DIY Home

A Simple DIY Tile Transformation with a Big Impact

When we bought our house last December, we didn't have grand renovation plans. The house—situated on a quiet street in a tiny town on the North Fork of Long Island—is more than 120 years old, but happily, we liked most of that character. The previous owners had added a new wing with a modern kitchen complete with radiant-heat slate floors and floor-to-ceiling glass windows where the light streams in.

For now, we only use the house on the weekends, so we intentionally searched for a place that we loved mostly as-is. Later in life, I'll happily take on a place that requires major reconstruction, but that's not what we wanted. There's plenty of little projects on our list to make it feel like home: Buying furniture, making a gallery wall, building raised beds for our garden, and so on.

There were, however, two major elements to the house that I hated. The living room floors were a garish and shiny yellow wood, and the kitchen had walls of multicolored glass tile. We live right on the water, and I envisioned a sleek color scheme of all whites and pale greys with some pops of color.

We solved the floor issue by bleaching and white-washing the floors (more on that project another time). The tiles proved to be trickier. I researched endlessly, Googling "how to paint glass tiles" and spending far too long on home design blogs.

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No one seemed to have a definitive answer as to whether you can DIY a project like this. Most people opted to rip out the tile and replace it. I knew that was a plan B, but I figured it was worth trying to remake the tile myself (an easier, faster, and cheaper route) first.

I finally stumbled upon a few resources. Bloggers were hesitant to recommend painting tile, as it gets complicated in a kitchen environment. First, you need to make sure your paint will adhere to the tile, which is harder to achieve with glass tile. Second, you need to make sure that your paint won't flake off when it's exposed to heat and steam (as your stove backsplash is), and that it's easy to wipe down and clean from all the oil splatters and kitchen messes.

Some people advised me to use some pretty toxic products to clean the tile before painting it. I was reluctant to do this, and frankly nervous about going about it the right way. So before I bought anything, I stopped in our local hardware store. The guys who work there are such gems. They give excellent advice and are incredibly knowledgeable. I highly recommend visiting your hardware shop, if you have a small local one, and just asking questions when you're stumped on any kind of DIY project.

They told me that I didn't need those specialized products, but I learned that it is crucial to carefully clean and prime your tile. If you want to be very detailed about the project, you can use sandpaper to "scratch" your glass tile, which will help the paint to adhere. I didn't do this step, because I wasn't searching for perfection here, just a nice-looking, neat-enough outcome.

Here's How I Did It

First, clean your tile

As the guys told me, you don't need to get crazy about scouring it, but it should be as clean as you can get it. I used a water and vinegar solution first, then a basic tile cleaner, and then water. Let it dry completely before moving on.

Next, prep your tile

Buy a roll of wide painter's tape and carefully edge all your tile with the tape. I draped all my surfaces with drop cloths so that any drips of paint wouldn't stain my kitchen counters or stovetop. If you want to sand your tile, now's the time to do it. Use a fine-grit sandpaper and rub it firmly all over the surface. Again, I skipped this step and still loved the outcome!

Third, prime your tile

If you're going from a dark tile color to a light paint color, like I did, you'll need a few coats of paint. The first coat is a primer: I used Zinsser 1-2-3 Bullseye primer, which is great. Paint an even coat of this all over your tile. Let it dry completely. I suggest allowing a few days for this (don't plan to use your kitchen for a week on this project!).

Next, apply your first coat

When choosing paint, I always ask at the paint or hardware store for advice. I choose a white gloss paint from Rust-Oleum, but there are plenty of great options. Paint over your first coat, but don't worry too much about keeping it perfectly even. Do the best you can, and the subsequent coats will even it out.

Finish with final coats

I needed three coats of paint to really even out the color, and despite that, you can see there are plenty of places where it's less than perfect (but hey, that's life). You'll likely need fewer coats if you're using a darker color of paint.

While the project takes time and effort, it's really affordable and far simpler than having to rip out all the tile and replace it with something like white subway tile! If you like the look of white subway tile but hate your current tile, don't despair, just DIY! Although it isn't as precise and perfect as new tile would have been, I feel such a great sense of accomplishment at having created the look with my own two hands.

I highly recommend visiting your hardware shop... and just asking questions when you're stumped on any kind of DIY project.
Posie Harwood

Questions? Wondering how to do this yourself? Let me know in the comments and I'll happily provide any insight I can offer from my (admittedly amateur) experience.

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