we did it ourselves: subway tile backsplash in the kitchen

When we moved into our house three years ago we considered ourselves lucky to be getting a kitchen that we actually cook in, complete with nice countertops, plenty of storage and a gorgeous fridge. But like many things, once we settled in, we realized a few of its shortcomings. One of the most glaring: No backsplash. For some reason the previous owner just never finished that part of the job. Little by little we began fantasizing about what a bit a tile of could do to the space, while watching the area behind the sink slowly get more and more water damaged. Inspired by a neighbor, who was kind enough to lend us a tile cutter, we (or should I say, my husband, Chad) plotted out our next DIY adventure.

1. Measure the space. Measure square footage. When you go to the store this will help them tell you what you need. Buy a little extra.

2. Gather everything you need. We knew we wanted simple white subway tile, so that decision was an easy one. In addition to the boxes of tile, we also bought a scorer and a tile cutter, tile adhesive, grout, sealant, and caulk. We also borrowed a wet saw. The total cost of all materials was about $450.

3. Plot out where you will put the tile.
Make note of where there are curves and where you will need to cut the tiles to make them fit. Remember to use “bull nose” tiles at the ends or on the corners so they have a finished-off look.

4. Cut the tiles that need customization. Chad did this outside, because the wet saw made quite a mess. There is some trial and error, so make sure you have extra tiles on hand and take it slow.

5. Apply the tiles. Luckily our walls were already smooth and drywalled, so they didn’t need much prep work. We simply applied the adhesive on with a trowel, and pressed the tiles into place. Start from the bottom and work your way up, staggering the tiles so the seam of the top is in the middle of the one below. Move tile by tile and be sure you don’t have to much adhesive left behind. Place spacers — little tiles that you wedge between the bottom tile and counter — as it dries.

6. After drying, apply grout.
We waited two days, and applied the grout. We used white grout to keep the palette clean, but chose a dark grey or black if you want a more “vintage” looking effect. Mix the grout in big bucket — it is like flour, and you add water. Follow instructions — it should be the consistency of peanut butter. Glob on the stuff on the side of your trow, pushing into the grooves. When you’re done, take a wet sponge and wipe down. Allow to dry to 48 to 78 hours.

7. Finish with sealant and caulk.
Spray the sealant over the tiles and wipe down. If needed, add a thin line of caulk between tiles and counter.

For more information on how to install your own backsplash, check out this Home Depot tutorial. Lots of stores offer how-to classes as well.

From our partners

I love the look of subway tiles and a clean white is simply the best.

this may seem weird but I really like the orange tea pot and spoon. Nice job

Turned out perfectly. Nice job

I love the subway tiles, so simple but nice!

Perfect, makes it look a lot more appealing. Not there was anything wrong with the plain wall.

I really like those teapots! Tile looks great!

Great job! I like the tiles it goes with your cabinets and drawers. It looks neat plus the light.

Good job, Angela! Your backsplash looks amazing; I love white subway tiles, they are so simple, yet so sophisticated.

Tile adhesives are perfect for DIY project. Bondera Tile MatSet works great for this kind of project. It’s an advanced pressure-sensitive adhesive on a roll that provides an innovative way to install tile, making it faster, easier and cleaner than traditional methods such as mortar or mastic. It repels water, is mold resistant and environmentally friendly.
I really love your articles. Great job!