My Love Hate Relationship with Herringbone Tile

Oye. This one was been a doozy. Yeah, I know, I’m supposed to say how easy this is, and that all you have to do is pick up a trowel and you’ll be well on your way to the chicest bathroom known to man. At least that was what I was envisioning when we started this project. Turns out, there were a few more twists and turns along the way 😉 After 12 straight hours of slaving away, this is what we had to show for the tile laying portion of the project. It moved SLOW. Slow as molasses.

Herringbone Subway Tile Install
Herringbone Subway Tile Install

After doing lots of measuring and using the level to make sure we were marking the lines correctly, we decided to start the pattern right in the middle of the tub surround, just seemed like the best place to start. That being said, this did land up requiring a lot more cuts than we had with the conventional, brick laid subway tile, and you are less likely to be able to use the scraps, more on that later. The red line up the middle marked the very center of the tub, which helped us keep the pattern centered. The horizontal line was to keep everything level. In theory … 😉

How to install herringbone subway tile
First Tile!

In addition to putting one line up the side for the border tile, we also used the level to put a line all the way around the tub surround to make sure that the pattern was staying at a consistent height throughout. We did this namely after realizing that our tub was in no way level (lovely) so we quickly realized we would not be able to use it as a guide.

How to install subway tile
Creating a Level Line

On our first house, we had laid down subway tile in the conventional pattern, like brick laying, example here. Very basic. Quite straight forward. I wanted to up the style factor a notch in this bathroom and do a herringbone tile, and although I knew it would be harder than the basic pattern we utilized last time, I thought it wouldn’t take quite so long. For starters, I knew that we did a few things considerably more correct this time around with some of the prep work (referenced here and here), so in all honesty, I thought that would eliminate some of the issues we bumped into this time around. Probably our MOST noticeable boo boo came in the form of a hacked off tile. Since Jay didn’t work straight across, but rather started at the bottom, and had tiles creeping in from both sides, we found that when we went to place one row of tiles, it just didn’t fit. Yikes! Case and point below:

How to install subway tile
A Case of the Misfit Tile

Ummm, yeah. That wasn’t good. After putting our heads together on it (ok, it wasn’t THAT calm, he he) we decided to just let er’ be. With the way this pattern is laid, it was really hard to tell that there was a difference in tile size, unless you took a measuring tape up to it. Jay kept telling me – look – it’s just like an optical illusion, no one will ever notice! 😉 At this point, we were just willing to accept that some things wouldn’t be perfect. After this case of the mis-fit tile(s) we were definitely EXTRA diligent to check every.single.row to make sure it was level on all accounts, since we wanted to avoid reliving that whole kit and kaboodle, if possible.

How to remove mortar from tile lines
Mortar Time

Another lesson learned the first time around is to not to put too much mortar on the back of the tile, since it will seep out and cause issues with your grout. Last time, there were little bumps up in the grout lines, were you could see dried mortar through the grout. This looks really bad in my opinion  so we made a hard core effort to minimize excess mortar this time around.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the play by play on how to actually DO the herringbone tile installation (cuts, etc) and some AFTER pictures! :)

3 thoughts on “My Love Hate Relationship with Herringbone Tile

  1. Oh, wow. You are brave. The results look great, though, despite the mortar issues. Man, how many times have we been there? “Oh, this project will totally work out….” Hang in there. :)

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