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

fantasy backyard: imagine telling camp stories around a fire bowl!

We’re in love with the idea of having outdoor fires in our backyard, even though we don’t really have the appropriate patio-space that may be required. That doesn’t stop us from dreaming! These new MIX fire bowls from EcoSmart are sure lovely. Highly functional and elegant, MIX Fire Bowls can be easily switched on or off and relocated wherever ambiance, heat and the light of a fire is needed. Graceful bowls made from weather-resistant concrete, these freestanding fires allow you to put a flame where ever and whenever you need it. Fueled with bioethanol, an environmentally friendly, clean burning and renewable energy source fuel, they provide over 8 hours’ usage. With the clean design comes a no-mess factor — no ashes or soot to clean up. But isn’t that part of the fun? The MIX fire bowl is available via, starting around $1000.

From our partners

my first raised vegetable garden: maybe I overdid it…


There were so many alternate headlines I could have used here: Lettuce — rejoice and be glad! Lettuce eat! Lettuce entertain you! The point is, I’ve learned something already about vegetable gardening: just because you really like a certain vegetable, doesn’t mean you have to plant every last start.

I wanted to start small (ha) so I started just two kinds of lettuce indoors: arugula, which is my favorite, and Batavian Full Heart endive, just because I got the seeds free from a friend. I used Root Riot seed starter cubes and just kept them warm and watered and lit by a standard flourescent tube light. I was so excited at how well the lettuce took off, you could say I went a little overboard with my planting. I didn’t choose only the hardiest looking starts, no sir. I was so itching to put something in those beds, I planted ALL of them.

This, as you may imagine, is not advised. The photo above is of one day’s harvest, and I had at least eight times that much all told. It turns out arugula is a super-fast grower. Ooops. From mid-May on, we have been eating a lot of salads, to be sure, but I also became the local neighborhood lettuce pusher. Stopping by to say hi? Don’t leave without a bag of leaves! Oh, you garden? Let me pull up this entire plant to give you — no wait, how about four?

After a few weeks of this, I pulled out more than half the lettuce to make room for some other plants. Nothing else is ready for harvest yet, but I am experimenting with several varieties of tomato (they have flowers, yay), some scarlet runner beans, broccoli romanesco (why not), and even a couple ears of corn. But I have planted a very, very reasonable amount of two to four each.

P.S. Here’s a photo of our raised beds with the lettuce in mid-grow. The beds are built against a retaining wall in a little-used, oddly shaped lower section of yard. We’re using branches from a neighbor’s fallen tree as plant supports.



From our partners

indoor gardening: are cacti the new succulents?

We went through an air-plant phase. Then, terrariums. Then, table-top succulents were all the rage. All did wonders to bring a little green to our indoor spaces, and appeal to our modern, kitschy sensibilities. But recently we’ve noticed that trendmakers are starting to turn their well-manicured thumbs towards brightly colored catci arrangements, reminding us of a beloved plant from a long ago. Remember when every office had a little cactus sprouting in a pot? True, in certain spots of the country, cacti never go out of style — but we’re here to declare they’re in again. Because they don’t need much, other than sun and the rare sprinkle of water, they’re perfect to liven up any dreary space. We especially love the ones shown here, discovered via the UnCovet blog (above) and A Beautiful Mess, below.

Here are a a few tips on how to care for your indoor cactus plants, but remember: Those thorns are prickly! Use gloves and proceed with caution.

Related links:

Steal This Idea: Succulents in Bricks

From our partners

deck before-and-after: no more splinters!

The straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back was when Isadora’s BFF Sophie got a splinter in her foot. This has become a common event in our home due delicate bare little feet and a back yard deck that is past its prime. When it is our own girl, we just grab the tweezers and muscle through the splinter extraction … but with Sophie, that was not an option. The girl wouldn’t sit still to save her life, so we sent her home early, teary-eyed and limping. The next week, Chad started investigating our deck options. At first he thought merely flipping the boards would do the trick. After testing a few, we sadly discovered the underside of the wood was not much smoother than the top surface. Our current budget and life-improvement-plans do not allocate for a brand new deck, so we went for plan B: Lets paint it. We debated using a traditional stain, but wanted something that would literally change the texture of the deck under our feet. After much debate, we went with a product called Behr Deckover. (We considered something called Rust-Oleum Restore but that seemed a bit more heavy duty than we needed.) Soon we began to embrace the fact that our deck would no longer look like wood, and instead decided to embrace its colorful future. We chose a slate grey for the floor and a pale grey for the railing. The resulting effect reminds me of a traditional Cape Cod feel. Chad also mixed in some sand with the paint, which gave it a bit of grit. That way the texture is not slippery, even when wet.

To complete this project, our deck had to be sanded, and then three coats of Behr Deckover were liberally applied. With all the rainy days we had recently, this took about a two weeks to complete. At $35 a gallon, the total project cost us about $280.

From our partners