DIY Subway Tile Installation

By Kate Riley March 14, 2018

Thanks so much for the continuing positive feedback on the kitchen remodel I shared two weeks ago. I promised a follow up post on the tile installation so here goes.


There are so many tutorials for installing a kitchen backsplash on the internet and YouTube, mosaics and subway tile are always the easiest.  A lot of people are intimidated at the idea of tile installation but shouldn’t be! It really is as easy as gathering the right supplies and following the proper steps.

I’ve been doing it for years and have a lot of confidence in this particular DIY project having tiled several fireplaces, bathrooms, and kitchens over the years. I’m hoping to inspire any of you who haven’t done it yet to give it a go with these steps!

Choosing the Tile

Field tiles are rectangular shaped but come in all sizes. “Subway” tile gets its name from the walls of tile you see in subway stations like NYC and it has a 100 year old history. I grabbed a few samples for my project to see which one I liked best, narrow tiles, beveled tiles, and even a hexagon shaped tile was considered.



I ended up choosing the one on the bottom, this frost tile because of its imperfect edges and glazed finish, they appealed to me most, and I also loved its larger elongated 3 x 12” shape, a bit more contemporary, but also classic too. Subway tiles are available in all shapes, sizes, colors, and price points. I recommend gathering samples and looking at them around the space to see which one fits best.



Before installation, walls need to be prepped. Analyze the thickness of the tile and expect ¼” more thickness due to the adhesive. Keeping that in mind, you’ll have to tile around electrical sockets and phone jacks, and run the tile next to cabinets and up against walls and windowsills.


Remove all electrical plates and store them in a safe place for when the project is done.



One modern consideration is whether to keep a land line telephone jack. For this project, I chose to remove it since not a lot of people are using land lines anymore. (I did draw a map for the future owner and left additional tiles in the drawer should they wish to restore it.)



One thing I’ve learned from past tiling projects: if you’re planning to install tile above the bottom of the upper cabinets and the cabinet has full frame cabinet doors, make sure the cabinets are installed with a gap ¼ to ½” away from the wall to allow for clearance for the door to open once the tile is up on the wall. I didn’t tile up the wall and around the window like I recently did in this kitchen and this kitchen, but door clearance is something to keep in mind in that circumstance.



Gather Supplies

For a subway tile installation, you’ll need tile adhesive, enough tile to cover the surface (plus 15% extra for cuts), and a trowel to apply the adhesive. You’ll also need a level, a tile saw, spacers, tile edge trim, a grout float, and a grouting sponge (not shown).



Plan the layout of your tile with care. For this project I wanted the edge of the tile to start at the edge of the countertop for symmetry. I also knew behind the range I wanted the tiles to be balanced above the range and below the hood, so I planned that out too (more on that below).

Using your trowel, apply the adhesive ¼” thick. Apply enough to cover the base of the tile and a little bit above so you can work with the row above.



The tile I chose had a rough exposed edge so for edging I used a tile liner (find them at Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.). Apply a little adhesive to the back of the liner and tuck it behind the end piece. The tile liner gives the end of the backsplash a nice clean edge.





Notice here in the final styled shot how the backsplash has that clean edge using tile liner instead of a pencil tile or a grouted edge.



Here’s a closer look at the plastic tile liner next to the window and on the top row used to achieve a clean edge.


During installation, use spacers between each tile, and work your way across the countertop to complete the first row. Check that the tiles are level as you go!


Behind the range you’ll need a temporary support for the tile. Here we used a piece of wood screwed into the wall to support the bottom row between the cabinets that flank the range. Make sure your tiles are aligned properly as you work your way up the wall, pay attention to the vertical edges, making sure they all line up the same way. Use spacers as you go to keep the tiles balanced and in their proper place.

At some point you’ll reach a place where you will have to start to make cuts to fill the spots where a whole piece won’t fit. This is the most challenging part and it just takes a little trial and error if you’re new to working with a tile saw. Vertical cuts are easy, it’s the smaller odd shaped spaces like the one next to this windowsill that take the most concentration, just work slowly to make those special cuts and watch your fingers :)


Electrical outlets require expanders so that the plate sits flush with the new tile around it. Find them in the electrical department at any home improvement store and wedge them behind the metal top and bottom so the outlet projects from the wall enough for the plate to sit flat on the tile.

I wanted the tile to go all the way up the wall behind the hood so I worked my way up the wall about ten rows then took a break for a few hours to let the adhesive dry on the bottom rows of tile. We marked where the hood would sit, and where the screws attach to the wall, then I tiled around those points as I worked my way up the wall.



Once the tile was grouted, the hood was easy to install on top with that previous planning for its location.


Grouting & Sealing

Once the tile is on the wall allow it to dry for 24 hours. The next day you can go back and remove all the spacers and grout all the gaps between the tile. Grout comes in sanded and unsanded formulas and in dry and premixed formulas. For this project we used simple sanded white grout but for glass or more delicate tiles, use unsanded grout.



A grout float is the tool you need to scoop the grout and wedge it into the cracks. It can be a time consuming process so work in sections because grout dries quickly and you’ll want to wash the grout off the tiles once you’ve filled the cracks.



Use the rough side of the grout sponge to wipe it away from the tile then the softer sponge side that’s wet to completely clean the tile.



All freshly tiled backsplashes in a kitchen will need sealed so that the grout doesn’t stain, but thankfully you can buy grout with sealant mixed in. The grout used for this project has sealant in it, but I’m still going to seal it one last time with a spray formula before the house goes on the market.

And that my friends is the simple way to tile your own backsplash! We saved money on installation by doing it ourselves and it looks so great!


Let me know if you have any questions!

Adding Curb Appeal & Value to Your Home’s Exterior

By Kate Riley March 13, 2018

A hot topic around here is home improvement and with spring on the horizon, some of you are looking to increase your home’s curb appeal.

For design lovers, interiors make us swoon but a great exterior is also something worthy of investment because it’s the first impression of your home. Today I’m partnering with James Hardie® to highlight why your home’s exterior is just as, if not more, important than the form and function of the interior.


My husband Matt is a real estate appraiser and broker. In the 20 years we’ve been together, I’ve learned a few things about increasing a home’s value so let’s loop him into this conversation. I see exteriors first from a design perspective, but he sees them from a value perspective.

A decade ago, we built five new homes on a split lot, and for those homes we chose HardiePlank® lap siding in varied gray and tan neutrals. The exteriors of those homes still look as good as the day they were built and because of that, we’ve been big fans of James Hardie® siding ever since.

If you crave color, get inspired by James Hardie’s® prefinished siding available in both vibrant and subtle hues that will achieve instant curb appeal. Their ColorPlus® technology bakes colors onto the boards for a durable finish and a strong bond that resists chipping, peeling, cracking and fading for years of lasting beauty.

Take the uncertainty out of your siding and trim color choices by visualizing them on your home using the interactive Home Color Tool on the James Hardie® website.

Once you’ve chosen the color of the exterior you want it to stay that way for years to come, and climate is always a consideration, so it’s important to invest in siding that has proven durability that stands up to the elements.

James Hardie® fiber cement products are Engineered for Climate®. In the northern U.S. and Canada, their HZ5® products resist shrinking, swelling and cracking even after years of wet or freezing conditions. And their HZ10® products resist damage from hot, humid conditions and blistering sun.

James Hardie® fiber cement products are also non-combustible for added fire protection, helping you stay prepared for the unpredictable.

As you know we experience some devastating wildfires in Sonoma County, California in October 2016. Matt has this short story to share: “Last week I was appraising a site, one parcel away from a fire station. The home site was completely burned and so was the neighboring fire station. The owner, who also happened to be a fireman, was talking about rebuilding but told me, “This time, I’m using Hardie siding for its non-combustible qualities”. There you have it from the mouth of a fireman! :)

Unlike wood, James Hardie® siding is impervious to pests and is resistant to water and warping. Matt frequently recommends James Hardie siding to his clients for its lasting look. Buyers and real estate experts in today’s market recognize it’s low maintenance and keeps homes looking beautiful longer than field-applied paint on wood.

In every case where we have used James Hardie® siding, the homes all look as beautiful today as when the siding was installed over a decade ago – that’s lasting value.

James Hardie® has been chosen by builders annually as a Brand Leader in Builder Magazine since 2009 and been named in Green Builder Magazine in 2013, 2015 and 2016 Reader’s Choice “Most Sustainable Product”.

Request some free samples at James Hardie® for yourself and use their Design-It-Yourself tool to get started increasing your home’s curb appeal. Download their Inspiration Guide for even more tips on home improvement!

This conversation brought you in partnership with James Hardie® siding. All opinions are my own!