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!

How to lay medium-sized square tile: Tutorial and Week 3 One Room Challenge progress

We are more than halfway through the 6-week One Room Challenge! We are making great progress on our bathroom reno AND I have a tutorial for you today, with some great tips on how to lay the type of tile we used.

New here?

If you're new to this blog from the ORC site, welcome!! I'm Suzannah, a longtime DIYer and design lover currently making over our 1937 Tudor revival style home, our second fixer-upper. I have a 2-year-old and newborn, but my husband and I have done almost all of the work on our homes ourselves! I've blogged about all of it so you can check out my tutorials page and room reveals to see. You can also follow along with me and my projects on Instagram! I also co-host the Your Home Story podcast!

See all my posts about this ORC here! And see:
I absolutely believe that tiling is one of the top 5 essential DIY skills! I have done it so many times now and every time it makes the room feel so much more intentional and high-quality. I love using a real tiles, and it is not that much more expensive or that much harder than alternate methods which may not last as long.

I’ve used mosaic tiles (small tiles that come attached to ~1 SF sheets), large hexagon tilessubway tilessubway tiles in a unique pattern, and square tiles. They all have their pros and cons! I often recommend mosaic tiles to new tilers, because they are more forgiving, but I really like the ease of cleaning larger tiles. Plus, patterned tiles (which are often medium-sized square) can make such a great impact!

We used patterned tile in our en-suite bathroom at our last house, and they really made that room exciting. In a space with white walls and other neutrals like a white toilet and sink or vanity, something fun on the floor is a really great way to make a permanent statement, which has more authority than painted walls, as a way to add color.

But, with that project at our last house a couple years ago, I made a couple mistakes and I learned some things. This time around, I wanted to do an even better job laying these square tiles! The ones we chose are 8", which I think of as a medium size tile. It’s not tiny like the ones on mosaic sheets, which allow for more imperfections in the mortar or tile board underneath, but it’s also not massive like some of those 12"x24" tiles, which I’ve never used but look harder to work with.

So, here’s a tutorial sharing what we’ve learned for laying medium sized square tile!

How to lay medium size square floor tiles

You will need:


Note that this is not a tiling tutorial in general. You’ll still need to learn basics like repairing the floor and using the right floor surface under your tile board, applying your tile board or other products to go under the tile, and mixing the mortar.

1. Check your corners for squareness. Most rooms are not exactly square, so if you have an angle that’s much bigger than 90 (you can tell by holding the square tile up and wiggling it side to side), you will need to choose which wall will be straight. In a very crooked room, you could end up with a triangle of a tile at the very end of a row. Probably, it’s fine, and any crookedness will be crooked gaps will be covered by baseboard, but you still need to choose which wall will be your straight one. In our case we had very little crookedness but we chose the back/window wall to be our square line to be level from.

2. Dry fit the tiles lengthwise and width-wise across the room to make sure that you won’t end up with any awkwardly sized fragments. If you’re using a wet tile saw, you should be able to cut really really small pieces, but you may not want to if you’re not that comfortable with it. So if you space your tiles out dry, but using spacers, and find that you need a tile piece at the end that’s only 0.5" or so, you may want to start your row with a tile that is cut in half. 

As you can see, we spaced ours out and saw that at the end of this row, we would need about 2/3 of a tile, a totally respectable size for cutting.

3. Beginning at the back corner of the room, begin laying tiles. I recommend using a spacer against the wall on either side--we did not do this here because Jason was doing the actual labor of the tiling after I gave instruction and went downstairs to take care of our two kids, and he forgot. :P This is more important with the flooring material that flexes, like wood or laminate, so it’s really not a big deal here, but it does just give you a little bit more flexibility in case some tiles are very slightly larger or there are bumps in the wall.

MOST IMPORTANT tips for using larger tiles (anything larger than mosaic): make sure your mortar is nice and smooth, and really stick to the trowel for spreading the mortar down so that it's evenly spread across the floor. If you have any clumps of unmixed mortar, or places where it's way thinner or thicker, the tiles can crack after it dries!!!

For efficiency, if only one of you is tiling and cutting, you can lay all of the whole tiles at once before cutting any of the partial tiles. Just make sure that you don’t leave any mortar on the tile board outside the tiles that you have laid, because once it dries it’ll be really hard to remove when you go back and mortar and lay the partial tiles. We tried this method this time and it worked well. It’s also a nice way to split up tiling if you have enough time to do it over two days--that way you only need to get the tile saw out once. Do note that you won’t be able to walk on the tiles for quite a few hours after laying them, so unless you have access to all of the room from one point, you will need to wait to get that back corner first cut tile to measure and lay it.

4. Measure and cut. This method works for any shape of tile, but is easiest with squares! To determine how big to cut the partial tiles, rather than measuring with a measuring tape, I like to flip the tile over upside down and hold it up between the full tile on the wall, with a spacer as a guide. Then mark the back of the tile at that point. When you flip it over, the opposite/right side will be the right length to fill the opening!

With these large tiles, it also works well to number them. In a perfectly size room, with perfect use of spacers and all exactly the same size tiles, all of your edge pieces would be the same. But, in the real world, you may have a 1/4" of difference from the first when you cut to the last one you got (or more). So, number the tile board and the backs of the tiles with a Sharpie so you can keep them straight. This also helps you remember which side of the tile you wanted after you cut it!

5. Grout. Same as you would with any tile. Yay!

Then, ready for baseboards and the next steps!

These photos about catch us up to our current progress--we installed baseboards and beadboard, and plan to install the toilet and sink next so we have them working again. Then we'll install the top/chair rail above the beadboard, and the ceiling trim.

I am still not sure if I'll paint the beadboard white to match the doors and window trim, or if I'll paint all of it a dusty teal!

Excited for our progress!

Thanks for following along! Subscribe to my blog by entering your email in the black box on the right ("GET NEW POSTS BY EMAIL") and see all the posts about this ORC project hereYou can also check out the ORC blog for the rest of the 6-week challenges! There are 20 featured designers plus tons of other guests like me!

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