Installing Diagonal Black and White Checkerboard Marble & Granite Tile Floor

Sun Mar 23, 2014 1:15 pm
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Our house had beautiful oak wooden floors in every room, except the kitchen, adjacent utility room and bathroom. If the hardwood floors had extended into the kitchen, then I believe we would have just refinished those as we did the rest of the floors, and called it a day. But, considering we had 60 year old green linoleum floors in the kitchen and utility room when we moved in, it obviously had to go.


We were planning a facelift remodel of the kitchen; hence no walls were coming down or wiring changes. And quickly, our main attention was turned towards what type of floor to choose. Remembering the goal of the project 1) to see what we could accomplish ourselves 2) trying to prove that you don't need to spend $50,000 to do a great remodel, putting matching hardwood in the kitchen was not a resonable option.

I have always loved the retro look of black and white checkerboard pattern. And considering we were planning a very white kitchen with white subway tile and white cabinets, the idea of a checkerboard floor was very appealing. It would provide major contrast, a nice pop and really define the space.

However the first thing I was thinking of was a classic vinyl black and white floor. After doing quite a bit of research I realized heavy duty vinyl tiles in that style were difficult to find as none of the flooring stores or home improvement stores nearby seemed to carry that. Home Depot did carry a vinyl roll with this pattern where you just would cut the size of your floor, but as we wanted a vertical layout, it would be difficult to cut it right, plus it provided a rather fake look and feel which we weren't that fond of.

Not wanting to give up on this idea we started to explore other options. Next up we looked at black and white ceramic tile at a local tile place. The designs there were really nice, however rather expensive as I believe the square foot price was $16 (perhaps not that expensive, but more than we thought reasonable.)

After pondering this a few days I suddenly started thinking of carrera marble. I absolutely adore carrera marble and was thinking that if we could integrate that into this design it would be rather fantastic. After looking at what possible contrasting options there were, we quickly set our eyes on black granite. This seemed meant to be; so elegant, so timeless, so classic! And, after looking at Home Depot's inventory, not terribly expensive either.

However the one issue with the marble and granite at Home Depot was the surface. They only carried polished marble (12 inch tiles) at the low price of $5/square foot. And while very beautiful to look at, it seemed destined to cause an accident in the kitchen - a bit of water and the whole floor would turn into a slippery ice rink. Not wanting to let go of this granite and marble checkerboard design we started thinking of possible ways of making this polished surface less slippery. Putting a torch to it? Using some kind of chemical? And while we seriously considered those options, it seemed to perhaps be a good idea to look for honed tile instead.

At Home Depot's website we found honed marble for the same low price, but no honed granite. After looking around we found some black honed granite however at a wonderful local tile place, where the price per square foot was more like $12, however in combination with ordering the marble at Home Depot it became a pretty good price all together.

And here we got an excellent example of how much preferable it is to work with local places. Our small-town tile store went through every box of granite before personally delivering it to us (within three days!), actually finding that a few of the tiles were polished and not honed, so they sent those back and brought us the right stuff a few days later. They were friendly, timely and eager to help.

Home Depot on the other hand took a few weeks to get it delivered, and we were just so happy all the marble was in good condition and nothing had to be sent back. So anyway, Home Depot was obviously cheaper, whereas the tile store was more expensive, however the latter was so much more pleasant to deal with, you can really see how it's worth it paying a bit more for better service.

The one thing with marble and granite is that you can't use a traditional tile cutter, instead you need a wet saw. At first we were thinking of renting one, but realizing we didn't want to be in a hurry and that we might do the kitchen first, and the utility room a few days later, it became apparent that it probably would be about the same price, if not cheaper to just buy a wet saw.


We bought a nice unit from Ridgid in Home Depot for about $150, overall it worked great.


The first step in this process was to remove the old linoleum floor. This was pretty easy with a crowbar, floor scraper and a bit of force. We started removing the linoleum in the kitchen and decided to wait with the utility room until we had made some progress in the kitchen.



The thing with working with an old house is that nothing is ever that straight. Even though the walls might look straight, chances are they're not. At first we were thinking of starting to tile at the end of the room. But, realizing it was rather important to lay the tile very straight, or else the room would look crooked, we decided to start in the middle of the room, draw a straight line utilizing our angle triangle and go from there.



We utilized a pre-mixed adhesive which was very easy to work with and made the process a lot quicker than if we would have needed to mix an adhesive. This method was a lot less messy! When you tile a floor, you can't for obvious reasons put down too much adhesive at once, you need to be able to move around etc…


However, when you just put down enough adhesive for three of four tiles at once it becomes difficult to completely control the thickness of the adhesive. And if you don't put an absolutely even layer, then there will be some unevenness in the floor surface. This was something that really proved challenging: to get all the tile evenly put down with the right amount of adhesive so that one side of the tile didn't point up or down. Tiling the walls seemed much easier in comparison as putting down floor tiles proved more time consuming and trickier to get just right.

Another thing that definitely is a bit tricky is to get the spacers in just right. We choose 1/16 inch spacers as we wanted as little grout space as possible, and even though we tried to put the tile down in straight rows, some of the spacers did turn out to be a bit wider than 1/16 inch.


Once we had tiled more or less the entire kitchen we decided to finish grouting it before continuing in the utility room (partly because we had a large water heater in the way in that space and we were waiting to have it replaced by a tankless water heater to free up the space.)


We had learned that we needed to get a non sanded grout since we were dealing with marble and granite. They did not sell any pre-mixed non sanded grout, which we would have preferred, so instead we had to mix it ourselves.


We bought a black non sanded grout and also a mixer head that attached to the drill to mix this thick batter. The tricky thing with mixing your own grout is to get the consistency just right. Because if you mix the whole bag (which we did at first) then you'll end up having way too much left over as it will dry before you get to that part, and if you instead mix about half the bag, then it's difficult to get the consistency right.


And, we realized quickly that it's absolutely imperative that the consistency is absolutely right. When we tried to apply some of the grout that had dried out a bit, it resulted in grout lines that were cracking. If we mixed in a bit more water and reapplied it, it still resulted in the grout cracking once it dried. It was tough to get right. And another thing with applying (black!) grout on floor tile is the mess. When you look at instruction videos online with people putting grout on floor tiles it all looks so neat and they just clean it up with a sponge as they go along. But they fail to mention that with black grout, the black gritty mess just ends up being everywhere! It's indeed really difficult to clean off the tile, and it's such a fine balance. If you apply the grout and then immediately wipe it off with a sponge then it takes half the grout lines with it. If you wait too long, then it's really tough to get out. And as you're doing a larger space at a time, it becomes difficult to time that window just right as to when you clean off the grout.


So, putting down the tile was a bit tricky, however I think that grouting the floor tile was even more tricky… and messy! After we had done the kitchen (at this point the large water heater was gone in the utility room) we disconnected the washer and dryer and moved those, and got to working on the utility room floor.


With the kitchen being only 90 square feet, it was rather important to continue the same floor space and design into the nearby utility room to at least try to create an illusion of more space. We continued the line of the checkerboard tile into the laundry room and repeated the whole process again.


One of us out cutting the tile in the yard, and the other being inside putting it down on the floor.

Putting down a floor like this requires quite a bit of tinkering; there are quite a few cuts to make so lots of measuring to be made. Most of the time we got the cuts right, but a few times it just ended up completely wrong and we wondered what we were thinking when we made the measurements in the first place.

This whole process took us 4-5 days, however in retrospect it feels like it took longer. We were very happy with the result, the only issues we have is at some spots the grout is cracking a bit which we think is due to the grout not being mixed absolutely right. However that is always something that could be worked on later and re-applied.


Once we were done with the endless tiling and grouting and cleaning (lots and lots and lots of cleaning) - we sealed the tile with a sealant we got at our small tile store. It supposedly protects the tile from spills and we did two coats.


It's now been a few months since we did this, so what's the verdict? Well, the floors do look fabulous, absolutely fabulous. They need to be cleaned relatively often and not just vacuumed but also mopped in order to look good. We have not had any experiences with the floor being slippery, so the honed surface was probably a good choice. The only other thing is the floors are hard, I mean we're talking granite and marble so of course they're hard. So far we haven't had any accidents in the kitchen but we're just waiting for the day when we drop a glass that shatters everywhere, or even worse; a cast iron pot that actually cracks one of the tiles. But so far that hasn't happen and we're trying to be careful.


Overall though I think they are great. They look classic, yet a bit retro at the same time. They contrast beautifully against our walls and cabinets and I can't imagine ever getting tired of them.

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