|Posted on Sun, Mar. 10, 2002|
|Creating floor art on pauper's budget
Mosaic tile border unleashes creativity
BY TRISH RILEY
Special to The Herald
Times were lean and the carpets were shot. They needed to be replaced but I was barely making enough to feed the family.
Having just gone full-time as a freelance writer supporting two kids in the 'burbs, I churned out about 10 stories a week -- mostly unexciting news about homeowners associations and PTA meetings. I had achieved my dream of being a writer, but there was little room for creativity at the bottom of the chain. I sat at my desk and imagined myself creating art on the floor. During the wee hours, this was my great escape.
But in the interest of resale value, I was advised to install plain, neutral tile to replace the carpet. The professional estimate for the dull solution was $3,000 for 500 square feet. Much too mundane for me, as well as too expensive.
I was itching to exercise my pent-up artistic energy. I thought back to the wild floor in the 1927 Deco-style bungalow I'd owned in my hometown of Indianapolis years ago. Why couldn't I create the same sort of crazy pattern in my little Sunrise-on-Weston row house, where homes have that carbon-copy sort of anti-style?
''You'll have to rip it out when you're ready to sell the house,'' doom-sayers said. I should live in bland anonymity indefinitely in case I ever have the chance to blow this 'burb? Forget it! I decided I could find an appreciative buyer when the time comes.
And so I set about gathering the supplies, free pieces of broken tile, and the knowledge, until finally I was ready to rip out those smelly old floor furs and renew my home with a masterpiece of a mosaic floor.
Broken tiles randomly laid were all the rage in the 1920s, and the mosaic technique has resurfaced as a trendy look in flooring over the past few years. The confetti-design work is tedious and can be expensive when hiring professionals, but it provides a great opportunity for saving money if you've got the time to do it yourself.
I found several ways to cut costs -- not the least of which was the labor of friends.
With free labor and cheap materials, I managed to tile for $614.30, and a week's worth of dinners for my friends. Looking back, I think of it as Zen and the Art of Tiling .
The do-it-yourself approach differs greatly from the write-a-check approach. Not only do you have to learn how to execute the project, you must manifest the tools and supplies from nothing. You undertake a quest -- you must become one with the project.
Surprisingly, tile dealers are quick to offer miscellaneous pieces of broken inventory -- for free. Broken tiles are perfect for mosaic work.
''People come here every day to collect our trash,'' said Tim, a warehouse worker at D&B Tile at Sawgrass in Sunrise. He pointed to the dumpster with a smile. ``Help yourself.''
At another distributor in Hollywood, workers gladly filled my trunk each time I stopped by. A little beer cash and they even called me when they had collected a nice selection. Be aware that tile is quite heavy, and can put a burden on your auto tires and transmission. Don't take too much at a time.
The real coup came after a few weeks of tile collecting. I was shown to the back lot at Tile International in Dania Beach, where piles of tiles had languished for what looked like years in the sun and rain -- unwanted, forgotten, just waiting for a floor to call home.
I negotiated a price with the manager, and paid less than 25 percent retail cost. I scarfed up a stack of about 300 beautiful pink tiles -- exactly what I'd have selected if I were hiring the job out. I also bought a few other tiles, royal blue and turquoise, at the same price.
I splurged on $100 worth of bright yellow and flat black tiles, then plotted a 20-inch border of broken tiles to line the walls of my living and dining rooms, with the pink in the center. There were enough pinks left over to work them into the border along with the blues and the neutrals I'd picked up for free.
Everywhere along the way I picked brains. Hardware stores seemed to have the most knowledgeable staff, and Home Depot offered a tiling workshop periodically. Dave Hutchinson is the instructor at the Davie store every Saturday at 9 a.m. The class lasts about two hours and covers the tools and products needed for the job and sometimes a demonstration, depending on the size of the crowd. No need to register in advance.
''Just come to the back of the store with an open mind and leave with a head full of knowledge,'' says Hutchinson.
Check your local store for times and details.
Inexpensive versions of trowels and grout floats are fine. As both will probably be shot by the end of the job, they're not likely to become part of your permanent tool collection.
I'd never have accomplished the task without the generosity of friends. I also had the advantage of teen labor. My son Bud, then 16, and his friend Seth Schmer of Davie worked as diligently as any of the adults on the job, staying up until 5 a.m. one day to finish grouting.
At 8, my daughter Rachel was resistant to change, so didn't get involved until later in the game, when she could begin to see the fruits of our labor.
For all their help, my friends were treated to pizza, beer and sodas for the better part of two weeks. We worked evenings, after our day jobs and school.
All good things take time. Don't be disappointed when the job takes longer than you anticipated. We thought our floor would be done in four days, but that simply was not possible.
The first step was to move furniture out of the way and remove the old carpeting, a dirty job for the strongest of helpers. After tearing out the carpet, we removed the tacking strips that held it in place, then swept and mopped the concrete floor. That was one evening's work.
Next we tackled the important task of measuring and marking the floor, using blue chalk lines to find the center. Tile is laid from the center point and out so that it meets the walls evenly. Consult an expert on technique -- this is a tedious task but well worth doing right. Again, a good night's work.
Begin laying tiles in the center of the floor. Spread a thin layer of thinset (adhesive), then prep it with a trowel before affixing the tile to the floor. Keep the tiles in a straight line, following the chalk lines and using tile spacers to keep them from slipping too close together. Perfection is important, but don't obsess over tiny flaws. It took us two days to lay the 500-square-foot area, leaving a 20-inch border all around for the mosaic.
Laying tiles in a mosaic pattern is a much more time-consuming process. It took us about an hour to put down two feet of border, adding up to several days for the entire room. But don't let your enthusiasm sag -- this is the point where the project becomes very zen-like as you carefully select each piece to fit the puzzle you're creating. It can be calmly rewarding. This was the point that drew Rachel into the project. The kids enjoyed doing their sections, working little pictures into the patterns that only those in the know will ever recognize.
We learned that professionals work hard for their money, but the task gets better with practice. It's a good idea to make a trial run on a small patio table, and it would be wise to start the floor mosaic in an obscure corner (instead of a doorway, as we did).
Two weeks and lots of help got us to the end of the mosaic, which fills the hallway completely and frames the floor in the main living area.
The result is magnificent with only one drawback -- now I can never leave my little starter home. I'll be stuck in the suburbs for life.