In a dream world or alternative reality, I think I might be a carpenter, builder, or general contractor. The last five years of my life have been spent with a man who works in this field, and as a result, my passion for renovations and building continues to grow. It is fascinating to hear about his day and the steps that go into things like the construction of a bathroom, or crafting a piece of custom furniture. Projects at home are fun for me (less so for him) because I ask lots of questions and like to understand the process. While I always want to participate, it tends to be a challenge with some of the harder work (I am short, have a pretty small frame, and definitely would not classify myself as particularly strong or athletic). So, the part I play is usually more on the design side – selecting the paint colors, materials, and finishing touches.
I certainly have no problem with our respective roles – shopping for tile was quite possibly my favorite activity in 2011 – but I often daydream about being a super cool lady builder. This remains a running joke at home each time I bring it up; I say I want his job, he laughs and says I wouldn’t be able to carry drywall, case closed.
But, a girl can dream! To prove to myself that I might have it in me, I decided to take on a small project in our home that does not require heavy lifting but does demand some renovation chops. In preparation for another winter in Canada, I need to get the closet in our mudroom cleaned up and ready for our winter gear. The mudroom was a renovation project that included the installation of beautiful slate tiles on the floor and built-in cabinets on either side of the washer and dryer. That was a couple of years ago, and my participation on the project was minimal – I chose the slate and paint colors, and took care of painting the cabinets.
Cut to present day and the closet in our mudroom is a disaster. We ran low on the tile and a real-life job came up that prevented my man from finishing the tiling. The leftover tiles started collecting dust in the corner of the closet. My shoe collection got bigger, not smaller. We got kayaks and started stashing our gear in the closet. We adopted our dog Lily and the closet became a catch-all for everything we wanted to keep out of her way. There was an incident with a nail and a foot this past summer, and now we have a pair of crutches jammed in the closet as well…
The list goes on and on. In short, the project manager in me is just itching to clean out this closet so it can fulfill its potential as the final functional touch in our mudroom / laundry room / doggie hang out. Plus I’ll jump on anything that encourages my love and obsession for slate, as evidenced by my photo shoot for this post.
Since the last thing my man wants to do on the weekend is more of the work that he does all week long, I decided to take matters into my own hands and get this closet finished. This includes the following:
- Emptying and editing the closet. It is time to clear out the random junk and make room for useful things we actually need.
- Cleaning the closet. There are too many dust bunnies in there for my liking, and I need a good clean surface to tile.
- Installing Ditra on the floor. This orange plastic membrane is supposed to help keep the tiles level if the floor shifts.
- Installing the beautiful slate tiles on top of the Ditra.
- Adding grout to the spaces between the tiles. This last step in tiling really pulls everything together.
- Organize! I have lots of things I want to fit in the closet and minimal space, so I need to get creative about where I put things.
Part 1 of the Under Construction project covers my adventures in cleaning and tiling. For some perspective – here is a painfully embarrassing “before” shot of my messy closet. No judgement, OK? For the record, it only got to this level of disorganization when Lily came into our lives and it was clear that we needed to strip the room of EVERYTHING when we left her home alone in the mudroom.
It was pretty easy to get everything off the closet floor and into my office until I’m ready to organize. (Part 2 will cover the top shelf of the closet, which is a whole other battle). At the bottom of the mess, I found a few pieces of slate that were already cut and simply needed to be wiped down. After sweeping out some storm clouds of dust and ancient cement residue, I got the Ditra ready by cutting it to size with an x-acto knife.
The Ditra gets affixed to the floor using cement, and then the tiles are cemented on top of the Ditra. At this point in the project, my man stepped in to help me mix the cement. (I also suspect that he felt compelled to supervise.) He has a nifty tool that looks like a heavy-duty drill, with a drill bit that mixes the cement in a bucket. The whole time we were mixing, I couldn’t help but notice that the cement mixture looked exactly like raw cookie dough – same consistency, only more grey and definitely NOT edible. I’m glad he helped because he was able to mix the cement and water by eye, whereas I would have probably spent 10 minutes trying to measure the perfect water to cement ratio.
When we were satisfied with the consistency of the cement, it was back to the closet and time to get rolling. I applied a generous amount of cement to the floor and used a little scraper to evenly distribute on the empty floorspace. Then, I was told by my professional to use a second scraper with ridges before sticking the Ditra to the ground. The ridges apparently help to make things stick better compared to simply dropping the material onto a flat surface.
Once we stuck the Ditra onto the floor, it was time to start working with the slate tiles. I used lots cement here, making sure that every single little square in the Ditra was full to the brim with cement. On top of that, I added even more cement and brought back the scraper with ridges to make sure there were good raised lines ready for the slate.
The first row was done within minutes – the work went quickly with my professional on standby, giving me guidance each step of the way. When it came time to lay the last tile in the first row, we realized that a few pieces would need to be cut. There was some lively debate about whether I would be allowed to use his tile saw, and I was sadly overruled. Saw use was determined to be off-limits for me, supposedly for my own safety. So, while I was laying down the tile, my man was cutting, and the second row quickly came together with a few more pieces we found in the basement. Because the second row was not very wide, I was advised to apply the cement to the back of each tile, rather than adding to the floor. Things got messy. It was wonderful.
Altogether, it took less than an hour to put down the Ditra and tile. I need to wait overnight before I can grout, but I am already thrilled with how it looks. Having seen a few tile installations in our house, I’ve learned that all the gaps between the tiles look terrible and uneven when the tile first goes down. Things seem disjointed and especially odd with a tile like slate, where each piece is so different and unique in color. But, grout is a magical material, and what looks lackluster today will look incredible tomorrow.
I cannot wait to finish this project tomorrow morning. I can already visualize a basket filled with scarves and hats in the corner and have big ideas for some easy ways to organize all of our odds and ends. Stay tuned for Under Construction, Part 2 – coming soon to a computer screen near you!