Tiles and tribulations

Tiles and tribulations

I love blue tile. Since childhood, I've dreamed of the bright, decorative tilework that's common in Central America. This look is achieved with encaustic -- i.e., cement -- tiles. I was warned that cement tiles are difficult to install, but I was determined to have a colorful bathroom floor. Despite several challenges along the way, I'm pleased with the outcome (final photos at bottom!).

By sheer luck, patterned cement tiles recently came into fashion in the US. This gave me plenty of inspiration for how to incorporate that style of tile into our home, as well as many tile options. Of my four favorite options (below), I chose the large navy hexagon in the last photo. The hexagon tile is designed locally and sold by Da Vinci Marble in Redwood City, as part of the "Indigo" line.

Unfortunately, neither our general contractor nor his tile layer had ever worked with cement tile before. I discreetly contacted a few tile companies to see if I could get someone else to do the job, but none had worked with cement tile either. As a result, a few things went wrong.

Problem #1: Moisture

Unlike porcelain tile, cement tiles arrive unsealed. In this state, they easily absorb water and stain. Our contractor left the tiles outside... and it rained. The tiles became blotchy and striped.

The color should have returned to normal once the tiles dried completely, but they were so soaked that they weren't fully dry when they were sealed. Once sealed, the remaining discoloration is permanent.

Problem #2: Grout

Modern cement tiles should be installed with a very narrow grout line, to avoid interrupting the cross-tile pattern. You can see the full star pattern in this photo, taken before the grout was set.
 The (unfinished) bathroom, before the grout.

The (unfinished) bathroom, before the grout.

The tile layer instead put a thick white grout, similar to how he installed the white subway tiles. This turns the grout into its own design element and changes the pattern.

Finished floor!

Despite these problems, the finished floor is still beautiful in all of its imperfect glory. The tile really carries the room.

 The finished floor.

The finished floor.

 The unfinished bathroom, with the finished floor.

The unfinished bathroom, with the finished floor.

The rest of the bathroom needs to be finished (vanity, shelves, fixtures, accessories...), but at least I've got my blue floor!

Sneak peek: the Nook

Sneak peek: the Nook

Nursery paint color

Nursery paint color