I love the look of cement tile. I’d love to cover a whole wall with them. But this is an extreme budget-friendly makeover, meaning it’s the most affordable way to satisfy my aesthetically driven sensibilities. So I’ve been looking for ideas that are doable, beautiful, and cheap.
When I saw this photo online from Fixer Upper season 3, I thought it fit the bill perfectly. It has all the things I love—all white cabinets, high contrast, it’s rustic, casual, and I thought I could achieve the look mostly using paint and swapping out our builder-grade island for something more warm and rustic. (We found one on Craigslist with a butcher-block top.)
I read around online and saw that some people were using stencils and paint to achieve the high-drama look of cement tile. So I ordered a stencil from Cutting Edge Stencils that matched the size of the tile I was going to be painting over. I used Fabiola in 12 x 12. This made lining it up easier because I could follow the grout lines, plus the added texture of the tile and grout hints at authenticity.
I dove in last Friday night, figuring I only had the cost of the stencil and 8 oz. of chalk paint to lose (about $30.) I’d already painted my backsplash a flat white that matched my cabinets. You can read about that here. But after I did two stencils, I felt pretty deflated.
I heard the “wa-wah” horn in my head when I looked at it and could envision the words “nailed it” across this picture in a Pinterest-fail article. You can’t mimic a renovation that costs thousands of dollars with one that costs tens of dollars and have it actually look good, I told myself. But, shrug, I felt like I owed it to the design of the stencil and my small investment in it to at least connect a few tiles together.
Also, I learned that stenciling on texture is really difficult. I’d sprayed my stencil with reposition-able adhesive glue, but I was getting tons of bleed through, even with the smallest amount of paint. So I was going to have to use my stencil as a guide and trace the outlines with a pencil and paint the edges by hand using a small-tipped paint brush. It sounds so crazy, I still can’t believe I did it. Why do the best cost-saving solutions require a complete devaluation of your time? Here’s a picture my husband snapped of me and put on social media. It was as uncomfortable as it looks.
But the look was coming together, and I felt like the friends who saw the picture were cheering me on.
Chalk paint worked great for adding the color, because it’s so flat and hides brush strokes. The color I used is Relic, and I got it at Hobby Lobby. The matte Polycrylic protects all my work from oven splatters and clean up.
Now that it’s finished, I really love it. Much more than I thought I would. It’s been the most satisfying DIY project I’ve done in a long time. It felt like a risk aesthetically to put such a big, bold pattern in such a prevalent place and to invest so much effort in doing it. But, big sigh of relief, it worked.
Here’s a close up. (No I didn’t paint under my cabinets. I’m not that crazy.) You can see it’s not perfect, but it’s authentically hand painted, with the irregularities and charm that come from hand-made objects.
Here is a picture of the kitchen the day we moved into the house, showing what it looked like before we changed anything. When you compare what we have now with where it started, our tens of dollars transformation is looking pretty good. Choose your point of reference, right?
I will show a full-island picture once I decide if I’m going to alter the look of the lower half, which has cherry wood. We plan to build a cover over the aluminum vent hood that will extend to the ceiling. I’m not sure how we’ll do that, what shape it’ll be, or if I’ll try to copy the look of dark metal, like in the inspiration photo. We’d also like to eventually replace our black electric stove with one that’s gas and stainless. Then there’s the countertops. Still hunting down an option for those that’s doable, beautiful, and cheap.
The inspiration kitchen only has the cement tile on one wall, and my plan has been to cover the other backsplash area with shiplap. But given the differences in configuration between my kitchen and the inspiration kitchen, I’m not so sure. Suggestions welcome.
If you have questions or countertop suggestions, send them my way. Thanks for reading!
PS: I applied a white wash over the tile, which toned down the contrast and worked with my existing counters better (photo below). Read more about that here: