Rehabilitating Vintage Kitchen Tile and Grout

A landlord wanted me to refurbish the kitchen counter before renting out the property.  This kitchen featured the original ceramic box trim tile in a contrasting color.  Here you can see I thoroughly cleaned the grout and re-grouted low and missing grout joints.

There had been a previous tile repair by others long ago on either side of the sink.  The repair person did not try to match the original pink vintage tile color.  Next to this old repair was a row of pink tiles on either side of the sink that were heavily damaged.  Instead of searching for vintage tile to match, the homeowner chose a white color that would match the sink color.  I then cut out and removed the two rows of destroyed pink tiles and installed white tiles.

I also cut out the dirty, messy caulk between the tile and the sink, bleached the area, neutralized it with water, dried it out and then replaced it with siliconized acrylic caulk.

Black Mosaic Glass Backsplash

This homeowner chose a black mosaic glass backsplash to match his darker counters.

There was no trim available for this glass backsplash.   I pulled off longer strips of tile and ran them perpendicular, length-wise, at the open edges of the backsplash to serve as trim pieces.

Ceramic Subway Tile

This tile shows its luminescence quality in good lighting.  The actual edges of the tile are a little bit darker than the interiors of the tiles.

The homeowners chose to have the tile installed before the hood so they could have complete coverage behind the appliance.

Grout Transformation

When a person walked into this house the first thing you saw was a high contrast grid pattern of grout versus tile.  The owner of the home wanted the floor grout to look more subtle and better match the tile color.  In my experience, the best and most durable grout colorants contain epoxy and are ordered from specialty tile stores.  I avoid buying grout stain from the big box stores as they do not contain epoxy.

It is important that the grout be cleaned well to accept grout staining material.  This before and after picture shows the tremendous difference when white epoxy grout colorant is applied.

Also in this picture the grout joint running front to back on the far right side of the counter was too wide for non-sanded grout.  I cut out the dirty substitute caulking that someone had applied there and replaced it with a sanded white grout.


This counter was so dirty that the grout on the decking looked like an entirely different color from the backsplash, like tobacco brown versus a nutmeg brown.  Again, the homeowner did not like the highly visible grid pattern.  To save the homeowner money, we chose a color that was as light as it could be for just a one-coat application.

An added benefit t0 epoxy grout colorant is that it is also an extremely durable sealant.  Spills of staining material do not have to be immediately wiped up from the counters to protect the grout.  The grout colorant forms a very strong barrier against staining, therefore, many landlords choose this option before renting out a house.



Repairs to Granite Countertop

The granite apron cut tiles fell off and I was called out to replace them.  There are many possible reasons why these tiles fell off.  The mortar underneath the skirt cuts was soft and degraded easily by just pushing on it with a chisel.  This was either defective mortar or mortar that had too much moisture in it when it was installed.  The apron cuts should have been dried off completely after being cut on the wet saw; these cuts could have contained too much moisture when originally installed.  And lastly, the thinset glue used to apply the tile could have been old, too dry, or defective as well. 

The red tape is just to hold the tiles up temporarily while they dry, and the red spacers are there to hold open the grout joints.

Tricky Kitchen Backsplash Installation


It’s quite common for me to get calls from people with 6” granite backsplashes in their kitchens who want them removed.  They find a tile that they prefer as a backsplash.  Typically when I remove the granite there can be damage underneath; I charge by the hour to fix these areas because I’m not sure before we get started what damage will be done during the removal of the granite.  I take great care not to damage the underlying material, but because I don’t know what kind of glue was used or what the underlaying surface is, sometimes damage is inevitable.

Marble and glass mosaic backsplash with staggered tiles.  The homeowner is planning on painting the cabinets to better match the tile.

This particular brand of tile had two different materials, glass and stone, on the net.  The glass had a pillowed edge, and the marble was thicker and had a rectified edge.  Combining these different thicknesses together on the same sheet gives the finished installation a very textured look.  Homeowners should be aware of this before choosing a tile with these features because some tiles will stick out more than others.

Also in this picture you can see the outlines of the actual 1 sq ft sheets.  I did my best to set the sheets close together, but they were not properly interlocking sheets so they required extra labor to cut apart the sheets to make them interlock correctly.  Even after doing this you can still see where the edges of the sheets are.  I recommend testing out two sheets of tile before you buy them to make sure they interlock correctly.  The homeowner purchased these tiles off the internet and could not see how they fit together before buying them.  I do not recommend buying tile from online sources for this reason.

Most netted tile does not come with trim pieces.  What I do is pull off pieces that are consistent in width and run them perpendicular to the field to create a visual stop and a finished look.

Netted Carrara Marble Kitchen Backsplash

This Turkish Carrara marble tile was purchased by the homeowner from a big box store.  Keep in mind that when you purchase tile from a big box store, expect many imperfections and purchase extra, especially when the tiles are mounted on a net.  The other reason to purchase more tile is because of the wide variation in natural stone shading.  Also, due to the liberal return policy of the big box stores you could be getting back someone else’s returned product.
 Fortunately before I bid this job I read reviews on the tile from the retailer’s website.  The tile pieces had chips on the corners and edges, they were different thicknesses, there were superficial scratches and many shade variations.  Some of the sheets actually had different spacing for the grout joints.

We decided to lay all the sheets of tile out in order to spot any massive shade variations.  In this situation I did find four very dark sheets.  Because the homeowner had not purchased enough extra tile, we used these dark sheets in the area to the left of the refridgerator, where it was separated from the rest of the kitchen so it would be less noticeable.

We topped the open edges with a marble trim piece called a “stop”.  One of the nice features of this finished installation is how the light reflects off the tile when you walk past it: it actually sparkles!

Click on this picture to enlarge it and see the interesting variations in this marble.

Kitchen Grout Cleaning


In the kitchen, the grimiest, greasiest grout is usually next to the stove.  In this area we had to pre-soak the grout joints for quite a bit of time, then use a very hot industrial steamer to remove the grime.



Basketweave Kitchen Backsplash

The homeowner selected a long subway-style tile.  The first thing I did when I arrived on the job was to check the wall with a long straight-edge.  With larger format tiles it’s very important to make sure the wall is flat.  When you stagger a tile, you’re then taking the 10″ length and doubling it to 20″.  If there is a lot of variation in the wall, lippage will occur in the final installation.  Each of these tiles had an intentional warp to them, which gave it a textural basketweave look.


There was no trim available for this tile.  As you can see on the left edge we trimmed it with mitered metal edging.

In this window return area we decided not to put metal trim at the outside corner because we didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the layout.  Each pair of tiles were kerf mitered at the outside edge to make a tight corner.

Here is a closeup of the Calacutta marble accent tiles.

Tiling over a granite backsplash

The homeowner wanted to change the appearance of her kitchen.  She decided to reface the kitchen cabinets and replace the granite backsplash.  Instead of removing the existing backsplash we discussed the benefits of tiling over the granite instead.

In order to clad over shiny granite tiles, we needed to remove the finish from the face of the granite.  We used a low-speed grinder, however even when holding a vacuum next to the grinder there was a risk of dust escaping into the house.  In order to eliminate the possibility of dust escaping we set up a plastic barrier from the floor to the ceiling.

I’m holding the vacuum in this picture while my assistant is grinding the finish off the granite tiles.  After the grinding was complete I painted a clear priming bonderizer to the surface of the granite. 

To lay the tile I centered the installation with a plumb line and then burned a flat coat of self-curing thinset into the granite.  I then set the tile with the same self-curing thinset.  The reason I used this special thinset is to maximize the curing of the thinset over the low-moisture-absorption granite.

Because the homeowner was refacing her cabinets from natural wood to white, she chose a complimentary snow white grout for the staggered subway tile.