Subway Tile Backsplash

I’ve told y’all before that our kitchen is a continual work in progress. I’ve painted the kitchen cabinets twice now (not even joking), and I’m about to paint them again because I’m struggling to find the right shade of white. Finally, though, I’ve settled on the same white we used on the board and batten in the nursery and throughout the rest of the house and, since I’m not pregnant anymore, I can actually use the enamel paint like I want instead of a clear coat like last time. All DIYs are a learning process, am I right? To the point, though, we finally added a subway tile backsplash in the kitchen!

I couldn’t be happier. This is another thing I struggled with for awhile — do you use the small tiles or the large ones? Light gray grout, dark gray grout or white grout? Tile sheets or individual pieces? There was a lot to take in, but I finally got brave after watching that episode of Fixer Upper (I know, I’m sad it’s gone, too…) where Chip lets their little girl help him tile a client’s kitchen backsplash. If they can do it, surely I can figure this out, right? I grouted the floor and tile in our hall bath early last year, so since I wasn’t a total novice I worked up some courage, got my super pregnant belly up, enlisted my husband’s help and made some decisions.

Here’s the before. It’s definitely bright, but didn’t have that extra charm I was hoping for (or a new light fixture, or countertops or shaker cabinets… I could go on).

And here’s the after! That subway tile makes a big statement and for some crazy reason actually makes the kitchen seem bigger. I can’t explain that one since it’s busier, but hey. I’ll take it!

My biggest struggle in doing the backsplash myself was I was afraid to cut the tiles. We did not rent a wet saw for these little guys because it seemed silly (even though a rotary saw is relatively inexpensive). I was pregnant, so I decided to take a different route and hope it worked It did, thank goodness! If we’d had some curves, I would absolutely have had to rent one, but all the cuts were straight and we even managed to make our way around the outlets with this method (I only wasted about 10 pieces which I consider a win considering it was my first time).

Here’s what I used to backsplash the kitchen — and bear in mind, this entire project cost around $90.

  • 3″ x 6″ white subway tiles (non-beveled)
  • 1 small tub of mastic/tile adhesive
  • 1 tub of premixed pewter gray nonsanded grout
  • A rubber spreader
  • Tile cutters (handheld)
  • Straight edge tile scorer/cutter
  • White kitchen & bath silicone caulk
  • Tile dividers (the size is up to you, but I would go 1/8″ or smaller)

It starts out easy. Make sure your wall is clean and free of grease. Then scoop and spread the tile adhesive on the back of a tile, and stick it to the wall. Bam. Most of it goes really fast, which is great because you can see your progress and you feel really good about yourself. I started on the edge closest to the stairs because it’s the one you can see the best, and I wanted to make sure it was perfectly lined up. I thought I might regret that, but I don’t. It was a good choice. The most visible part you want to be pristine. I would also recommend using a level if you live in an old house like ours where the countertops may or may not be level (ours aren’t, go figure). Because we wanted to stagger our tiles, we had to cut a few in half to get started. Cue the tile cutting, which was so easy. Measure the halfway point on your tile, mark it with a ballpoint (it wipes off, don’t worry), score it with the straight edge and then apply pressure to pop it in half. If for some reason you have rough edges, you can always use a sanding block to smooth it out.

I was making great time until I got to an outlet and freaked a little. My best advice when cutting these tiles is to YouTube some guys doing it by hand. The tile scorer/cutter easily cuts lengthwise and horizontally, but it cuts all the way across. We only needed small corners cut out around the outlets, so I marked where the cuts needed to be and then scored them with the tile cutter. Then I used the handheld cutters to cut out little triangles until I had cut all of the bits I needed out. These areĀ notĀ perfect. BUT thankfully they’re hidden behind the outlet covers, so it doesn’t matter all that much. This took quite a while to figure out. I ruined some tiles (**read: lots**) cutting too much out, so remember that smaller is always better.

Aside from those pieces, the rest was pretty much cake. On the sink wall, we wanted everything as symmetrical as possible, and of course the tiles didn’t measure out perfectly, so I started from the right and left sides at the same time and worked my way in to the window. If you look closely, there’s a piece in the center that’s smaller than the rest just underneath the windowsill. I don’t think it’s too terribly noticeable, though.

Once all the tiles are up, let them sit overnight just to be safe. That adhesive hardens really fast, but I didn’t want them moving around when I grouted. Pulling out all the dividers was not the most fun part of this experience, but seeing all those crisp lines? Totally worth it.

Here’s the link to the bathroom grouting I did last year. It explains mostly how I grouted, and I used the same method on the backsplash. The key is going diagonally, not straight across. Once that was done, I let it dry and wiped the tile down with a damp sponge to remove any excess, then applied silicone caulk to the window edges and the two wall edges and let that dry.

Sure, I might have a million other things I want to do in here, but this was a big impact project, and I love it! Have you tiled before? You totally can do it yourself!



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