Tiling a Subway Tile Backsplash

It sounded so simple when we were starting this kitchen renovation. Mark and I talked about tiling the backsplash ourselves. We had just finished that herringbone marble tile on the fireplace and it didn’t go so perfectly, so Mark was not thrilled about taking this on, but he did it because it needed doing and we figured we’d save a little money by doing this one ourselves. We try to do that on things we can do. But, this tile project may very well be our last tile project.

Again, tiling a backsplash sounds pretty easy, right? But this one required several steps to get there, so that made it even harder and more time consuming. I wasn’t going to share this process, but I figured I’d share real life DIY. Most people only share the end result and the beautiful reveal, but that’s not always real life. There is a lot of messy in between the Before pics and the pretty pics, so I’m going to show you all the messy today!

Here’s a quick shot of the kitchen before we started demo. As is was. Real life living. I had scheduled the quartz installation a week out so that we would have a whole weekend to get the old backsplash down. It’s a good thing, we needed every bit of that time. Taking down an old backsplash is not fun either!

Once you commit to taking it down, it gets really messy. Mark hammered and crow barred all the old tile and drywall down. There was no saving the drywall, so that meant an extra few hours to install new drywall.

I didn’t even get pics of that part, but that was several hours of installation to get the drywall back up for the new tile. So, the demo happened right before the quartz install on a Tuesday.

Drywall removed down to the studs. The ugly before the pretty!

All of this old drywall came down too, it couldn’t be saved.

And let me tell you, that’s a really messy job. You know how awful drywall dust can be and there was plenty of that flying around with all the tiles and drywall that was broken up. We are very lucky here in Acworth that the City comes around once a week and we can haul building materials, yard debris, etc. to the curb and they will haul it off. I saved all of our Amazon boxes and piled the broken tile and drywall in there, boxed it all up and stacked them by the curb.

I cleaned up as Mark demo’d and got it all in boxes and outside for take away. That was great to get all of that gone! I used the shop vac to vacuum up as much dust and left over debris as I could getting ready for the installation.

Legacy Granite arrived in the afternoon of install day and I was sitting here waiting like I was waiting for a prom date! It was so exciting! They did a fantastic job of removing the old granite and hauling it off as well. Legacy is the same company who did my previous house granite installation and I trust them completely.

Here’s the kitchen all naked now with no countertops! You can see the state of the backsplash at this point.

And after the HanStone quartz countertops go in! I’ll be sharing the whole reveal post on Monday, so stay tuned for that. I got the big camera out and got some great shots of the new kitchen. To say I’m in love with it is an understatement! I couldn’t believe how much lighter and brighter it was immediately.

The next step was adding that drywall back to the walls that were missing so we could start the backsplash tile project. Mark wasn’t looking forward to this and I wasn’t either, but we jumped in and got it done. He took off on a Friday and we got the drywall back up. We worked on the tile on Saturday of that weekend and then it was the next weekend, on Sunday afternoon that I finally got to grout the whole thing. So our kitchen was a mess for 2 weekends. Getting the quartz installed was a breeze compared to the backsplash. I had scheduled the install on a Tuesday and the plumber came on Wednesday to hook up the new faucet, so we were only without water for 3 days.

Beginning the backsplash here on this small bar wall, we worked our way around to the left and got the sink side done first. We finished that side the first weekend and I got it grouted first, so at least we could use that side of the kitchen.

I took a lot or progress pics on this part so you can see how it went. Mark cut the tiles and I set most of them in place.

Using 1/16″ spacers for the grout lines.

We figured out that buttering the back of each tile was so much faster and less messy so that’s how I did it all, moving around the wall with whole pieces and then stopping and cutting as we needed to.

Mark did a great job with the Ryobi tile saw, but this was porcelain tile and was very hard. He did have some problems with the edges of the tiles chipping and cutting around the outlets was not easy either.

He hung in there in spite of things not always going smoothly. I thought this project would never end and stretching it out over 2 weekends was especially long.

He did a great job cutting around those outlets though and usually had to cut 2 tiles to fit around them.

He measured and marked them with a Sharpie making sure to cut so the outlet covers would fit over any edges and hide them.

One side finished and ready to grout.

We moved on to the other side and did this wall first. Once we finished this wall, I was able to lay out the tiles and figure out how we wanted them to sit on that left wall where the stove is. The thing with tile is it is recommended by most tile guys to start in the middle so that you end up with equal tiles on either end, but sometimes you’ll have slivers of tile so you want to avoid that if possible on an area that is high profile.

I laid out this wall before I started setting them and kept 1/2 tiles on the left and the smaller slivers on the right, because we thought it would look better to have the smaller cuts in the corner that wouldn’t be so obvious. That’s something you just have to figure out when you’re starting a tile project. Don’t start putting it up until you measure, lay it out and know where your tiles will end up. Take into account the spacer too because that will change it all as well.

There’s so much to think about when you’re tiling and then all the cutting is very time consuming too so we thought we’d get done a lot faster than we did, but that wasn’t the case. We are apparently way slower than a tile guy would be!

At last all the tiles were set and dry and ready to grout. That was my job so I spend about 4 hours last Sunday afternoon getting everything on this side grouted. It’s recommended that the line between the countertop and backsplash have silicone grout added (in a tube) because it’s flexible and will hold up, whereas regular grout can crack in this line.

I used this product by Mapei from Floor and Decor. We bought the backsplash tile from Floor and Decor too.

Here’s another look at the tile I got for the backsplash, from Floor and Decor. This part wasn’t sponsored, we bought it and the supplies from them. This is called Heirloom Linen and was a really good fit for our countertops and kitchen cabinet color. It has a slight gray undertone and isn’t white-white like so many subway tiles are. I love the crackled finish too.

When I added the silicone caulk to the joint between countertop and backsplash, I taped it off. This stuff is not easy to work with, it’s very sticky and smears a lot, so I’ve learned to tape it off top and bottom, just leaving it exposed where the line is, so that it’s much easier to get in place and not have too much mess to clean up. Getting a smooth grout line is not too hard, but use a wet finger dipped in soapy water, that was the recommendation I read online and it worked. I immediately took off the tape and mostly had a nice grout line. I had a little cleaning up to do, but it was manageable.

As you can imagine, this whole process will wreck your hands and nails. I think mine are just getting back to normal 4 days later.

Here’s a quick peek with my cellphone of the finished backsplash. We are SO happy that this project is done and complete. It felt like it would never end!

I’m very pleased with the job we did. Again, it’s not perfect, but I’m not going to point any of that out, I’ll just let you see these pretty pics and be happy with me. It was a hard job to get finished, but I’m so proud of what we did.

Mark does not enjoy tile work and we will more than likely not tackle another one in the house. It’s just a time consuming project and sometimes those are better left to the professionals so I’m pretty sure when we get around to renovating the master bathroom, we’ll hire all of the tile work out. He said he likes working with wood so much better. But, he hung in there with me and we made it through this DIY project!

I’ll be sharing the whole kitchen on Monday and I can’t wait to show it to you all. We are so very happy with it, I probably am the most because I do spend a fair amount of time in there. It feels so much lighter and brighter and is a dreamy kitchen to me now! I’ll be sharing all the details of the countertops, sink, and faucet. It feels like a whole new kitchen in there and it practically is! I hope this gives you all ideas on how to update a kitchen without gutting the whole thing or moving things around. This was a fairly straightforward renovation and a pretty cost effective one too!

If you’ve been with me awhile, you will remember that my dad and I did my subway tile backsplash in my old kitchen and that was quite the project too. I think it’s easier to do a project like this when you’re not living in it. We also used Bondera sticky tile mat and it was a lot less messy with that product. Maybe I should have used it again this time, but we went ahead with the thinset. That post has a bit more on the grouting process. I was such a mess with the grout on this one that I didn’t get any pictures of the actual grouting and it was a fast rush trying to get it grouted, wiping down the grout off the tiles, and getting it all wiped down before it dried too much.

Whew, I’m glad that one is done and Mark is really glad it’s done!

- Rhoda


  1. Looks beautiful, Rhoda. Tell Mark not to be so hard on himself! Wink!! Love your style!

  2. Andrea Corley says

    You guys are amazing how you do everything and so quickly and professionally…. I love the quartz and the backspash!!!! Looks amazing!

  3. Barbara Moore says

    Some of my former DIY jobs are now ‘let the professionals do it’. Tile is one of them. Messy and oh so time consuming for us. Proud you suffered through – it looks amazing!!! But no one would disagree that it should be your last tile job. Especially the big jobs like a bathroom. I can’t wait to see your completed kitchen pictures!

    • Thanks, Barbara, I know y’all have done your share of them. Yep, we know better than to tackle the master bathroom. That one we will hire out.

  4. Your kitchen looks great, even when I hire a pro, it is never perfect. Kudos to you!

  5. Looks beautiful and so much lighter! I read your previous post about the Bondera sticky tile mat and used it when doing.backsplash. It was a good recommendation and is holding up well.

    • Hi, Andrea, I sort of wish we had done Bondera, it’s so less messy for sure. I always worried though because it said to grout within 8 hours of installing and I didn’t know if we could do that. It sure worked great at my old house.

  6. It all looks very pretty ! That was a hard job but you both did great ! I don’t have anything , no tile in my kitchen but I did wonder if I could do it myself….but I think I’d have to have help for sure with the cutting.
    Hate to bring this ” little advice ” up but your kitchen outlets have to be GFI switches because of the closeness to the water. Maybe another project ? My husband was an electrician. Yes was…..sadly lost him suddenly 5 years ago today.
    Keep up the good work….your house looks really nice with all that you have done !

  7. Real life description is great! Great job & yes as we age everything takes longer.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing the “good, the bad, and the ugly”! Any fantasies I had about attempting to tile my own backsplash are gone. Thank you!! It is beautiful though, and you all did a great job. I can’t wait to see it Monday with all your accessories, etc. You and Mark make a great team! 💕

    • Thank you, Roxanne, it was harder than I thought it would be, but so happy it’s finally finished. I just love the new kitchen.

  9. Kaye L Thornton says

    NICE job!!! Thank you for the inspiration to tackle my kitchen. I too would like to replace my old “ubba-tubba” granite with white quartz/marble, as well as the backsplash but just the thought of doing it exhausted me and I was worried replacing the countertops would damage my beautiful maple cabinets. I’m so glad to see this project and know that it is possible. So again, thank you for this post and sharing the ups/downs. I can’t wait for the big reveal!! You and Mark make a great team!

    • Thank you, Kaye, yes just replacing the countertops is not that big a job. The guys doing my install did a wonderful job removing the old granite and replacing it with quartz. That part was easy! I’m so very happy with the changes!

  10. It looks incredible! Good for you both for sticking with it, but also for knowing now that its a job you’ll hire out next time! That’s a hard call sometimes!

  11. Jean from Georgia says

    Looks great. When finished I hope you will share products, colors and total exoenses.. This looks like a project I need to complete at my house. Does Mark hire out?

    • Hi, Jean, I’ll be sure and share all of that, including cost. I know not many bloggers share the whole cost, but I think that’s the transparent thing to do in renovations like this. Haha, Mark does not hire out!

  12. Beautiful! As much as I’m looking forward to learning to tile, I’m equally nervous!

  13. Looks great! Tiling jobs are not for a faint of heart! Yesterday husband and I took out a ceramic floor out of kitchen and laundry room. We rented a machine to rip off the tiles. Yep doesn’t always go as planned. They said it would just pop them up. Well we had bought commercial tiles 20 years ago…. my husband had to take them out in pieces. Then the thin set had to be chiseled off to get to the screws to get the backer board off. His thoughts were never again!!!

  14. You two did an amazing job! My hats off to you! It looks great!! It’s like painting or any project, they rarely are perfect but after a few days you stop noticing your imperfections! I remember attending a wallpapering seminar once and they said “Never wallpaper with your spouse or best friend!” Maybe that adage applies to tiling too? Never been tempted to try it….we would kill each other I know! At least you are both still alive and will be able to laugh about it later.

    • Thank you, Toni, you’re right that was the hard part. Mark got grumpy, but he got over it after the fact, so I’m glad we have nothing to do around here this weekend.

  15. Rhoda, you and Mark did a great job. Two weekends is nothing compared to our timeline, ours would be more like two months. Had to laugh at the can of dog food, you are so “keeping it real”.

    • Haha, I’m all about keeping it real. I didn’t notice that snuck in though. But really two weekends of a mess wasn’t fun, but I know many have gone months on kitchen renovations. It would drive me batty to have it go that long.

  16. My husband and I gutted our kitchen this past summer – like down to the studs gutted! The entire process took a little over two months (we both have full-time jobs), but the end result is gorgeous. It did make me realize, I have no intention of going into construction. Ugh, but that was hard work. I have the deepest appreciation for those with specialized skills. Your kitchen is lovely!

    • HI, Talia, you are right, that would have been a really big project to take on! I commend you for that. I don’t think I would tackle that myself. I hired out the installation of my last kitchen and thank goodness this one was a remodel and not a complete gut job.

  17. Oh, Rhoda, this is such a timely post! My husband kept saying he could do the kitchen backsplash in our new home. He is quite handy with many projects, but has never tiled. I insisted we hire it out and finally he just gave up! The tiler has been by to measure. We had already picked out the tile and just need to take the measurements and purchase it. Yours turned out beautifully, but I fear all the obstacles you and Mark had to deal with would have been a nightmare for us. We should be on the tile guys schedule by next week!
    Thank you so much for the pre-reveal post. The information and your experience sealed the deal for me insisting we get a professional. I admire how Mark takes on a project , no matter how daunting, and sees it through to the end. You two make a great team! Can’t wait for Monday and the reveal 😊

    • Thank you, Kathy! It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad we got it done too. Mark hung in there with me and was a trooper. Although he said, never again!

  18. Rhoda, Beautiful and bright! You and Mark are two ‘tough cookies’! LOL You are to be commended. Now enjoy the fruits of your labor. Have a great weekend, Lisa

    • THank you, Lisa! Yep this one was a tough one, but we hung in there. Mark hung in there, I should say, with a little prodding and oatmeal cookies. that helped too!

  19. You two are amazing. My husband and I have done a lot of DIY projects, but we would never attempt a tile project. The tile looks beautiful.

  20. Kelley Kolpitcke says

    I love all of it and I can’t wait until MONDAY!

    Kelley from Boise 🍀💚

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