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How to Design Five-Way Wall Tile

Here's how to mix different tiles for a sophisticated look.

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Step 1: Make Sure the Floor is Level

Before getting started, check to make sure the floor is level. If it is, set spacers along the floor to define the gap between the concrete and the first row of tile. If the floor isn't level, draw a level line to serve as the baseline for the tiling job.

Tip: Any wall will look fabulous after tiling with five different types of wall tile -- but that great look takes a lot of careful design work. It may be best to consult with a designer to come up with a tiling plan; anyone wanting to mix tiles in this way should get a good idea of the final effect before starting installation.

Step 2: Dry Fit and Cut the Tiles

Dry fit the first row of tiles to get the best layout. It's a good idea to install a whole tile at the far end of the wall. Use a wet saw to cut tiles as needed to fit the tile layout. We used limestone tile for the bottom row of this elaborate tiling plan.

Step 3: Back Butter the Tiles

Back butter the first tile by spreading mastic on the back of the tile with a V-notched trowel. Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the tile, and use the notched edge to leave ridges in the mastic. These ridges create a suction effect to hold the tile to the wall and also allow the mastic to dry more easily.

Step 4: Set the Tiles Into Position

Set the first tile into position on top of the spacers or baseline, wiggling it slightly and pressing it to the wall. Continue to back butter and place the tiles, using tile spacers in between for a consistent grout line.

Step 5: Apply Pencil Tiles

The next row of tile consisted of pencil tiles. Since these were the same width as the limestone first row, we started them at the same point so the grout lines would line up. Back-butter and place the pencil tiles in the same manner as the limestone tiles.

Step 6: Apply Pebble Tile

To set the pebble tile -- the next tile above the pencil tile -- use the trowel to spread mastic directly on the wall. Hold the trowel at a 45-degree angle to the wall and leave the same ridges in the mastic. Press sheets of pebble tile to the wall, wiggling the sheets slightly to help them adhere to the mastic. Butt the sheets as close together as possible. At the end of a row, remove excess tiles from the sheet to fit the space and cut away the excess mesh backing with a utility knife.

Back butter and install another row of pencil tile above the pebble tile.

Step 7: Fill in the Gaps

Go back over the pebble tile to fill in any gaps with loose pebbles. Back butter these pieces and press them into place.

Step 8: Create a Running Bond Pattern

To set the slate subway tile, spread enough mastic to install a few rows at a time. Start with a full tile at one end, then install a half-tile on the row above to stagger the grout lines. Maintain this pattern – called a running bond – up the wall. We topped this field of tiles with another row of pencil tile, then a chair-rail tile.

Let all of the mastic cure completely according to the package instructions before grouting.

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