Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Tile that Binds

Given that Ma'ikwe and I are working seriously on our relationship—and throwing everything into the effort—I reckon it's only fitting that this week we added the kitchen sink.

More precisely, the two of us have worked hard since Tuesday to install a tile countertop around her kitchen sink. We're using 4"x4" Talavera Mexican tiles, which are soft fired with vibrant glazes. While mostly we're using a mixture of solid colors (we especially love the orange ones), we have half a dozen tiles with a lizard design interspersed randomly in the field, and it makes for a very up-tempo kitchen vibe. Andale arriba! The energetic Latin colors help brighten a sink area that is otherwise tucked into a dark northeast corner, away from natural light.

One of the special challenges of tile work is cutting pieces to fit the layout, which mostly needs to be done ahead of time (so that you're not racing to and from the tile cutter after the mortar bed is combed and good to go). While the counter is a simple L-shaped design, we inherited a 3/4"-plywood substrate that wasn't not quite square, and one leg that features a natural black locust post (read round) that pops through the middle of the counter, requiring custom nibbling (fortunately, as an experienced—if amateur—tilesetter, I own a tile nibbler). 

More challenging still is that the 4"x4" dimensions of each tile are "nominal," which is the manufacturer's hint that any relationship between the listed dimensions and the actual ones is casual. While the tiles for a given color are (blessedly) uniform, it turned out that the deep red ones are only 3-7/8" on a side, while the metallic orange ones are a proud 4-1/4," with other colors falling somewhere in between. As you might imagine this makes for some quixotic spacing. Once we were able to embrace it as "artistic expression" and managed to let go of the rectilinear imperative, we were fine.

Fortunately, Ma'ikwe's neighbor Bear loaned us his Makita grinder with a 4-inch diamond blade and it was just the ticket for free-hand cutting the tiles that needed trimming. By laying the tiles today (in thinset mortar with a latex admix), we'll be able to grout tomorrow and show off our handiwork just in time for Ma'ikwe's big 43rd birthday bash Saturday night. (Her actual day of nativity is Feb 6, but we can draw a bigger crowd on the weekend.) It's always fun to have some show-and-tell at a party.

Best of all, Ma'ikwe and I enjoyed working together and we didn't force the work faster than it was ready. Though we had originally hoped that the tiling would have been finished yesterday, we never lost sight of the prime directive: do quality work and enjoying the journey. Whew. 

Now if we can only learn to do our relationship like that… deliberately crafting something useful with vibrant features and enduring bonds.

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