Shower Tile Design

This was a big week. Two shower designs were laid out and one shower was almost completed. Bill Boyd is our tile guy and also our nephew in law. Unfortunately he lives in California. But he agreed to come out for a week to help us out. We had such a fun week hanging out and talking tile. This guy is amazing and has a solution for every problem. He also loves tile work.

Bill buttering tile

Bill buttering tile

The granite pieces I wanted to use were the end cuts from the vanity in the family room bathroom. It is a very pretty granite but the pieces I had left were too small. I was trying to use two narrow pieces at the back wall. The ledges there were formed by the foundation insulation and a chase for the hot tub wiring. I thought the bump out would make a nice shaving “leg ledge”. But the two levels were awkward and Bill suggested I just look for another piece of granite or granite backsplash for the ledge.

I was able to find a piece of free granite through craigslist in the same dark brown as the tile to use for the ledge and the family room bathroom seat. Since I was getting new granite, Bill filled in the two layer ledge with deck mud for one smooth surface for the ledge. I would not have thought to make that one level but it looks much better than two smaller levels.

I bought lots of dark brown porcelain tile (about 500 square feet) to match the stained concrete floor so there is plenty to use as the field tile. The artistry is in figuring out the cuts and the “feature” tile layout. The feature tile has wood rounds on the ceramic. I liked the idea of a strip of this tile along the plumbing wall. The design is called a waterfall feature.

Shower with feature "waterfall"

Shower with feature “waterfall”

Opposite the waterfall, the niches have the same background tile with nicely matched travertine ledges that overhang a little bit so that any water running off them does not leave marks on the tile below.

Niches

Niches with feature tile

I tried to study Bill’s technique. He is a master with thin set mortar of course but it is helpful to watch a master work. He applied the mortar to the Kerdi with a 3/8″ notched trowel. For some tiles that needed to be set initially he also back buttered with mortar. But when he had it all lined up and was working on the whole wall, he just mortared the wall. He does two rows at a time and tips the tiles into place from the bottom to the top.

Placing a tile

Placing a tile

Using the wedges and his hands he moves the tiles slightly so that they line up and are even across. Then he takes a level and makes sure the tiles are straight and evenly attached to the wall. He said if a tile needs to be pulled out a bit because of unevenness on the wall, he tips it out just a little with his flat trowel or his fingers and the mortar is thick enough to eliminate the indentation without breaking the hold of the mortar.

Finishing the back wall

Finishing the back wall

Bill is used to his own tools but they were too bulky for air travel and he couldn’t risk losing them so we purchased a couple of items and he made the rest. This is a darby float made with a 1 x 4 attached to the handle of an older, smaller notched trowel. It is a special tool for smoothing out the shower pan.

Handmade darby float

Handmade Darby float

He built the shower pan from deck mud (floor mix) instead of the Schluter foam because he is expert at creating the proper slope for the pan. The handmade shower pan is a better fit for the shower than the foam and Bill is hesitant to tile on foam anyway. Will it hold up for the long haul like traditional shower pans?

Mud bed shower pan slope

Mud bed shower pan slope

Unfortunately the hose connection to the pump on the tile saw cracked off and we could not find a replacement that fit in time to finish cutting and placing the floor tile. The floor is the same feature tile as the waterfall. It has a rough texture and helps wet feet grip the shower floor. The imprint of wood slices on this tile matches the handmade bed in the master bedroom and the log vanity and trim in the family room bathroom. The tile is laid out evenly from side to side and front to back and to maintain simple cuts for the rectangular drain. The full tiles were quartered to make them small enough to follow the slope on the shower pan floor.

Floor tile layout

Floor tile layout

In order to finish the shower, I have to fix the tile saw pump connection to cut a few more matching tiles. I will mortar the floor tiles into place then use the epoxy grout to finish the shower.

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