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Home Improvement: Laying Tile (on a fireplace, walls, or backsplash)

 We recently moved into a new home and have been busy re-vamping, tearing down, and re-constructing this/that in our new home.  It’s been fun……but a complete learning process.  If you’d like to see other Home Improvement Projects that we’ve been figuring out (from the help of friends, family, and the ol’ internet), be sure to check them out.



I’m being really flippy-floppy with my posts lately because, well, I’ve been flippy-floppy lately.  I’ll share more of the Teaching Kids to Sew Series next week.  But my house hollered at me this week and asked me to hurry and pretty up a few of her walls.  And I couldn’t resist.


So, while we had one of my brothers (thanks Greg!) and Steve’s brother (thanks Joe!) here at different times, we pulled some tiling tips from them……and went crazy tiling a few places in our home.


And, let me tell you……if you’ve never tiled anything before, you’re probably a little nervous like I was.  I had only done a few simple tiling projects in the past but I really wanted these to look nice.  So, I was anxious about them.  But holy smokes……..I’m TRIPLE THRILLED with how they turned out!


So, let me share what I’ve learned.




Maybe you have an area that needs a little love…….like our Powder Room Bathroom did. 


I used to hate using it because it was just icky, un-loved, and the paint was so sad in there.  Now, I just sit (ahem, excuse me) and enjoy the beautiful colors in there!  Ahhhhhh!  (Yeah, I need to share more pictures of the finished space….but I haven’t hung a mirror yet.  Or replaced the light fixture.  Or finished the baseboards.  Or hung anything on the walls.  So one day soon…)




And the other tiling project that makes my heart smile……is the fireplace.  The finished mantel (which I’ll also share another day, including a tutorial) turned out so stinkin’ beautiful……but the tile definitely finished it off perfectly.  Eeeeeeeh, I couldn’t be one ounce happier with how it all turned out.  Really.


And it’s kinda hard to tell, but that glass tile really has some sparkle and texture to it.  The light dances across it once the sun pours through the neighboring window.  And I’m pretty sure that the fact that I laid that tile with my own hands……makes the tile extra gorgeous in my happy little eyes. :)




Ahhh, Elli.  She kept twirling in front of my camera while I was trying to take photos of the tile.  That girl.  I need to find her a dance teacher in this area.




This tile is one of the first tile samples I brought home and Steve didn’t care for it.  He called it “Paris Hilton” tile.  See the random crushed glass tiles in there??  He thought they were too “glittery”.  I laughed and we took it back (because we both need to love something so permanent, right?). 


So, about 13 sample designs later (that we were SURE we’d love) and about 200 pounds of different tiles that we bought and then lugged back to the store after hating it with the paint/lighting/mantel/etc in the room……….we somehow went back to the “Paris Hilton” tile, after many weeks of searching.  Which is so funny because Steve was so sure he’d hate it, remember?  We looked at it with fresh eyes, imagined it grouted, and now…..neither one of us can keep our hands or eyes off of it.  The tile has the right texture, isn’t too loud or obtrusive, it lets the the new fireplace and mantel have more of the attention, and it adds a little sparkle to the space when the light plays off it.  Okay, I’ll stop.  I’m just way too excited about it all. :)  (You’ll see more of what I mean when you see the finished mantel, the hardwood floors, the wall paint, etc.)




But let me tell you, tiling has made a huge different to these 2 rooms.  And once we finish some things in the kitchen, we’ll be adding some back splash tiles in there.  Can’t wait! 


How about you? 

Do you have a tiling project in mind? 

Are you ready to give it a try?  You should…



Let me share what I’ve learned about tiling…


Okay…..let’s get started.  Gather your supplies.

**I also forgot to picture the plastic tile spacers…..but that’s because I didn’t need them.  But you may.



BUT WAIT!!!  Unless your tiling over a concrete floor, STOP!!!  You need to lay down Cement Board on your sub-floor or screw it into the wall or counter top that you’re tiling.  What’s Cement Board?  It’s a sturdy board that is made of yep, cement, and other fibers.  It is used behind tiling to offer stability, eliminates sagging, and gives an even surface to work on.  The “pros” I’ve talked to say they wouldn’t ever tile without having it.  So I just do what I’m told! ;)


Now, you’ll need to place the Cement Board beneath all your tiling but sometimes there are curves or corners or obstacles to work around.  You could cut smaller puzzle pieces of Cement Board and then fit them all together to cover your surface but whenever possible, consider measuring and sketching the place you need to cut out so that you can have one continuous piece of board.



Now, my brother taught us this trick to get pieces out of the center of Cement Board. (Thanks Greg!)

Drill a hole at each corner of the portion you need to remove.




Then, drop your jigsaw blade down into the hole and cut out your marked portion to remove.



Repeat with any other section that needs to be removed.  Works great!

**Cement Board is pretty rough on your saw blades.  So be prepared to burn through an extra blade or two while cutting through this stuff.  The good thing, is that blades are only a $1 or so a piece.


If you don’t have a jigsaw: you can use a utility knife and cut a line in your board and then place it on the edge of a hard surface and push down on free edge to break it.  This works but can be a little trickier. 


Then place your Cement Board in place, to see if it fits.  Make adjustments if necessary.



Then screw the board in place.  Having 2 people holding this stuff in place is helpful while getting your first screws in place.



The Cement Board that we used on the fireplace had little spots to add screws.  The stuff we used in the bathroom didn’t (we bought it at different stores).  Just keep in mind, you’ll need plenty of screws so that the board lays really flat and doesn’t warp.  Oh, and the screws are special Cement Board screws.  I think they’re made of special Cement Board magic.  Maybe? :)



Keep adding your pieces of Cement Board, until your entire surface is covered.



Now, it’s time for tiling.  Taping is optional but helps keep excess gunk off your nice surfaces.  I especially liked having that thick paper taped down below, because I knew globs would be falling soon.




Okay, back to the tiling supplies.  If you’re laying large tile pieces, you can use a square notched trowel…..but the little triangle notches work better for smaller tile like mine.

**I also forgot to picture my plastic tile spacers…..but that’s because I didn’t need them.  But you may.



Also, I’m not sure how strong your muscles are but mine begged me to buy a drill bit mixer.  This saved me a lot of time and energy…….and worked like kitchen beaters to mix up my grout.  Very cool!



Then, I noticed you can buy pre-mixed tile adhesive (but not grout), so I jumped all over that too.  It really didn’t cost much more and came in a nice tub that would help save the extra for future tiling projects.  If you’re mixing your own adhesive, it should be the consistency of peanut butter……so keep that in mind as you’re mixing.



Okay, so let’s get started with laying that tile.  Depending on what type of tile you use, our methods will vary a bit…..but the whole process is the same.

(Steve’s brother taught me how to do everything from here on out.  He supervised while I tiled.  It was a good match! ;) Thanks again Joe!! )


First, grab one of your buckets and fill it half full with water and toss in your sponge.  You will NEED this water… grab it first!  And be prepared to dump it and replace it with fresh water many times throughout this process.


Now, you need to decide where you want to start laying your tile.  Take notice of where you’d like a nice clean line of tiles to start……and begin there.  Generally, you’ll start where your eye will be drawn to first…..or perhaps the area that is most noticeable.  I started at the bottom because the top edge was kinda hidden.  And then from there, you’ll work in rows…..finishing a row and then beginning another row above (or beneath) it.


Use your trowel and slap some adhesive up there on the Cement Board.  Then, just like frosting a cake, try to keep things neat and clean and even, moving your trowel back and forth, and up and down.



Apply enough adhesive for a tile sheet or two (if yours are 12 x 12 inches like mine) or more if you’re laying single tiles.  If you apply too much adhesive at once, it will start to dry before you get your tile up there.  So, just do a little at a time.



Be sure that there aren’t huge globs of adhesive anywhere…..especially those sneaky edges.  If there’s too much adhesive, once you set your tile and push it on, the adhesive will ooze out and will clog all the space in between the tiles for grouting later on.



Eventually you should have a nice layer of adhesive.  I always applied enough for about 1 and half tile sheets. 



Now, put your tiles right in place…..adjusting and spacing it just how you need it.



Now, use your Grout Float to apply even pressure to your tiles.  Press pretty firmly but not too much or you’ll squeeze all the adhesive out.




While you’re working on one row, scrape away any excess adhesive.  Since I was working my way to the left, I would leave extra adhesive to the left because I was working in that direction.  But all the stuff up above would dry before I moved up to that row, so scraping it off kept the Cement Board surface even.



After finishing a tile sheet (or a few single tiles), wet your sponge and wipe off any excess adhesive from your tile surface.  Rinse out your sponge and repeat if necessary.  It’s important to keep your tile surfaces clean. 

**And once your water becomes really mucky, dump it and replace with fresh water.  You’ll have to do this many times to keep things clean.



Now, if your tiles are heavy and are sliding out of place, add some plastic spacers between your tiles to keep them in place while the adhesive dries.  These spacers come in all sizes……so get what you need, depending on your tiles spaces.  However, I didn’t even use one of these.  I just wanted to show when and where you’d use them.  My tile stayed in place and even  Whew……lucky!  But part of that is that my tiles were pretty forgiving and weren’t super precise with sharp corners or anything.  Yours may be different though.



At some point, you’ll probably need to cut your tile to fit around different obstacles.  Place some painters tape on your tile along the edge that you need to cut.  Place the tape on the section you want to keep…..and then cut away what you don’t need.  This will keep your measurements accurate.



Now, place your tile in the area you need it and check for accuracy before laying down more adhesive.



Then go ahead and add your layer of adhesive and place your tile where it needs to go.  Repeat the above process of scraping away excess adhesive from, wiping with a sponge, etc.



And again, if you need to add spacers between each sheet of tiles, go ahead and do so before everything dries.



And then let everything dry in place for 24-48 hours…..or whatever your product says on the label.


Now, it’s time to grout.

***EDITED TO ADD: Instead of mixing my grout powder with water, I mixed it with a grout sealer, which was liquid like water.  That way I didn’t have to seal my grout after it dried in between the tiles.  It saved us a step and any future steps of sealing the grout in the years to come.  Definitely recommend it.  (I just can’t remember the name but just ask for something similar at the tile store.)


Again, you need to fill up your bucket with clean water and keep it handy.  You’ll dump it and replace it many times throughout this process as well.


Mix up your grout, per your product’s instructions.  You don’t want it too stiff and I actually preferred it to be slightly thinner than the adhesive.  I mentioned above that the adhesive should be like the consistency of peanut butter……I liked the grout a little thinner than that.  (Just because it seemed easier to get into all the cracks a little thinner.)  Then grab a blob of grout with your Grout Float and start from the bottom and push it into all the cracks as you slide it upwards. 




Then use your float and slide it across the surface pushing from the left, then the right, then down from the top.  This will just help work it into all the cracks.  If you have blobs fall down below, just scoop the back up, return them to the bucket, and continue on.  It’s a little messy but you’ll get better and better as you go.



Once you finish grouting like a 2 x 4 square foot area, wet your sponge and wipe away any excess grout from the tiles and the surfaces around your tile.  Rinse your sponge and repeat a few times.  And replace your water with fresh water once your bucket gets too clouded and mucky.



Then repeat, repeat, and repeat some more…..until all of your tiles are grouted.


Then get new water in your bucket and make one final wipe over the tiles.  Wipe a few feet of tile, rinse your sponge, repeat, and repeat again.  This final wipe will help assure you get all the final grit off the surface of your tile.


Then, allow your grout to dry for a couple hours and then wipe your tile surface with a dry cloth or paper towels to help shine them up.



Let your grout completely dry (check the label of your grout brand to see how long this takes) and then caulk all of the edges.  Your grout brand probably offers a matching caulk color, so that you can help blend the caulk into your tile cracks.  However, mine didn’t.  Luckily, my grout was a light grey and the fireplace was white… I just used white and tried to wipe out the excess from the tile cracks.  When caulking, use your finger (or a caulking tool) to press your caulk into the cracks and to remove the excess.  Have lots of wet paper towels (or a smaller sponge) ready to wipe the other surfaces around the tile, including the tile.  Do this right away because caulk dries pretty quickly. 

Caulking will help hide uneven edges and will also help your tile job to last longer……so don’t skip it.  Just be patient with it and wet your finger or your caulk tool) with water as your pushing it into cracks.  Water glides right over it while it’s wet… you’ll notice a huge difference if you keep things wet.


Also, be sure you’re using PAINTABLE caulk so that you can touch up any surfaces that butts up against your tile/caulking project.



And at last……YOU’RE DONE!!!!!  So worth it, right?? 



Let me know what tiling projects you’re thinking of doing.


And good luck!





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Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with my craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
Home improvement: laying tile (on a fireplace, walls, or backsplash)
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  1. Claudia says:

    Hi, loved your project so much that I just installed the same tile from Lowes in my kitchen and now need to choose what grout color to use.
    Did you use white or gray?
    Thanks so much! :)

  2. Carla G says:

    Hello, I love the way this came out! However, what did the fireplace look like before? I have a brick fireplace with four vents on it, one at each corner of the fireplace. I’m wondering if yours was brick as well and if you can tile over brick. Thanks!

    Carla from Central New York!

  3. Galina says:

    Hi! Great instructions…except – I have noticed that you did not provide any instructions on how to HALF the glass tiles on the ends – where the line is straight. I also did my whole bathroom in glass tiles but the MOST difficult task was the arrange them in figures that allow to use only whole tiles. Glass tiles, especially small ones – IMPOSSIBLE to cut, they just break.

    If you can share how you managed this problem, I would be really grateful!

  4. Julie says:

    Maybe I missed it somewhere but can you tell me the name of the bathroom tile you used. I love it for my kids bathroom. Thanks.

  5. Anna says:

    Did you tile around the pedestal sink or tiled the entire wall and then screwed the pedestal sink. I planning to do the same project.

    BTW, DIY is great.

    1. Ashley says:

      We uninstalled the sink and then tiled the whole wall. I just pieced the tiles around the plumbing opening. Once dry, we re-installed the sink. Hope that helps!


    1. Ashley says:

      Oh great, glad you found it! I don’t always see the comments on older posts…….so whew, glad you found the right ones. I love them! :)

  6. Jorie says:

    Wow! Your fireplace is beyond gorgeous!!! I did not see the backsplash under “white” or “clear” on Any tips you can give me on locating it? It’s just perfect… :)

  7. Dayna says:

    Hi! I’m looking to do pretty much the same exact fireplace. We’re having several things done and are working with a contractor. He told me to check with the manufacturer before choosing glass tiles for around the fireplace to make sure the heat won’t crack the tile. So I called one place (Merona, a similar glass tile I found at Home Depot) and they told me glass tile isn’t heat resistant and the glue used to put it in the mesh backing is flammable (she was relaying the message and kind if studdered when she said flammable, so I’m not sure if she really wanted to say flammable or just not heat-resistant… Big difference between flames and less sticking ability). BUT I’ve seen SO many people doing this online with no mention of this concern and I am so in love with the look. So I’m wondering if you’ve had any issues with this tile being on your fireplace???

    1. Robin says:

      I have a fireplace similar to this one with the same exact tiles . We haven’t had any problems with it. We use the fireplace maybe once a month and have had it redone like this 6 months ago.

    2. Anonymous says:

      Ok great, thanks!

  8. Heather says:

    Thank you! You’ve just given me the confidence to have a go at my own fireplace!! Hopefully it will look as good as yours!

  9. Anna says:

    I am going to tile around my fireplace and the hearth and this your post has inspired me to give it ago myself, however I have a question before I attempt!
    On the picture which shows the process of cutting the tiles, how are they all stuck together? Is that a temporary thing just for cutting and then you go on individually sticking the tiles where you want them to go?

    1. Robin says:

      The tiles comes that way in a 12″X12″ sheet. Especially for the smaller tiles like those, they come in a sheet that are already arranged and affixed using webbing on the back. It makes for the tiling process much faster than having to put up each itty bitty little tile one by one.

  10. marilyn says:

    HI there! I noticed you didnt have to remove the mantel. Do you have any tips if we have to do so? We were going to start this project , but noticed removing the mantel might be necessary :/

  11. Ainsley says:

    Thanks for all the tips! I live alone and am starting this project today!! My boyfriend says he’d rather not help cause he doesn’t know how…but he did pick out a tile that I love and he cooks so I guess I gotta pick my battles :) hope it turns out as beautifully as yours!!

  12. Kristina Noall says:

    So cool! I appreciate your sharing all these tips with us. I’ve decided to make myself read them all, to learn about this stuff, even though it makes me ache with longing for the day (no idea when) that my hubby and I can get our own house. :( But I know you guys rented for so long, too–i’m so happy for you!

  13. Tiles says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! We want to remodel the bathroom and we are looking for some ideas, and if we can do it ourselves, better! We have already bought Roca Tiles for the bathroom, modern and easy to clean. I’ll tell you how it looks when we finish!


  14. Katya says:

    Ashley – triple THANK YOU!’s for this tutorial and your blog in general! I have the utmost respect and appreciation for people who take their valuable time during any project in order to share with others. I have recently completed my first tile project and so (un)lucky me only discovered the world of kind DIY bloggers after I got done with it. The project and the whole experience would have been so much more pleasant had I come across your blog a few months ago! Thanks to this post I am ready to tackle many many more tiling projects using your hints and advice!

  15. Aaron says:

    Wow that looks great! I love the colors you picked. Thanks for sharing such a detailed tutorial!

  16. Kate says:

    the glass tile is soooo pretty! I probably would have reacted just like your husband, but I love it actually up!

  17. Deborah says:

    I was so amazed to see your tile project. You are so talented and I love how it all turned out. I am anout to tile our bathroom and so I will use all your great tips to help make it beautiful. Your home is looking beautiful and hopefully the fires stay away so that you can enjoy your hard work for many years to come.

  18. Addy says:

    Ashley- We are seriously considering using the lovely “Paris Hilton” tile in our bathroom remodel. I love how clean and bright it looks. In case you have readers who want to know how they can find it, it’s called 12×12 gemstone white glass mosaic, and the item # is 282570.

    1. Jorie says:


  19. Addy says:

    I love the “Paris Hilton” tile! We’re redoing a bathroom right now, and I’ve been thinking white tile. Now I have a gorgeous picture to show my husband and I read that you got it at Lowes, so I’m excited about the possibility of using it at our house!

  20. Ruth says:

    They look great!! But I am not sure I could do it

  21. Carlyn says:

    I have 4 boxes of tile squares in my garage just screaming to updating my kitchen backsplash. (yes I know 4 boxes is allot, but I could not pass up the discounted price. Well maybe now is thetime get busy! Thanks for your tutorial and timely insight all there can’t be to much difference between a wall surrounding a fireplace and the wall behind my countertops…right?

    1. Ashley says:

      No, it should be about the same. Now, hurry…..get tiling!!!! :)

  22. Allison says:

    I used the “paris hilton” tile for my kitchen backsplash recently! I love it.
    My boyfriend and I did it ourselves. We didn’t use thinset though, we used simplemat ( Which shortened the time a little I think.

    1. Ashley says:

      Ha……I love that you used the same tile! :) I’ll have to look into that simplemat for next time….sounds cool!

  23. Sarah says:

    so pretty!! wish we could all see it in person!

    1. Ashley says:

      I do too! Wanna come over? ;)

  24. Lisa says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for the tutorial. This gives me an extra boost of motivation to get this project done in our powder room. We currently have a big construction grade mirror hung with clips and 90s brass light fixture that I hate. I’ve never tiled before so thanks for the many pics and directions! I’ve always loved your blog for quick, easy, and cute sewing projects and now we’re in the same home update boat as you are! So convenient for me! Thanks again.

  25. Jackie says:

    I love your Paris Hilton tiles! They’d look fantastic on the fireplace of a house we’re thinking of buying – I’ll be pinning your post ‘just in case’ we get the house, and they have something similar here in Melbourne, Aus.

  26. Alexandrea says:

    Gosh! That looks amazing! I especially love the bathroom with that color. I never really gave tile much thought before, and now I definitely want to look into it…I’m imagining so many possibilities! Great post!

  27. Debbie C says:

    I am drooling over that fireplace! Gorgeous choice of tile!

  28. Kim says:

    Beautiful!!! I especially love the white tile around the mantel. Tile is so much work, but so pretty! Your post was beautifully detailed as well :)

  29. Tara layton says:

    I’ve TOTALLY been wanting to do my kitchen backsplash like this!! Now i know how to do it ! ;) you’re a lifesaver.

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh perfect……good luck Tara! :)

  30. Olivia says:

    What are the names of your tile and where did you get them? Beautiful!!!

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh gosh, I knew someone was going to ask, so I looked but couldn’t find the exact ones online. We bought the white tile on the fireplace at Lowe’s. I have heard others saying they purchased the same ones… it must be one they keep on the shelves. (But there are tons more online….I just couldn’t find the exact ones to link to.) We bought the blue-toned tile in the bathroom, at Floor and Decor. I know they sell online as well but we purchased this at their actual store here in CO. Again, no clue what it’s actually called. But I hope that helps a little. -Ashley

  31. Kiran says:

    Did you seal the grout after you grouted or mix in the sealant with the grout?

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh gosh, I forgot to mention that and will go add it in right now. We mixed in the sealant with the grout. Thanks!

  32. Barb says:

    We’re getting ready to completely re-do our master bathroom (well, we’ve begun demo, so I guess we’re beyond getting ready!) and my hubby picked out your Paris Hilton tiles as accent tiles for our floor, backsplash, and shower. :) I will be posting befores and afters on my blog once it’s all done. :) I’m excited and can’t wait!

    1. Ashley says:

      Ha…….I’ll have to tell my husband that there are others who love the tile as much as we do! Including another HUSBAND!! :)

  33. Sarah says:

    Beautiful! I absolutely love the tile you picked out! For both places! I can’t wait to see the finished rooms!

  34. Stacy T says:

    We’re planning our fireplace right now. I would love to see more pictures of yours zoomed out! I love your tile choices

    1. Ashley says:

      I will take more pictures really soon. I’m going to be sharing a tutorial on making the fireplace…..and will share pics then. -Ashley

    2. Stacy T says:

      I will stay tuned! Thanks!

  35. Joann says:

    Great job! Looks awesome! I love the mantel too. The mantel is on our list of projects to be tackled in our new home as well. I’m looking forward to reading your tutorial on that. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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