Under Construction – Part 2

Previously on This is an adventure… a slightly clumsy wannabe renovator takes on a messy mudroom closet. Stakes are high with winter fast approaching and nowhere to put her 50+ scarves. Will she complete her project before the work week starts? Will she ever figure out why she loves slate tiles so much? Will her carpenter boyfriend ever let her use his favorite power tools? Find out now, in the long-awaited and riveting sequel to Under Construction.

It has been several weeks since I learned how to tile my closet, and I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus – busy with some big projects at work and adjusting to the dreaded end of daylight savings. But I’m back, and ready to share the conclusion to my latest undertaking. To recap, my mudroom closet needed a major makeover and I was finally ready to tackle this combined renovation and organization project – renovization? Part 1 of the project was focused on emptying the closet and laying the slate tiles down on the floor. Part 2 is all about adding the grout to the spaces between the tiles, and then organizing the space.

To start, I decided to wipe down all the newly installed tiles so I could clean off any cement that was left over from the day before. I love the look of the slate when it is wet – the water brings out all the natural colors of the stone, and gives off this incredible shimmer. It reminds me of some beautiful walks I have taken on rocky beaches in British Columbia; the stones I collect always look like jewels when I pluck them off the beach, freshly soaked by the waves or rainfall. Later, when they dry, they look more weathered and rough. It is the same with my slate floor, so cleaning it can actually be entertaining as I watch the stone’s rich colors reveal themselves foot by foot. (I am fairly certain that sealing the floor might achieve the same thing, but another day, another project, and perhaps another post!)

Alas, the camera cannot capture the beautiful glisten of the stone...but it is really quite the sight

Alas, the camera cannot capture the beautiful glisten of the stone…but it is really quite the sight

Now, a word about grout. Having a home with a person who is capable of doing renovation work has opened up a whole new world for me. Getting to choose the materials for the house is always fun and challenging because the possibilities are endless – it can be overwhelming with the amount of options and I fall in love easily. (The tile! The different samples of wood flooring! The hundred different shades of paint!) So imagine my surprise and delight when I learned about grout and realized that there was yet another material for me to pick and layer in with everything else. For so many years, I took for granted that there was this incredible cement in between all the tiles in the world – little did I know that grout comes in a whole range of colors and completely transforms the way the tile looks once it is dry. All the little imperfections and crooked lines between the tiles always seem to disappear when the grout gets added. It pulls everything together and depending on the color, it can contrast with the tile for a sharp look or compliment it perfectly for something more seamless.

Alabaster grout, how I love thee

Alabaster grout, how I love thee

Given that I think grout is such a glorious material, I’m of the opinion that this is the most exciting part of a tile installation. So when I finished cleaning the tile and everything was dry, I consulted with my handyman before starting. I wanted to make sure that I would get the consistency right and didn’t want to run the risk of ruining the slate by not doing the work properly. Unfortunately, he sort of took over the mixing part but I’m pretty sure I could do it again after watching. This time, he added just a bit of water from a glass and mixed everything by hand with a metal scraper, instead of using the heavy duty drill bit we used for mixing the tile cement the day before. The mixture came together fairly quickly, but he instructed me to wait 10 minutes and let it sit before starting.

Tick tock, tick tock, hard to wait when I was so excited!

Tick tock, tick tock, hard to wait when I was so excited!

Next came the tricky and time sensitive part. The idea with grout is that you are completely filling the gaps between the tile, so you’re supposed to really lay it on thick and spread it around and around until the gaps are filled to the top. Then you need to wipe away the excess grout before it dries onto the tile. Under normal circumstances, the wipe down isn’t necessarily a huge rush, but slate is extremely porous and the grout will just melt in and become part of the stone. I’ve seen it happen on a few tiles in the mudroom, where the grout wasn’t fully wiped off and it is there to this day.

I had to move quickly once this was started so don't have too many action shots...

I had to move quickly once this was started so don’t have too many action shots…

Instead of the ridged scraper I used for the tile cement, this time I was told to use a scraper with a soft material to spread around the grout. This is to protect the precious, precious tile. When the grout was completely spread out and jammed into every nook and cranny, I got a big bucket of water with a sponge and set to wiping away all the excess grout.

Before and After - see how nice the bottom shot looks? Grout. Magical.

Before and After – see how nice the bottom shot looks? Grout. Magical.

After sponging every tile numerous times, I closed the closet door, and walked away. It would be at least another full day before everything was really dry and set. That was a Sunday…three weeks ago, and the door has stayed shut, save for a few times that we hastily tossed some shoes in there. Since completing the floor installation, I have been mentally planning how to organize the closet for nearly a month and this weekend I finally felt ready to take on the final stage of the mudroom closet project.

The floor today: solid, dry, gorgeous with the grout.

The floor today: solid, dry, gorgeous with the grout.

But of course, every project will have its hiccups, and the downside of this one was realizing that all the other closets in my home really do need a major makeover like in the mudroom. Filling the closet was a pretty quick job; it was figuring out what to do with all the leftover contents that were previously living in the mudroom closet that took most of the day. It felt as through I was working on a giant, 3D, real-life puzzle – shuffling pieces from room to room, closet to closet, until I found a place for nearly everything. Now I have added both my office and front hall closets onto my never-ending “To Do” list for the house. Both needed some organization, but the closet in our front hall has a cold draft in the floor – highly suspect.

Front hall closet - oops, a new project!

Front hall closet – oops, a new project!

We’re definitely going to need some insulation work in there, as soon as possible. Ah, the joys of home ownership. At least it is warm by our toasty fire, and the mudroom closet is now 100% winter-ready. I added an old hanging unit from IKEA on the bar in the closet, using 2 sections for dog gear and the other 2 sections for scarves, hats, and gloves. I used the rest of the bar to hang our (mostly my) winter jackets, with hooks handling the overflow of coats that we need to access quickly.

I feel a shiver just looking at those coats...brrr

I feel a shiver just looking at those coats…brrr

Packed for those extra cold mornings

Packed for those extra cold mornings

I tried to keep the floor space as open and clear as possible, because we’ll need room for our (mostly my) boots and shoes, day to day. We have a large plastic bin on wheels with Lily’s dog food, and it fits snugly under the IKEA hanging unit – which is perfect to roll out for easy access at meal time. I also moved a wooden crate into the closet where I can keep all our old towels for wiping down the pup after muddy/rainy/snowy walks around town. We got this beautiful old crate from my man’s grandparents when they moved out of their old house, and I love having something rustic but functional for storage.

Rain boots today, winter boots tomorrow.

Rain boots today, winter boots tomorrow.

I put our trusty first aid kit and a mini fire extinguisher on the top shelf of the closet (safety first!) and left the rest of the shelf clear, assuming that it will quickly fill up with the various odds and ends that inevitably collect in our high traffic mudroom – my purse, his tools – and for now, the closet looks fantastic and orderly. I’ve been sneaking peaks of the finished product all evening and I am very pleased with how it looks: organized and intuitively accessible. Hopefully it will stay that way through the entire winter! My attempts to keep spaces organized don’t always last long, but I think my set up in the closet will help us get out the door easily through the first and last snows over the next few months.



  1. Pingback: I’ve got the blues… | This is an adventure.

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