Border Patrol

A few weeks ago in the post I dubbed “The Call of the Wild,” I mentioned the black border I had planned around the perimeter of the bathroom floor. At that time, and in the weeks leading up to it, it would be fair to characterize Tim’s enthusiasm level for my vision as maybe a “2” on a 10-point scale: “tap cold,” though admittedly not quite a “fresh-out-of-the-fridge-dispenser-1,” or, a “solid-ice-0.”

In the intervening time, he’s finished up the rather extensive job of tiling the walls: 3 of them, including the longest one in the room, are tiled almost floor-to-ceiling with 4 x 8” Carrara marble. “Almost,” because anchoring the entire perimeter of the walls, in the first row along the floor, are larger 6 x 12” Carrara tiles, topped by half-round “pencil” molding, to form a baseboard. He also did a lovely job on a soap and shampoo niche in the shower, finished with the same pencil molding, which has a shelf. It’s set so the lower portion is accessible to someone who might be showering while seated, and the upper portion will be the right height for someone standing.

I’m trying to make this bathroom all about accessibility (though my grab bars still haven’t arrived). The concept of accessibility was the first of several battles we fought over the plan for this room, but a few key skirmishes cascaded from my audacious accessibility plan: widening the doorway; having a roll-in shower (which came along with its own set of special challenges); making the shower head a height-adjustable, removable, hand-held on a vertical bar.

As Tim rolled into the homestretch on the wall tiling, though, he abruptly changed his tune about my crazy notion of the black marble tiles around the border of the floor. He was actually excited about it, and, while I was slightly mystified, that didn’t stop me from pointing out that a few weeks earlier, he’d thought this was the stupidest idea ever. Suddenly now, he thought this was going to look really cool. (Um, yeah . . . that’s why I wanted to do it?) Go figure.

All good, because we were more or less roped into it at this point anyway, with him having laid down the rest of the “field” tile for the floor weeks earlier, leaving an empty space around the perimeter which would now be impossible to handle in any way other than, well, installing a border. I guess we could have used the 6 x 12” Carrara tiles as the border pieces, but I also had 2 boxes of that black marble, called “Nero Marquina,” sitting here waiting, and they were special-order, so there was no returning them. (I didn’t tell him that part).

So, last Tuesday, he began cutting the border tiles, which were also 6 x 12,” to dry-fit them into place. The border isn’t fully 6,” so there was a lot of cutting to do, and, as I’d done with the ribbon board around our front porch several years ago, I insisted on mitered corners – a small detail (and another thing we initially argued over), but one that would matter in the end, even though there would be 8 of them to deal with in this room (2 extra because of the shower, and 2 more extra due to a little jog on the left side of the doorway).

The field tile on the rest of the floor has a black and white basket weave pattern – the same floor tile we used in our master bathroom. I had decided on black grout this time, both because it wouldn’t discolor under traffic, and because it would make the basket weave pattern pop. Tim’s experience told him that he wanted to cut the perimeter edges of those tiles in such a way that only white tiles were at the edges, making for a clean line around the entire border. That was fine, but it meant that the size of the border would vary slightly around the room – there was no way to lay the field tile in such a way that the border would be exactly even around the entire room (unless we’d built the room to fit around the tile, which was not only silly, but impossible). With that, every border tile had to be cut to size for its own individual spot. Tim labeled them as he cut and confirmed their fit. Every complementary angle at the miters was also unique, and I don’t think a single one of them was the typical 45-degrees you’d expect at a mitered corner.

With all the cutting and fitting complete, we had one more hurdle to jump: the Nero Marquina tile was *slightly* thicker than the basket weave field tile, so we had to figure that out. Having a little edge sticking up around the entire perimeter, *especially* at the doorway, would be a problem – an open invitation for chipping. At first Tim thought he’d be able to pitch the thinset inward, making it slightly thicker/deeper at the walls, and angling the border tiles down to where they met the basket weave tiles. The theory proved better than the reality though, so that idea was abandoned after 2 or 3 tiles. The only option remaining wasn’t pleasant: grinding the tiles down to the right thickness. Hours of work ensued, but finally, every tile fit the way it needed to, and, just yesterday, in they went.

Tim spent today working on the sheetrock, smoothing the walls and ceiling, cutting and installing the window trim, and touching up the grout on the walls. Now that he has his sheetrocking stuff out, he’s going to hang the little bit of it that’s been missing around the doorway from the hall into the dining room. Neither one of us knows *how* long that’s been showing its skeleton of studs and header, but we’ve gotten so used to it that it will probably look really weird when it’s finished.  I’m so accustomed to that hallway being partially torn up, in fact, that I was shocked today when Tim asked me what color I wanted to paint those walls. I had completely forgotten about those. Back down to mom’s to (re)borrow my Benjamin Moore paint fan.

The floors will need to be cleaned (of course) and sealed (maybe not-so-obvious) before grouting, to prevent the black grout from staining the Carrara in the basket weave tile. That might happen tomorrow. Then the walls will get their paint. Maybe, just maybe, by Hump Day next week, we’ll actually be installing fixtures.

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