Installing the tile back splash

by | Feb 20, 2013 | home improvement, Kitchen, Miscellaneus, My House, Tutorials | 53 comments

I woke up today, ready to get to work on the tile.  I had the tile saw (borrowed from a friend), the tile, the supplies and my dad lined up to help.  The morning was cold, but sunny.  So, I started to get everything set up and it started to sleet.  Okay.  No biggie.  We have to use the saw outside, but I’ll just set up a canopy tent.  By the time I gathered the saw horses and brought the canopy to the deck, it was like a blizzard outside.  Uh-uh.  I am tiling my back splash today and that is that.



My dad and I got a nice cozy setup on the deck and got started.  (Yes, that’s a kiddie pool on the deck that has one big ice cube in it.)  I got about 2/3 of the way through the project and realized I was woefully unqualified to write a tutorial on installing tile!  So, instead, I’m going to share some tips, advice and things I learned along the way.

First we used tile setting mats, which were awesome.  They were sticky-back and then had strips of glue on the front to hold the tile in place.  This meant no mortar, fewer tools and buckets and mixing and figuring out dry times.  It was really simple to use. (This isn’t a paid review, by the way.)



You peal off the back and stick it to the wall.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly straight or neat because it’s going to be covered by tile.  The most important thing is that the wall is smooth, so the tile can make good contact with the adhesive.



The one downside is that once tile is stuck to it, it is STUCK.  You have a bit of slide-a-bility with mortar, but not with this stuff.  You also can’t use it on really big or heavy tiles.  I did all of the sticking, measuring, marking and placing the tile and my dad did the sawing.  I’m not normally intimidated by power tools, but I was a little scared of the tile saw.  Just a little.


So, here’s what I learned:

1.) If you’re tiling for the first time, do not pick a herringbone pattern as I did, foolish girl that I am.  After the first cut, I realized this was a classic “Marian decision” of design over practicality.  It worked out fine, but it would’ve been sooooooooo much easier to work with rectangles.  Well, rectangles that are lined up and not in a herringbone pattern.  If you have your heart set on herringbone, call a professional.

2.) I stressed about cutting around the outlets, but we realized after the first one that I could just remove the tiles around the outlet and then insert some scrap pieces to complete the pattern.  It was much easier than trying to make precise cuts around each outlet.  (I’ll share more about tiling around the outlets in another post.)

3.) Level and plumb really matters with tile.  With wood and fabric, you can wing it a bit…well, at least I feel that way.  You have to be more precise with tile.  The nice thing about the herringbone pattern is that it is busy, so it’s a bit forgiving.  Since cabinets, counters and walls might not be level and plumb, make sure to use a level and make marks.  I worked off the cabinets and got into a couple of tight spots.

4.) Tiling is really messy when you’re working with a stone like marble that has to be cut on a wet saw.  My hands were filthy (and very dry) all day, despite washing my hands every 10 minutes and applying lotion.  The counters were filthy.  I lined the floors with towels and we still ended up with drips all over the place.  Have lots of drop cloths and towels on hand.

5.) We started on the smallest wall that will be covered mostly by a microwave and toaster oven.  This way, I could learn a bit and not sweat mistakes, which I did make.  I messed up the pattern, but I could just laugh about it since it’s behind the microwave and not right over the range.  It’s a good idea to start in a section like that if it’s your first time tiling.


The verdict?  The back splash looks great and I’m really proud of myself.  I probably should’ve hired this one out, since the pattern was so complicated to work with, but after hiring out two tile projects, I wanted to tackle this one and I’m glad I did.  There are definitely spots that aren’t perfect, but grout and caulk can cover a multitude of mistakes.

I’ll share our plan for the counters and sink tomorrow.  


  1. Melissa Linnenburger

    I’ve been thinking about you and your backsplash today! Can’t wait to see the finished product. The part you showed looks great!

  2. Holly

    It looks great! Have you used the premixed glues? They work great on wall tile. I usually do a row make sure it’s level on top and let it dry before stacking the other piece on top. Good luck!

  3. Kayla

    Marian! I was just reading through your updates, and had to giggle b/c I’m redoing my kitchen right now- also putting in butcher block countertops, and want(ed?) to use a herringbone pattern tile on my floors. Just curious why you chose to do the backsplash before the countertops? I know mine don’t have the backsplash, so what will you do with the area that’ll be left blank once you remove your laminate tops? We have a brick backsplash currently, and I’m trying to figure out how we’ll match it up correctly to continue it down. Anyhow- looking forward to your projects! I’m sure you’ll be finished before I will, so I’ll be able to read more before getting started. 🙂

    • Miss Mustard Seed

      Good question. Actually, the laminate counters are loose and the tile goes behind them. The wood counters will then be installed butted up against the tile, so there is a nice clean line. Installing the tile was really messy, so it was nice to install it first.

      • Kayla

        That’s perfect then! I’m so nervous about getting brick time match the distressed look of what ours is. I love the brick though, so I’ll have to figure something out. Looking forward to your finished room.

  4. Julie Fagundes

    LOVELY!!! I can’t wait to see the end results. Have you ever painted over tile? My bathroom STILL has pink tile! When we remodeled the house…we said we would do it “later.” Well…5 years later…and it is STILL pink! I have read lots of tutorials and tips on painting tile…just not sure. I am thinking of trying it in a hidden spot…any ideas?



    • Miss Mustard Seed

      Yes, I actually have painted tile. We had pink and maroon tile in our half bath. i could handle the pink, but not with the maroon, so I painted the maroon tiles black. You just need to use a quality bonding primer and a quality paint.

      • Julie Fagundes

        Thank you! That is actually what my bathroom tile is…pink and maroon. I am playing u the pink with black/boudoir stuff and thought about just painting the maroon tile.

        Thanks…I may try that…with, of course…quality products!

      • Heidi S

        First time commenting, but long time reader. I have a 112 year old rowhouse with a kitchen that was last redone in the 60s. We added a tray ceiling and are repainting the kitchen cabinets this weekend. But I still have an ugly dirty cream colored tile backsplash until I can afford to gut the kitchen to the studs (grad school is not conducive for reno budgets 🙂 ). When you say a high quality bonding agent, would that be something like a BINZ shellac primer (in the red can) and then just paint with regular latex paint? Or what would you use?

        Thank you so much for all of your detailed tutorials and ideas!

        • Heidi S

          Sorry for the double post. I actually tiled my shower using a big tile saw like you have (I rented from Home Depot for about $50?/day). I found the trick was not to be intimidated and to get a metal right angle tool (not quite sure of the proper name) to measure and align the tile perfectly by hand before cutting rather than using the holder/measurements on the tile saw.

  5. Erin Kaven

    My dad was very handy and helped me with many projects years ago when I bought my first town house. My husband is handy but I dearly miss my Dad, for oh so many reasons. Hug your Dad. You are so lucky to have him.

  6. Kathryn

    Ditto on what Erin says! I can hear the chatter at Thanksgiving …..Remember tiling the backsplash in the snow………..looks great

  7. Kathleen Welch

    Thanks for the great tips ! I will soon be tiling my back splash with the help of my Dad and his tile saw. I am looking forward to learning more about tiling as my Dad has done several projects. I have decided on a white subway tile and can’t wait to get it finished, it’s the last project that I have to really finish my kitchen off.

  8. Jaimee Hingerton

    Love the tile! I can’t wait to see the new countertops. I love a white kitchen with butcher block countertops!

    You’re definitely braver than me. I would definitely hire all of that out. Especially with the weather.

  9. Alison@soiledrotten

    Looking fantastic!

  10. tricia

    It looks lovely- I can just picture it next to butcher block counters 🙂

  11. Carol

    sorry to pick, but it’s “plumb”

  12. jan

    What a great idea to use tile sitting mat! I think we will do that. We bought our tile last fall, but my husband won’t install it til it gets warmer, because he doesn’t want to freeze in our Utah winter weather. I am excited to see your tutorial on cutting around outlets. That is what I am worried most about. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Vesaire

    Nice job Marian, it lokks very nice.

  14. Lauren @mohomeguide

    Good for you! I’d love to put up a backsplash, but I am really scared to use a saw! (I’m afraid that I will majorly hurt myself, being the klutz that I am!)

  15. lisa

    Hi Marian, I have a question about submitting work for magazine publication. I am a cookie decorator located just down the road in Chambersburg. I am very unsure of what protocol is in terms of submission – do you send an already done tutorial? Pitch an idea? Who do you send it to? If you could give me a any advice, I would be more than happy to deliver some cookies to you. That’s right, I am trying to barter for advice! I know how crazy busy you are, but I hope you can squeeze in a quick answer.
    The Enchanted Oven

  16. Jill Flory

    Thanks for posting Marian – I like posts that ‘keep it real’! You did a great job – now you can add tile expert to your resume 😉 heehee!

  17. My Soulful Home

    Good for you! Even if it isn’t perfect…YOU DID IT and can be very proud of yourself. In fact the imperfections give it character. 🙂

  18. Lane

    I used a herringbone tile on our master bath about four years ago and had a professional tile installer do it. This guy was really good with decades of experience but even he had to rip the entire job out once and start over because 1/32 of an inch off with a herringbone can look like a fun house by the end. I’m sure he hated the job but I couldn’t be happier with the end result.

  19. Jenny Lynn

    The snow would have deterred me from tackling such a project. Way to go, you should be very proud of yourself for going for it despite the weather. Tile cutter scares me as well.

  20. Wende

    Looks Great.!!…i’ve done a lot of tiling..and never seen that product you used on the wall…sounds pretty it less expensive then mortar..i’ll be looking for that next time i’m tiling..which happens to be my kitchen too….after seeing your herringbone…it just may be will for sure be a marble..altho..i’m thinking you said yours was something else or maybe a certain type of marble??..looking forward to seeing it all finished…Wende

  21. Mary McRuer

    Your herringbone tile looks great! I have small marble rectangles subway style:-)

    I think I read you were doing wood counters? I have had walnut counters for five years. . . .. beautiful. . . .but a lot of work keeping them oiled. . . .. .so it’s good that you love working with wood!
    Something I am sure you have considered: the sink?
    I have a dropped in sink and that inside rim of nice wood always looks bad. . . . because it’s always wet!! So wish I had done a farmhouse sink or something that would have sat above the wood.

  22. Mz V

    I am so impressed with your gumption! I’ve dreamed of actually tackling this task, but honestly, I just don’t know if our house and/or our marriage and my sanity and our two dogs would survive a project like this. It’s just SO huge! But I love you for sharing your project with us. Blessings from Texas coming your way!

  23. Molly

    Marian – I’m sorry the herringbone back splash was complicated and stressful … but trust me on this one … IT WAS SO WORTH IT!! That back splash is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. I am green with envy. You amaze me how with much you can accomplish in a week. Man, I wish I had your focus! Go girl.

  24. Denise T

    Looking forward to seeing the finished project.

  25. colleen

    well I hope you like your butcherblock counters as well as I do, we found it to be more affordable than laminate and our friend with my husband were able to do the install. the tile is amazing !!!!! and soooo smart to start in an inconspicuous place. I have octagon tile nailed up behind my stove ha ha [it was really fast , impatient I am] guess I need to find that tile setting matt stuff :). so where did you get that???

  26. Cabrini

    Hi. Love the herringbone. Can you share the specific company, style and color a? having my master bathroom remodeled and looks like it might be great on the shower floor. Thanks!

  27. Danielle

    Love the herringbone and love all your tips!

  28. Laura

    Looks great! I want to do a tile back splash in my kitchen so bad!!

  29. Pendra

    Wow, it seems everything was working against you today…good for you for not letting it stop you! It looks great so far and I can’t wait to see it finished! I am anxious to see your countertops as I’m trying to decide on butcher block or not, so it will be great to see yours! Good luck on finishing up your tile work, looks beautiful!

  30. Denise Cerro

    I used the tile setting mat in my kitchen too…though my contractor & sweetheart were against it and said it would never work very well. Three years later…it still looks beautiful! Not to mention it’s so clean and easy to use…love it. Your tile looks wonderful, thanks for sharing and spreading the word about this great product!

    Ps…thanks too for the tips on staying organized and on track in your last post…I right away got Planner Plus!

  31. Kristin@Bringprettyback

    Thank you for the tips!!! We will be doing this in the near future!
    Have a pretty day!

  32. Judy

    Using the saw is the easy part. I have done both. The saw is not near as a monster as it sounds!

  33. Gemika

    Is a tile cutter a necessity when doing all tilng jobs? I guess it probably would be… We are looking at buying a place with lots of asbestos that needs removing, therefore the bathroom and kitchen will need cutting too (to get to the walls). Wanting to reno on the cheap though, so DIY

    • Miss Mustard Seed

      No, actually some tile can be scored with a tile cutter that sort of looks like a heavy duty paper cutter. You only need a wet saw for certain materials and marble is one of them.

    • Heidi S

      I gutted and redid the upstairs of my house, and tried to diy/cheap. I used a tile saw from Home Depot for about $50 for the day. Also, I went to “the Tile Store” for a larger more expensive tile I couldn’t find at HD/Lowes but managed to get the Tile Store to price match their online sale instore, and even found a $50 off $100 purchase coupon on their fb page last fall. It can be done! You just have to look around for deals and don’t be shy of going to a tile store and asking for help/clear instructions. A lot of those places even do free demos of how to lay tile and such!

  34. artsnark

    love your work in progress posts & that sticky tile stuff sounds really useful

  35. Theresa

    I am installing the same color marble tile in my kitchen, but in squares. I’m so torn between white or gray grout. What did you use?

  36. Allison

    Make sure to use a grout that does not have have sand in it – or it will scratch the marble tiles 🙂

  37. Patty

    Don’t fret to much over your imperfections because professionals make mistakes too! Can’t wait to see the counter tops added.

  38. Florence

    Where can you get the tile board, I would Luv to try using it.

  39. Caroline

    You go girl!!! How else do we learn but by “having a go”, your tiling looks awesome!! Please give your Dad a big hug from me for being such a good guy/helper/advisor. Can’t wait to see the rest of the kitchen makeover!! 🙂

  40. Deborah Nelson

    Great article on tiling. I love your color choice on the tile and am looking for this exact color, style of tiles! What is the manufacturer and the color # of this tile so that I can look it up and get it!? Keep up the good work!

    THanks, Deborah

  41. Andrea

    Did you ever post any more tutorials on putting a back splash up? We are about to attempt our first back splash installation and we had a few questions like, how to go around outlets, which you addressed, thank you, and how do we edge it when we stop. The tile I am going to buy does not have any accent pieces so we are left scratching our heads. Any thoughts?

  42. Frida McKeon

    The backsplash looks great-such an elegant and clean look! Good for you for doing it yourself-if we don’t challenge ourselves how do we grow. Thank you for your tips-I’m taking a tiling class in September (I’m super excited counting down the days!!)and want to go to the class prepared with some questions!!

  43. Brittany

    It looks amazing. Just a thought instead of caulk for the edges maybe you could get quarter round and paint it the same as the cabinets and then place it around the edges and where the counter tops will meet and then it will cover little boo boos as well but elegant. Plus quarter round is a little thicker than caulking and will definately cover more of things wanting to be hidden haha! Can’t wait to see it all

  44. Tiler London

    Those mats look great little invention, no more horrible adhesive to mix up and buckets to clean. great job on the kitchen tiling to it looks fantastic!


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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