In August my wife and I flew out to Seattle to spend a week helping our daughter with her four-year old and 7-month old boys while our son-in-law was out of town on a business trip. This was actually the first trip by plane my wife and I had taken together this year and we started it off right by having one of the best lunches I have ever had in an airport at a real sit-down restaurant in the International terminal at the Atlanta airport (our connecting airport).
This was also my fourth trip to Seattle since my daughter and her family moved there last year and each one of these trips had been most fun. But this one was to be a different trip.
Coinciding with our visit was a project my daughter and son-in-law wanted me to do while visiting—tiling the countertop in their kitchen.
When my daughter and her family moved to Seattle last year they bought an almost 100 year old home in northeast Seattle that was within easy biking distance of our son-in-law’s faculty position at the University of Washington. The kitchen counter original to the home was one made of concrete.
As can be seen in the photo above, while the countertop proved to be quite sturdy, almost a century of use had left it eroded in some areas. My son-in-law patched up some of this before I came out but unfortunately attempts to also level out the countertop proved unsuccessful as the leveling material did not adequately adhere to the surface when applied in thin layers (the top slopes down to the sink on both the left and right sides). I discussed the best renovation approach with my son-in-law before he left town and in the end we both agreed that even a sloping tiled countertop would be a significant improvement over its present state. We also talked about three challenges we would have and possible approaches we could take: cutting tile around the faucet, cutting tile around the four curved corners of the sink, and cutting the 45 degree angles for the counter front edge. These challenges would worry me the entire week and even invade my dreams in the middle of the night.
On Sunday, we did get to spend some time with the whole family while getting their photo made on campus and also got a chance to play with and hold this little fella.
Monday morning, I began the task of laying the tile. In addition to the poor condition of the countertop, the fact that the cabinetry was not quite square or plumb presented additional challenges in trying to figure out where to begin. In the end, I decided that the only features I could reasonably rely on for making the tiles look square were the centerline of the faucet and the front edge of the countertop.
Measuring a line over from the faucet, I began to trial-fit tiles but when I laid them out towards the front edge; found that I would have a very small cut tile right at the edge of the countertop. I knew this would not look right so I decided to have the small cut tile at the back of the countertop instead. This meant I had to locate the first full tile pieces up against the counter edge while ensuring the tile grout lines would line up with the grout lines of the backsplash tiles. I couldn’t line the tiles up with the front edge tile because they were six inches long instead of the 4.25 inches of the tiles. To ensure the grout lines were all aligned, I spread thinset out to attach these twelve tiles at the same time so if minor tweaks to the alignment were necessary, they could be moved before the thinset dried.
With those twelve set and with three more against the front edge, I was able to attach the top and bottom backsplash tiles. And that was all I could get done on Day 1.
Tuesday morning, after getting to hold this fella for a little while…
…I continued to attach the bottom edge of the backsplash across the back of the sink so I could align tiles on the left side of the sink.
But then I realized that I would have to continue the counter front edge pieces across the sink before I could attach any tiles on the left side as they all would have to butt up against the counter front edge.
The front of the sink was one of the areas that was most eroded and one which my son-in-law had had a difficult time patching. He and I on Sunday had discussed using these counter edge pieces for the inside of the sink as well and so it took me the rest of the day to carefully cut these twelve tiles and glue down about half of them while being watched by a young, curious spectator once he got home from summer camp.
After two days, even though it didn’t seem like much progress had been made…
…I was all smiles when my daughter said she would give me the night off so we could walk to a local microbrewery for a hard-earned beer.
…I began to make better progress having precut a number of pieces the day before and by lunchtime, had installed a number of tiles.
Because of the erosion on the concrete countertop, I really had to allow a couple of hours drying time after setting tiles to make sure the ones that I installed next to them didn’t shift the previously set ones. But having made the transition across the sink, I was able to work in several places at the same time so that by the end of the day, things were looking up.
To Be Continued…