Rock this wall

I like blank, plain walls in the kitchen. Uncluttered and simple. If the paint is the same colour as every other wall in the house, even better.

Crap! I am not even kidding myself, here.

We have a very nice kitchen, but those walls are just a glaring bore. I guess I won’t be binge-watching Downton Abbey this weekend, after all. Instead, it is off to Home Hardware to see what they have.

That’s where my day job is, so I knew exactly who to ask: Tracy Oakden, the manager of kitchens, flooring, and appliances. She has been in this business for 26 years. “When I first started, it was carpet and lino, and there was a little bit of tiling,” she says. “Just a little bit … occasionally.

“Now, tiling has increased and increased over the years as people realize its durability and when they find out it is not as difficult to do as they think.”

Hmmm, we could go with just a funky paint, or sheets of metal, but I like the warmth of natural stone. My wife, however, likes the bling of glazed tiles or glass. “Mosaics,” is Oakden’s Solomonic answer.

“They have the stone and the glass in it. “They are getting more popular as they have the bling and the natural look about it.” Or we could go with 12” X 24” tiles at an angle, she says. Keep the grout darker and the lines small so that stains won’t show up.

But the mosaics are on a mesh, so they are easier to shape around outlets and light switches. She recommends a pre-mix adhesive that will allow me to move the pieces around a bit before it sets.

It sounds easy enough, but I am still intimidated. I will, literally, be building a rock wall in my kitchen.

Fortunately, my colleague, Gary Hope, agrees to help out even before I had a chance to get down on one knee. Besides being a friend, he had never installed one of these mosaics before, and he wants to guide his customers better.

So, the night before, I painstakingly staple the trim to the wall. Seeing this border made it all seem possible for the first time. First thing the next morning, Gary and I are smearing on the adhesive and placing the Coffee Vienna mosaic — on the wall.

Well, really, Gary was doing it mostly. But he soon had me running to the garage to cut a few pieces on the wet saw. Then he had me put some sheets up. What a rush! It is the closest I’ve ever come to giving birth! I was creating life here!

The kitchen is transforming right before our eyes, and there wasn’t even grout on it yet. That would happen in a few days when Tracy came for dinner. She would help grout after enjoying a plate of Daisy’s lasagna, featuring lots of spicy Italian sausage. It was a fair trade.

Tracy expertly spreads the grout. After trying a section out myself, I realize it is pretty difficult to screw up this job. If there is a gap, you just go over it again. If you get grout on the tile, heck, the grout is all over the tile anyway. We just needed to keep sponging it off with clean water.

Tracy was glad to see the trim already up. She says the one common mistake people make is that they tile, and then ask about trim. For those who don’t have good friends or colleagues to help out, Tracy will be teaching a tiling course in late March or early April.

Students will practice on a mosaic the first night and then, on the second night, they will install a real back splash in a real kitchen, from start to finish. “I love teaching tiling,” says Tracy, who has also taught tiling for the City of Whitehorse and Yukon Women In Trades. “I love it … I like to inspire people.”

To sign up, send her an email at [email protected]

Our wall is now finished and it looks spectacular. Who knew a back splash could be a work of art? “It’s not just a splash guard anymore,” Tracy says wisely. 

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