra tall bar height peninsula with a black stone top. But since it was so high, it wasn’t really useable as a kitchen work space and we wanted a lighter color top since we were staining the floors dark. As we had to take out the peninsula anyway to install new flooring (which you’ll see in various stages of completion in the photos), we decided to cut the existing cabinets down to counter height and make a new top for it so we could use it while we saved up for phase 2.
I’ve had a bit of tile experience making photo boards and other small projects, so I decided that a tiled countertop would look neat and clean, and, if I measured correctly and used the right tile, I wouldn’t even have to rent a tile saw!
-wood board cut to desired size, about 3/4″ thick (home improvement store can cut it to size for you)
–Hardie backer board and box cutter for trimming
–tile of choice
–tile trowel and rubber float
–tile spacers (only if using tile that doesn’t come on a mesh backing)
–grout haze remover (if needed)
-wood trim to frame the sides with, mine was 1 1/2″ tall and 3/4″ thick (home improvement store can cut it to size for you)
-wood screws and drill
OK, in order to make this a non-tile saw project, I had to determine how big of a countertop I needed and then find tiles that would work out about to those measurements once placed together. Since only one side of my countertop would face the wall and I wanted a large overhang on the side the counter stools would go, I had a pretty big range of dimensions I could be within that would still look balanced and suit our needs. When you are looking for the right tile to fit your dimensions, don’t forget that the size the tile says on the box isn’t always the actual measurement of the tile inside (measure it yourself), and if you are using individual tiles rather than tiles on mesh backing, you can buy various widths of spacers to make your overall dimensions a little smaller or larger as needed.
Once I had my tile and spacer size chosen, I laid out all my tiles (with spacers) so I could measure out the exact size of the tiled area. You want your board and Hardie backer to be the same size as your tiled area, so measure twice to be sure!
Have your local home improvement store cut your wood board to your tile dimensions. To cut the Hardie backer, mark out your dimensions on the backer and use a box cutter to make deep scores along those lines. Then snap the pieces apart. I find it easier to line up the scored line with the edge of a table or step and push down on the part you are snapping off. Once your Hardie backer is the correct size, place it on top of your wooden board and use screws and a drill to secure the backer to the wood. The Hardie backer has circles for each place you should use a screw, but make sure to use screws all around the perimeter (about 1″ in from the edge) so the backer doesn’t pull away from the wood once you add the tile adhesive.
Use a trowel to add a thin layer of tile adhesive to half of your board and score lines in the adhesive.
Lay the tiles onto the adhesive with your spacers in the corners. Make sure the corners and edges are lining up correctly with the board below.
Continue to add more adhesive and tiles until the whole board is covered. Adjust any tiles as needed and let the adhesive set for 24 hours.
In case you are wondering, “Are you sure I need the Hardie backer?? Maybe I’ll just tile the wooden board…,” let this above photo be a lesson to you. I tiled just the board on my first try and the moisture from the adhesive warped the board overnight into a nice upside down “u” shape. Dang it. Apparently the Hardie backer absorbs the moisture from the adhesive and grout so the board stays straight as…well…a board!
Keep a bucket of water and your sponge nearby and quickly wipe the grout from the tiles, getting off as much as you can. I would grout a section, then wipe it down and repeat until the whole board was done, and then go back over the whole thing again. Make sure to clean off your sponge with fresh water often and change out the bucket water as needed. The more grout you get off the tiles in the beginning, the less haze will remain on the tiles.
Let your grout dry for 24 hours and use a haze remover if there is still grout residue on the face of your tiles.
Once my tiles were set, I cut wooden trim pieces to size so I could make an outer frame around the countertop. I used a miter saw at home so I could make the 45° angles where they come together, but you can just have them make straight cuts for you at the store if you don’t have a saw. I painted the edges, nailed them in from the sides (you can use wood screws too), and filled any gaps between the wood and tile with acrylic caulk. We attached the counter onto the newly painted cabinets with wood screws from the underside, screwed the cabinet into a stud on the wall (so it wouldn’t topple over when leaned on), and we were back in business!
It’s the first time in four months that we have had a counter height countertop again, and it’s so nice to have more useable space! I love the brightness that the painted cabinet and counter adds in contrast with the dark colors that were there before, and the tile is easy to wipe up and clean as needed. I feel like I learn more about working with tile each time I do it, so it’s nice to do a bigger project than I have before. And when you are renovating a house on a budget, it’s nice to have all the DIY skills you can get! xo. Laura
P.S. Check out our podcast on “Phase One” mini-makeovers when renovating a home and why they are worth it!
Credits // Author and Photography: Laura Gummerman. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.