I Can’t Believe It’s Not Marble

The homeowners wanted an antique looking tile for their 1940’s home.  I encouraged them to pick out this porcelain mock Carrera marble tile. 

The tile had a honed finish rather than a typical shiny finish on the top of the tile.

The benefits to selecting this porcelain tile over real marble are:

  • Real marble needs to be frequently sealed, especially Carrera due to its porous nature.
  • Real marble is soft and scratches easily.
  • Real marble can stain permanently with products that contain acid, even when sealed.
  • Carrera marble absorbs water from your feet and shower splashes and darkens the marble noticeably until it dries out.

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.

How to Remove Grout Film on Non-glazed Porcelain Tile

Sometimes, when using heavily pigmented grout over a non-glazed surface you get a grout film, despite your best efforts to prevent it. 

Here I used clean wash water, and I didn’t let the grout sit too long on the tile surface and I still got heavy grout film.

I waited four days for the grout to cure.  Then, fortunately a mild dilution of phosphoric acid took care of the problem and brought it back to a nice clean surface.

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.

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. 

Installing an outdoor kitchen countertop

It’s important that exterior 3/4″ CDX plywood is installed as a base for a mortar bed and tile.

Because this is an outdoor installation it is important to coat the plywood with a waterproofing membrane.  Here we used Ardex 8+9.

Next we installed mortar bed reinforcing wire directly to the membrane.

Sink rail is nailed around the perimeter to form a frame for the mortar bed.  In this case, we installed the sink rail sloping in one direction to allow rain to run off.

This installation was trimmed with surface bullnose on top of the deck with apron cuts underneath.  We used tape to temporarily hold the apron cuts in place after the bullnose was firmly set.  It is important to install bullnoses on TOP of the apron cuts.  When the apron cut protrudes past the bullnose an exposed grout joint would allow water to seep behind the apron cut. 

Prior to installing wire and metal sink rail we used plastic visqueen to wrap the existing cabinets for protection.

We grouted the countertops with Customs Fusion grout.  The advantage of this expensive and labor-intensive grout is that it remains a consistent color regardless of weather and temperature conditions and never needs sealing.

Setting up a dust-reducing barrier

This job required us to grind off the shiny finish of a granite backsplash so that we could install ceramic tile over it.  This creates dust.  In order to minimize the amount of dust circulating around the house we used telescoping poles to seal off the area with plastic sheeting.  The poles needed to be tall enough to reach the top of the vaulted ceiling.