Did you think I forgot about the blog? Didya? I haven’t! Generally I prefer to post finished projects, and for the last few months we have been in the final stages of a few big ones that have been months or even years in the making. So although there was a lull, be prepared for a few big ol’ posts in the coming months!
Remember this post from about a year ago? Well, we finally finished enough of the kitchen to put up the backsplash that these tiles were intended for! And of course once we were ready, the filler tiles we got were on back order, so here we are many moons later, finally finishing the backsplash.
In the beginning, there was HardieBacker. This is a type of cement board that you use instead of drywall in areas that are going to frequently get wet (like bathrooms and kitchens). We just had the HardieBacker up for a while, so I was really happy to be rid of the purple wall.
This is how the “filler” tiles came in. They are natural slate, and they arrived unfinished, so we had to glaze them ourselves. Slate is very porous and needs a coating to be waterproof and stain resistant. This was actually really easy – you just sponge on the glaze and let it dry. Repeat as needed. We were very adamant about using natural stone, in keeping with the “honesty in craftsmanship” theme of the Arts and Crafts movement. If something looks like something, that’s what it is. No faux. That means natural tiles, with all their benefits and their quirks.
This is a photo of halfway through the glazing process. Glazing slate is so cool – it looks like what happens when you take a dry stone and run it under water. Suddenly all the colors and variations come out like magic. This part was fun!
To be sure that everything looked right, we laid out the design ahead of time on our dining room floor. We left it there for two days and for a while whenever one of us walked by, we’d shift something or move a tile around, searching for the perfect “random” look. The Celtic know tiles that Dan made were designed as the centerpiece, with the rest of the ceramic art tiles meant to be randomly interspersed among the slate tiles.
After we were done fussing, we covered the counters and the faucets and went to work! Since slate tiles are heavy and irregular, due to the nature of it being a natural product, we used a thick layer of mortar to put them up. Having a deep layer of mortar allowed us to push tiles all the way in or lightly press them on depending on how thick they were. This allowed us to get a (more) uniform surface out of the very un-uniform tiles.We also used spacers in most spots, however some tiles were too wide for them so we just had to wing it! There was a lot of on-the-fly decision making during this process.
For the tough spots like this around cabinets, we applied mortar directly to the back of the tile rather than to the backing board. At the end we also needed to use a wet saw to cut smaller pieces to fit around the edging areas.
After cleaning up the mortar, we applied grout (non sanded, due to the small gaps in this design) as per the normal package directions. And after much, much cleaning of the grout that was stuck in all the tiles’ crevices, we were done! This is the final product.
This is close up of the finished central tile design. There are two very little things we need to do yet (caulk the space between the tiles and the counter top and put a coat of glaze over the grout) but largely, we are finished with this project. This was one of the biggest efforts that took well over two years of off-and-on work, but we really love how it came out! It was well worth the time and love that went into it.
PS – the art tiles are all designed to be specific and meaningful to our state, Pennsylvania, and to us as a family. If you’re interested, this is a list of all the tile designs and ‘Easter eggs’ in the back splash:
Central Art Tiles: The larger central tiles were based on the look of the Book of Kells. The upper center tile features a Celtic-inspired deer and a rendition of our dog Loki on the right side. The middle of this tile also has a small keystone (a shout-out to PA’s logo) with a ruffed grouse (the state bird) in flight underneath it.
Cicada: Native to PA, this insect also is a symbol of good luck in Provence, France, where I studied abroad. The style is based on the southern French “cigale” or cicada design style.
Squirrel: Native to PA, and also personal to us since we used to have a pet flying squirrel.
Ruffed Grouse: The state bird.
Hemlock: PA’s state tree.
Penngrit Crownvetch: Our state flower.
Dragonfly: Based on a Celtic knot design style, also native to PA.
Firefly: A common insect which appears when ‘summer is here’ in our area.
Rabbit: Also done in a Book of Kells inspired style, and common to our region.
Trillium: This flower is common in Arts and Crafts motifs, and is also an endangered native species. I wanted to preserve its beauty and I feel it is an important plant to pay attention to since it is an at-risk species.
Forget-Me-Not: My favorite local wildflower!
Crow: There is only one crow tile since is is the only art tile we purchased. We bought it from the Roycroft, a crafter’s guild which helped to found the American Arts and Crafts movement and is still around today. It’s located in upstate NY, and we like to visit annually.