New floor and shower tile will give your bathroom a totally new look. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to retile your bathroom, Nole Garey of Oh So Beautiful Paper will take you through the process, step by step.
Nole also knows how to combine design styles like a pro. You’ll see that in her complete bathroom transformation. Nole honors the historic charm of her 1920s row home, while staying true to her modern taste.
With the help of new grout and tile, Nole’s bathroom is brighter, more modern, and timeless.
How to Retile a Bathroom
We’ve been wanting to retile the only full bathroom in our 1920s row house pretty much since we first set foot in our home. Our neighborhood is filled with historic homes and lots of period details, so we wanted tile and finishings that honored the time period of our home while also incorporating details that reflected our own modern taste. Our previous bathroom featured dark slate tile around the tub and shower and turquoise walls, which made the entire bathroom feel dark and cramped despite the bright color.
For our bathroom renovation, we chose a gorgeous Grecian white octagon marble mesh-mounted mosaic tile for the floors and a classic white subway tile to go around around our shower and bathtub, with bright white grout throughout. The result is a gorgeous and timeless new bathroom that we love – and that suits the character of our home.
Here’s how we retiled the bathroom.
Tools and Materials
- White Premixed Thinset Mortar
- Fusion Pro Grout in Bright White
- White Subway Tile
- White Bullnose Subway Tile
- Grecian White Octagon Marble Mesh-Mounted Mosaic Tile
- 12 x 12 Carrara Marble Tile
- 4-in. Marble Threshold
- Brass Tile Edging
- ⅛-in. Tile Spacers
- 2-in. Hole Saw and Drill
- Laser Level
- China Marker
- ¼ x ¼-in. Notched Trowel
- Wet Saw
- Table Saw
- Rubber Grout Float
- Tile Sealer
- Microfiber cloth
- Bright White Caulk
- Rubber Gloves
- Tile Sponges
- Drop Cloth
- Painter’s Tape
- Tape Measure
- Tile Shims
Lay out your subway tile pattern before you actually start tiling. This may sound like a given, but we ended up going with a slightly different pattern than we had originally intended after laying a few tiles out. In the end we chose an offset ⅓ pattern for our subway tile. So instead of centering the tile joint in the center of the tile below, our tile joints were offset at 2 in. from the tile below, with the offset pattern repeating on every other level of tile. Take your time on this part; measure and mark all your tile with a china marker before you start and you’ll save yourself a lot of headache down the road.
Use your level (preferably a laser level) to draw a 3-in. line on the wall above the tub to give yourself a level starting line. Don’t assume that your tub or floor is level!
Our contractor gave us the tip of laying a ½-in. plywood board down to protect the tub, which has the added bonus of serving as a step stool when you need to tile the upper sections of the wall. We also recommend using painter’s tape to protect the top of your tub from thinset and grout, especially along the edges.
The edge of your tub probably has slight slope to it, to help drain water away from the walls. Make sure you align the tiles to your straight line and not to the curve of the tub.
Apply a thin amount of thinset to the back of each tile and apply to the wall, starting in the middle of the longest wall and working your way out in each direction. The most important thing is to make sure that you have a level first row, so take your time and measure frequently!
Continue tiling all the way up the wall, using a wet saw to cut the tile when necessary and a hole saw to cut circular holes for the plumbing. Use ⅛-in. tile spacers to create an even grout line, and tile shims when needed to maintain the levelness of the tile line.
Use damp sponges to wipe away any excess thinset before it dries. And change your water frequently! Simple wooden shims are great for scraping out any extra thinset from between the tiles. You want those spaces to be as clean as possible so you can seal them up with grout later.
We used bullnose tile to cover the corners around the tub walls, then tiled the outer edge of the tub and shower alcove using a straight set tile pattern. Those little wall sections are only about 6 in. wide, so it didn’t make sense to try an offset pattern there. I was worried about losing the offset pattern there, but the straight set pattern actually makes the tiny wall feel wider.
When you retile a bathroom, you’ll want to lay the marble mosaic tile out ahead of time to figure out how all of the sections would fit together. Our house was built in the 1920s and doesn’t have a single 90 degree angle anywhere in sight, which means that our bathroom door and tub are angled slightly towards each other. We chose to align the floor tile with the door – as the visual and physical point of entry – rather than the tub, which meant that we started the floor tile right at the threshold and worked our way out towards the rear wall.
We began with a strip of brass tile edging to mark the transition between the marble mosaic tile and the marble threshold. This brass edging is so slim and delicate, but it’s probably my favorite detail from the entire bathroom and it creates a beautiful and clean line between the threshold and floor tile.
Luckily, the brass tile edging couldn’t be easier to install. Just trim the brass tile edging to your desired length using a table saw. The brass tile edging comes in different heights, so just make sure you purchase a height that matches the thickness of your floor tile.
Apply a thick layer of thinset to your waterproof floor board (we used Wedi board), and firmly press the marble mosaic tile and brass tile edging into the thinset at the same time. Continue tiling around the room. You’ll want to let all the thinset dry for 24 hours before you start grouting.
We used Fusion Pro grout, which doesn’t require sealing, but if you’re planning to use natural stone tile you’ll definitely want to seal the tile before grouting. We sealed both the marble tile that we used in our shower niches and the marble octagon mosaic floor tile prior to grouting.
Apply grout according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We chose Fusion Pro grout in Bright White for our entire bathroom. Apply the grout in small sections, approximately 20 square feet at a time. Spread the grout with a rubber grout float to fill in all the spaces, then hold the float at a 45-degree angle to scrape up any excess.
You’ll want to work in small sections, stopping every 3-4 minutes to wipe away excess grout and shape the grout joints with a damp sponge, again changing your water frequently.
Then finish by using a microfiber cloth to wipe away excess residue. Allow 24 hours for the grout to dry completely, then caulk around the tub, the corners of the tub alcove, and any places where tile meets the wall or ceiling.
Using Colored Grout
I had originally planned to use a gray grout for the shower alcove, but once we got all the tile up on the wall I realized that a gray grout would make our already small bathroom feel even smaller. The Bright White grout helped brighten the entire space and make it feel nice and open!
We ended up using two one-gallon buckets of grout for the entire bathroom, and I was so happy to find that there wasn’t any color variation between the two grout buckets. And the best part is that Fusion Pro grout is a proprietary formula that is stain resistant, easy to clean, and never requires sealing. Look how great the tile looks with what bright white grout!
The bathroom layout didn’t change at all; the tub, toilet, and sink are all in the exact same spot as they were before. Even though it’s our master bathroom (and the only full bathroom in the house), it’s a fairly small room and we decided that the existing layout made the most sense for the space. But it’s amazing how a simple change in materials can make a huge difference even with the same layout!
The lighter tile and bright white grout make the entire space feel brighter and bigger, which is huge for a room that receives zero natural light. Bathroom renovations are a lot of work, but the result is a timeless and elegant bathroom that we’ll enjoy for years to come!
Nole Garey is the editor of Oh So Beautiful Paper. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, DC.