Trudy and Gary's Outrageous Bathroom Project
July 2007

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When Trudy and Ian arrived in early July, I had been scrambling to get as much done on the guest bathroom as I could. I'd managed to get the floor tiled and grouted, and the toilet installed. I'd also managed to put the tile down on the counter top. But this was my first experience doing tile work, and I was still in the apprentice stage. I still am. Anyway, I'd botched the grout job on the floor, as I hadn't sealed the slate deco strip before grouting, and it was pretty washed out. I hadn't grouted the counter top yet, and I hadn't put up the "tile" on the backsplash.

All of this was late because I'd had trouble picking out tile. Every tile selection in the house has been a slow, painfull process. Amber and I found it difficult to find things we liked, and now that I was alone it was no easier. I had spent several weeks trying to find something I liked for the counter top, and eventually decided the thing I liked best was the same stuff I had in the master bathroom upstairs. I even had some of that left over... but not quite enough. I went to my favorite tile store in Missoula, Pierce Flooring , where my favorite sales person, Craig Court, did some sleuthing and figured out what the tile was. Unfortunately, it wasn't made any more; and there isn't any stock left anywhere that he could find.

I tried to convince myself something else would work, but I kept coming back to the tile I already had, but didn't have enough of. Then I realized I did have enough -- I just had to find some way to make an interesting highlight in the two full tile places I was short. I had lots of parts of tile to fill in around the edges.

I decided a couple of animal tracks would look great, this being the land of animals of sorts. I had a good tile saw with a good diamond blade on it, so I sliced up some river rocks and got just the right pieces I needed for a mountain lion track and a grizzly bear track. With that ready, I waterproofed the countertop plywood, put thinset on, and screwed down the cement board. Then I put the tile on; it looked great.

Since I didn't have enough tile to do the backsplash, I had also decided I'd make it out of a "deco strip" of rock. Except that I now didn't wand just any old deco strip. Lions and bears are part of what makes this part of the world what it is, and I wanted the deco strip to be the same way. So I decided it should be a white river wandering around between colored banks.

So when Trudy and Ian arrived, I had the counter top tiled but not grouted, and an idea of what I wanted on the backsplash. Since I had just discovered I could slice rocks myself, Trudy and Ian and I went out rock gathering. I'd slice them up, and Trudy arranged a nice pattern on a board where we'd drawn the outline of the backsplash.

Then we mixed up the thin-set, and transferred the stones one at a time to the backsplash.

It looked great, and the next day we grouted the counter top and the backsplash. Trudy did a much better job of grouting than I did, and I learned a bit watching her.

Trudy and Counter Top
Trudy Finishing Grouting the Counter Top

The next step was to pick out tile for the bathtub / shower. I had some ideas, but couldn't settle on anything, so I dragged Trudy to town in 100+ heat to look at tile. We picked some out and ordered it, and while we were waiting for it to come in, Trudy experimented with vinegar and an acid wash to fix my botched grout job on the deco strip on the floor. She did an outstanding job; then we sealed it up and it looks great now.

While we were waiting for the tile to come in, we discussed what to do to break up the expanse of tile in the shower -- it's a largish surface, and I thought it would be too much tile if that's all there was. A perfect case for a deco strip... While we were thinking about that, we got to talking about how cool it would be if the river on the backsplash just sort of continued on to the shower... and then we waved our hands around and decided it would be really cool. I had to go to town the next day, and when I got home Trudy had a doll-house sized miniature shower enclosure made on the back of a piece of paper, folded up into a 3-d enclosure with a great river meandering across it.

Before we could tile the shower, it needed to be water-proofed. So we troweled on some bright red water-proofing. Then we taped up some butcher paper and more or less copied Trudy's river from her miniature to the wall. We took the paper down and spread it out on the basement floor, with cardboard as a stiffener underneath... it was loooong.

I spent the next few days slicing rocks, while Trudy prospected for more rocks and started composing the river by placing them on the paper template. Eventually, we had enough rock, and finished the composition.

The big day had arrived. We divided the expanse of river into three sections, one for each end and a long one across the middle. We cut the paper away above and below the stones on the template, and used those pieces to transfer the outline to the shower walls. Then we took two long sticks and put them under the first section of cardboard, and carried the stones on their cardboard stretcher into the bathroom. I mixed up some thin-set, and troweled it on between the lines for the river on the wall. Then one by one Trudy handed me the stones, making sure I stuck them on the wall in the right place. It took a couple of days, but in the end we had a river wandering across our red shower.

Stones on Shower wall
Stones on shower wall

The tile came in, and we went to work putting it up. There were little 2" x 2" pieces for the deck around the tub; we got them on fairly easily and they looked great. Then we stuck up the first couple of rows of big tiles on the walls, and then we were at the bank of the river. We traced the outline of the river on each tile with a compass / log scribe, and I cut the outlines as best I could on the tile saw. It took quite a while, but eventually we got enough cut to do the next row. It took a few days, but eventually we were up to the last row at the top, which we couldn't put up until I got the tiles for the ceiling.

We got tile for the ceiling picked out and ordered, but it hasn't come in yet. There's still a little more to do, but the majority of it is done, and certainly the hardest part. And we all love it! Thanks a bundle, Trudy!

Trudy and Gary and Shower Trudy and Gary and Shower Shower Shower
Ta-da! Almost completed Shower