Could YOU get a contractor to do this?

palimpsestMay 30, 2013

In House Beautiful this month, one of the kitchens has walls that are fully tiled.

The first thing I noticed was that there was both a full tile at the ceiling line, and a full tile at the counter line. Then I noticed that in a horizontal position, the tiles were either whole or half.

It turns out that the entire tile layout was pre-calculated and that the ceiling height was adjusted to allow for full tiles at both top and bottom and that the window placement was adjusted to allow for whole or half in the brick pattern. No partial cuts, no slivers anywhere.

(This was only topped by an apartment that I saw by Andree Putnam with square limestone floors and each room ONLY had full tiles. The rooms were designed to contain only full tiles and the grid was apparently perfect and unbroken throughout the entire apartment)

I unfortunately notice things like this. I am actually trying to design a small bathroom that is only full tiles in all the right places and hides the cuts in the least obvious places, and it's not easy.

But I have worked with contractors who won't do these things, say you can't do these things or sometimes seem to TRY to mess it up somewhere just to teach me a lesson. (For other clients, that is, I try only to work with a contractor at my own place who likes to do stuff like this, too. And believe me they love to charge a lot for it, too)

If you Wanted to do this, do you think you could Get someone to? The backsplash kinda thing I mean, not the Andree Putnam thing, that's a whole other universe of expense.

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Not around here. I couldn't even trust one of the so-called tile experts around here to even look at my arabesque tiles let alone try to figure out how to install them.

In my world, if you want it done right, you have to get your friend who is also detail oriented to join you and do it yourselves.

So, if this was for someone else's house, I wouldn't be able to hire someone around here to figure out how to use only full tiles. I'm sure I'd hear "lady you are crazy,that can't be done". Heck, the guy who did my lattice tile in the shower struggled with the pattern--not that hard to see the pattern--he almost put one of the 12x12 sheets sideways. I'm very lucky I watched him like a hawk. Oh, and he was "the best". (did I ever mention him trying to score and snap my marble tiles and just have them crumble and then he told me he hoped I didn't pay a lot for those crappy tiles....wet saw dude)

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 1:16PM
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I think for enough money I could find someone here, but I'd also probably have to hover around to make sure they were doing it right. I'm anal enough that I'd be there with a graph that mapped out exactly where the tiles go.

Actually rather than adjust the ceiling height I'd think of asking them to adjust the counter height, either with different height cabinets, or with a bit of trim between the cabinets and the counter, or a slightly adjusted toe-kick height. I picture having the walls tiled before installing the counters, so little adjustments could be made to the counter height using trim.

OTOH - if the ceiling isn't perfectly level that would throw everything off, and result in the need to redo the ceiling as you mention.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 1:45PM
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It's hard enough to find a contractor that will line up the top and bottom of a shower niche with the surrounding field tile's grout lines.
I shudder at the thought of trying to explain your tiling goals to a contractor, let alone get a price for it and trust him to do it.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 2:59PM
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When we built our house about 15 years ago DH drove our tile people crazy.He is a perfectionist and has a really good eye for detail.

- For the master bath, he used graph paper to show exactly how high he wanted the tiles laid out--where it was okay to cut tiles, what height to turn the tiles to a different patttern, etc. Tiling guys did okay on that.

- For the foyer, we used travertine, and he handpicked the tiles that he liked the best and laid them out so the flow looks good. Also designated where the partial tiles should be. Tile guy complied.

- Kitchen. We have granite countertops and 4x4 limestone tiles set on diagonal for the backsplash. From a layout perspective, DH wanted the tiles that met in the corner to match (basically looks like we bent the tile in the corner--does that make sense?). So far fo good. Grout--that's where we hit an impasse. The limestone has its natual pits and holes, which we like. The tile guy wanted to grout the regular way (slather grout all over and clean up). DH was adamant that the grout needed to be piped in to avoid filling in the pits. Tile guy left. 15 years later, still no grout :-). DH is perfectly capable of doing the grout they way he wants it, but he got bored and was on to something else. Actually, if it ever gets grouted (probably when we sell the house!) I would grout it a darker color than I would have originally because the shadows between the tiles look like darker grout!! And I like the it! It's also always good for a laugh when I tell the story. People don't realize it's not grouted until I point it out.

Lesson learned--See if your the person is willing to work with you and get a feel for whether they are just doing a job or if he/she is a true craftsman. Draw out (scale with graph paper) what you want. Be prepared to provide oversight and corrections if it's not going how you want it.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 3:37PM
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All of that perfect tile depends entirely on how well the wall behind it (and the ceiling above it) was framed. Here, I think it's just abut a requirement that framers work stoned or drunk. I might find a good quality tile guy, as there are plenty of wonderful Hispanic ones around here that do great work, but I'm probably not fluent enough to be able to explain that level of detail in Spanish. So no, unless I was willing to DIY the whole job from inside out to the last detail, there's no way to even contemplate something of that level.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 3:38PM
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Simple answer: no.

I will never forget the three times that my last tile contractor ripped out my subway tile shower because he could not comprehend how you would calculate and then adjust your "center line" so as not to have "toothpicks" in the corners.

After the third time I rejected it, they told me that the pattern - running bond - couldn't be used with "those tiles". Yes. No running bond with subway tiles.

Luckily, with my floral mosaic here in AR, I found a young guy who really cared and did a great job. He actually dry fit the tiles and used a level. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 3:44PM
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Yes I did see that HB kitchen and the other two white kitchens with tile featured in this months issue. My DH and I are currently tiling our house; that I designed and we are building without benefit of a GC. Or tile contractor.
We don't do this for a living but have not had much success getting contractors to "bring our vision to life" well at least not that we could afford anyway. This is why we are doing it ourselves. We are both that detail oriented.
As for that tile deal, my solution for that was to have a trim board under the crown that meets the whole tile. This could be adjusted somewhat. My DH, who is even more detail oriented, reminded me of the grout lines needing adjustment to do this. And have the board line up with the top of our cabinets.
Yeah so in answer to your OP question, hard to get a contractor to do that tile job unless the measurement just happens to fall out perfectly. In my world, we have to do it.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 3:48PM
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I know superior, detail-oriented finish carpenters and floor guys who'd welcome a challenge like that in their area of expertise, but never tile guys.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 4:05PM
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I could get my tile guy to do this but my GC will not commit.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 4:15PM
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I don't want to lay this all at the tile person's doorstep. The finished wall has to be an exact multiple of 4.25 or 3 or whatever, and that goes back to the very beginning.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 5:15PM
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We are DIY people so I will answer from that perspective.

When we were planning our subway running bond backsplash with a pencil line (with a jog) I tried to use graph paper. No matter what I did I could not "get it". Frustrating. If I had to I think I could lay tile. Watched it done by Dh many times. BUT... I could not lay out the pattern.

DH on the other hand laid it out and it came out perfect. He thinks that way, I don't.

So I think there may be great tile people out there who simply can't layout the pattern. I think you must need to use a certain part of your brain and some of us are more developed in that area. Perhaps tile people should invest in a software program that could do the mental work to get the pattern.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 5:17PM
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Our GC did our tile and thus he did have the foresight to place the kitchen window, bar top, and upper cabinets all such that the spacing worked out in increments of one whole tile. This is along the lines of what Palimsest is saying. I never would have known to be on the lookout for that, and we certainly appreciate how cleanly it all worked out in the end.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 5:56PM
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Yes, the tile setters did that in our apartment but I had drawn it out to scale and the tile was the right scale for that. It requires an excellent tile designer who can produce drawings or very fine tile setter who can do that. Plus the tile choice needs to be exact.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 6:01PM
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If it's that important, you can do the calculations yourself and give the contractor specific instructions. It's not particularly hard - use an excel spreadsheet and put in the number of tiles times the width, and the number of groutlines times the width.

Then you sketch it out on paper or with a program, and present it all the contractor. I sketched out the patterns I wanted for my bathrooms and floors and my contractor was grateful that I was so specific.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 7:57PM
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The time that it was followed the best is when the homeowner created a grid and physically applied it to the walls themselves, then the tile setters followed it directly on the wall.

I think I will be able to get my contractors to do it.

I am also going to have the backs of the bathroom walls left open (they will be moving anyway) so that the outlets, switches and other recessed things can be positioned to fall within tiles exactly and a nailer can be placed from the back to hold the electrical box or recessed item in place.

I am not doing custom niches I don't think so anything like that may involve some cut tiles but I am most concerned about the leading and visible edges and not having obvious slivers at the top and bottom, particularly the bathroom that is going to be all grey tile and fixtures. (Mid-century referential).

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 8:07PM
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karin_mt hit the nail on the head as to why one hires a professional: "I never would have known to be on the lookout for that, and we certainly appreciate how cleanly it all worked out in the end." And I mean that in many, many jobs. However, knowing a person has this experience and foresight before the job begins seems to be hit or miss.

Beekeeper'swife summed up my experience: "I'm very lucky I watched him like a hawk." The very second I turn my back, something's way screwed up. On everything. When I think I've been clear. When I think I've written things down or drawn them out.

To address the question at hand: Yes, I could. Watching them like a hawk and using phrases like,
"If you can't do it, get me someone who can." or
"If you can't do it, leave it and I'll do it myself." or
"If you don't want to do it, just say so."

I've been lucky to find my multi-purpose Fred who can do most anything. What he can't do, or what he doesn't feel comfortable handling? He just says so. Usually he'll have a recommendation for me, which is fantastic.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 8:12PM
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You know, after some thought I have to ask.

Why is it that so many "tile people" (Yes, insert sarcasm there) can't seem to line up grout lines?
Why are we greeted with the "you're insane, lady! How could you expect such a thing?" look when it's not right?

Is that so over the top?

    Bookmark   May 30, 2013 at 11:24PM
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