Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ceramic Mosaic: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose

In 2007 I refloored our house. And by "I" I mean my wife, my mom, and me. We tiled approximately 1000 square feet. It was the first time I had ever installed ceramic tile, and as I cut the pieces that needed to be cut and broke pieces that made me angry, I was left with a pile of ceramic discards that I couldn't quite bring myself to throw away. I looked at the pile, my mom looked at the pile, and inspiration hit.

Pantry floor with mosaic threshold
We had a pantry and a closet that needed to be tiled, and I really didn't want to make all of those cuts. So I decided to free form mosaic floors for each, a la Frank Lloyd Wright. These two closet floors became my favorite part of the entire project, just in front of the mosaic thresholds that my mom and I did. I do believe that the artistic tile work was a significant selling point when we moved.

I still had tile pieces left over, so I kept them. Now let me set the record straight. I am not a pack rat. I do not have closets and closets of junk that I just can't bear to get rid of. I do hold onto things when I have a vision for them, and when I might possibly have a vision for them in the future. Or when someone else might have a vision for them. Don't look in my workshop.

Mosaic transition threshold
In addition to the tile pieces, I had two footstools that didn't fit in our house. My wife and I made the footstools years ago. I built the boxes, and she upholstered them. I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate them in our new house. Then it hit me - I could pull off the cushioned, upholstered tops and make side tables with storage for our patio. I could use the tile pieces left over from the tile project, along with some other broken tiles that were left in our new house, and let my inner mosaic beast out.

So here's what I did after removing the fabric and cushion from the top of the footstools, being left with a bare plywood top.
My mom's piece de resistance

  • Step 1 - Lay out the design with no adhesive. Figure out how the pieces will fit together. Move them around until you get what you're looking for. Break large pieces with a hammer as needed. This is also a great chance to bring kids into the project. Give them the rare thrill to smash tile, as long as they know this is a one time shot and they should not begin to smash tile in the house with a hammer. (Please be sure you are wearing the proper safety equipment, including gloves and eye protection, when smashing pieces of ceramic tile.) 
  • Step 2 - After finding the layout, transfer the pieces off of the plywood and onto the floor, keeping them in order. 
  • Step 3 - Mix up thinset mortar according to package instructions. Spread the thinset onto the plywood with a notched trowel.
  • Step 4 - Transfer your pieces. This is the part that can be frustrating. Due to slight shifts, the pieces will not be exactly the same the second time around. That is okay. The world will not end. Life will continue. Consider this an opportunity to smash more tile to find the tiny pieces to fit into your large spaces that you originally didn't have.
  • Step 5 - After the thinset cures, use a sanded grout to finish the piece. 
  •  Step 6 - (Depending on the piece, you may not need to do this step). With the tabletops, I needed a border, so I used composite lumber, hiding the edges and giving the tops a tie-in to the garden beds in my yard. 
    Mosaic tabletop
    Mosaic tabletop #2

My family put together a lot of puzzles when I was growing up. Inevitably, at least one of us, and more often several of us, would hide a piece, wanting to be the one to put the last piece in the puzzle. Mosaics are kind of like a puzzle with many possible solutions. With no one correct

solution, you can finally be the one to complete the puzzle.

So take that, brothers!

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