Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer and mom of two little ones. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals.
I believe you can love your home just the way it is, AND have the power to design and make big changes to make it better.
I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!

Straight herringbone tile backsplash tutorial

I learned SO much installing this tile!

I've done tiling several times before but never like this! With my mom's help and two weekends of work, I installed about 60 SF of backsplash/wall in our kitchen with affordable white 3"x6" subway tiles, installed in a "straight herringbone" pattern. You can learn from our struggles in this tutorial!

Straight herringbone tile backsplash tutorial

You will need:

  • Standard rectangular tiles (we used the cheapest, basic 3"x6" ones from the big box store)
  • Tile mortar (we used powdered)
  • 1/8" tile spacers
  • Mortar spreader with fine-medium teeth
  • Power drill with mixer attachment
  • Tile cutter
  • Level
  • Rubber gloves
  • Measuring tape and pencil
  • Grout (we used a darkish grey "Pewter" color for contrast) (we used pre-mixed which already contains sealer; if using powdered, also buy grout sealer)
  • Grout float


1. Dry fit your pattern. It may look simple but this pattern confused us several times as we laid it out and it was helpful to have a few tiles spaced out (and an inspiration photo pulled up on my phone) as I put the next tile up. My reminders were "two verticals between each horizontal on the same line," or "left horizontal, vertical, then right horizontal."

2. Establish straight lines for the pattern to start on. Use a level and pencil to draw straight lines around the area where you'll start. It seems like starting in a corner would be easiest, but since the window is at the center of this wall we wanted whole tiles around at least one side of the window, so we started there.

3. Cut spacers. This is optional, since you can use them perpendicular to the tile (sticking out), but I found it helpful to use the three-pointed ones in my corners.

6. Cut some partial tiles. We needed several that were half-size (3" tall), so we measured and cut several of those, but in many areas to match with the grout we actually needed 2-7/8" tall tiles, for example, so cut some custom ones as well. But for the bottom edge where the 1/16" that's within the grout area of the neighbor tile won't be too visible, it was really helpful to have a bunch of halves pre-cut.

4. Mix mortar. (You should really do this outside since the dust isn't great to breathe.) Ours was supposed to sit 5 minutes before use, but dried relatively fast. Once you mix it, you have to move fast! Mix smaller batches at a time.

5. Spread mortar around a small area, using your straight lines.

It's okay to spread mortar directly onto the tiles for the edge pieces, rather than get mortar all over the part of the wall you aren't tiling.

7. Lay tile around edge (or starting area). Press hard to tiles are fully adhered!

8. Working out from the first row or column, lay tiles in the herringbone pattern matching your example. Away from your straight lines, you can use a level after the first few pieces. Put spacers in between each tile to ensure future ones are straight (and you can spot check with the level regularly).

It takes quite a while!! But you've got to work relatively fast, since the mortar dries in the bucket and after you put it on the wall. Leave blank areas for tricky pieces, like we did at the top where we had to cut just a little off the long pieces which is trickier.

As in, don't put mortar on the wall where you're not ready to tile yet. See where I scraped some off?

Unfortunately our tiles didn't fit full pieces around all of the window, so we had to cut some lengthwise and some short ends.

9. Cut awkward pieces. Since you can only cut tiles in straight lines, you have to make three cuts to create u-shapes like to go around outlets.

Here I cut in half, cut in 2/3 (up/down), then cut a tiny thumb. This is obviously not ideal since the lines will show, but was kind of my only option here. (Also--tiled walls make for great use of "jumbo" switch plates which are 3/4" wider than standard ones and cover more mistakes!)

Make sure you leave all of the switch plate metal exposed and not mortared over for future fitting.

I found this very old, dull chisel to be useful for spreading mortar in small areas, and I used this old plastic floppy mortar spreader since it was flexible and easier to hold than the big one with the handle. I also started mixing mortar in this small old yogurt container to make the smaller batches easier!

10. Wait about 24 hours for mortar to dry. It dries faster on smaller tiles, by the way.

11. Prep for grouting. Tape off painted areas. Cover counters, floor, etc. with tarps/plastic since the grout will get everywhere.

12. Spread grout onto tiles/into gaps using a grout float, flexible spreader, or other tool. For wall tile I found the grout float was very frustrating and ended up making big balls of grout fall onto the floor faster than other methods like the small spreader, where I applied grout to specific gaps, and my fingers.

I even found this plastic bag with corner cut off was useful for applying in some lines.

13. Gently wipe grout off as you finish smallish areas at a time, removing most of it from the tiles but keeping it intact in the gaps.

When grout in gaps is dry, do another wipe/scrub-down. (I did the big wall first, so was able to clean it first.)

14. Remove tape and tarps. You can see my taping job was not perfect and we will still need to touch up paint.

15. Caulk at countertops using a waterproof/kitchen/bath caulk. (Careful--that stuff is super sticky and messy going on. Use a thin line to start.)

16. Touch up paint (we still need to do that!)


We were so excited to get our tile done so we could install our shelves and vent hood

Installing the shelves over the tile was actually super easy! And much faster than tiling. :P

Oh, and you can read about our butcher block countertops here! We installed those, too.

The pattern is so cool! We have a small, simple kitchen so I think an interesting pattern and dark grout really add to it without being too fancy.

So happy the kitchen is coming together, and what a change it is from when we moved in!

It was a little trickier to think about than a standard subway tile, but I absolutely recommend straight herringbone to anyone looking for a fun, modern pattern!

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