The Project House – Tile update part 1

January 23rd, 2014

Usually when you build a house, you don’t source your own tile – you go through your contractor or builder. And if you want anything custom-looking, you pay way more than you should. However, we are doing our home build as a “Cost-Plus” build. This basically means that we pay our builder/contractor a flat rate to build/subcontract the house, and then all the bills/invoices are paid by us without any sort of mark-up. This has several benefits, one of which is that we can provide anything (or any subcontractors) that we want for the house and at the end of the day there isn’t any sort of credit/allowance issues that we have to deal with. It basically gives us complete artistic freedom to do anything to the house and any changes/upgrades etc without having to deal with logistical issues. For us creatives, it’s the perfect way to build a house. We have total control over the spending, materials, and subcontractors, but we don’t have to actually manage the build, pay invoices, or make sure people show up. It also allows us to do some serious budget shopping to save money in areas where people normally spend the most.

Anyway, back to the tile… When we were in the design phase of the build, we visited a local tile design center. We happily looked through tile samples and found 3 that we liked a lot for the kitchen backsplash. The sales associate looked up the price on her computer, and the tile that we liked best was $93.00/sq. ft. No misplaced decimals… 93 bones! It was fabulous tile, but not even remotely close to our budget. I knew I could find something else that worked just as well for a fraction of the price. I started searching online, and went to several online tile retailers to see what the prices and selection was available.

It’s interesting buying something like tile online. Unlike things like 2x4s and drywall, finishes for a home are an emotional/design purchase. You want to connect in someway with the surfaces that you are going to interact with on a daily basis. As a creative person I’m completely picky about my environment, so I have to be 100% happy with the products going into my home. I was a little nervous about the prospect of buying my tile online, but I figured if I could look at sample tiles, and save a lot of money, it was worth the risk of possibly being dissatisfied and having to look elsewhere. I’ll tell you right now, that I have been so incredibly impressed with the style and quality of every tile product that I ordered. Even Mr. Project, who is very hard to impress, has commented numerous times on the quality of the tile that we ordered from BuildDirect.


When I came across I found exactly what I was looking for. They had a great selection of 12×24 floor tile that I wanted for several areas of the house. They also had white subway tile, glass subway tile, and even 12×24 sheets of white marble – all the classic items I was wanting to put in my home. And the best part was that the prices were better than I’d seen at the other online stores (in most cases by a lot). I ordered some free samples (first 5 are free including shipping!) and I was so impressed with their tile samples, and customer service that I knew they were a perfect fit for our build. Knowing that their product was perfect for the look and style of our home, I took a chance and contacted them about being a blog sponsor.  They were excited to see a big project like our Project House unfold in real time, and we worked out some details to make it all happen. Throughout the whole tile process (ordering, receiving, ordering more last minute, quick shipments, and installation etc), I’ve been impressed over and over again by their great customer service, and quality of product. I really could not recommend them more, and not just because they were kind enough to sponsor my blog, but also because I know that if you order tile from them, you will have a great experience.

Okay so really, onto the (drool-worthy) tile.


About a week after ordering my tile, I started to get boxes… and palettes (I ordered a lot of tile). Getting your first box is always the most exciting, and my first was this GORGEOUS ice mist 3×6 glass subway tile. I was really nervous about this color – I decided on this tile at the last minute and didn’t have time to get a sample. So I was just crossing my fingers that the color was correct. The color that the BuildDirect website shows was a little more green then I was hoping for, but I decided to just go with it and hope for the best. When I got the box and opened it, I jumped with joy because the color was absolutely PERFECT. Seriously perfect. And for a designer to say a color is perfect means a lot. If you’re looking for a great ice-aqua color glass tile, this is the tile for you. I also ended up ordering the same tile but in 4×12 for the boy’s shower/toilet room. I haven’t received it yet, but it should be here in a few days.

The next day I received this beautiful Marble Basket-weave tile. This tile is so beautiful in person. I love mosaic tile, and really love how the basket weave mixes just a little contrasting black into the pattern. I also was excited to find a basket-weave in marble as most of the ones I’ve seen are porcelain.



Maybe an hour after receiving the basket-weave tile, a truck pulled up with 2 palettes of tile… thats a lot of tile. Nearly 3000 lbs!


I could hardly wait to open it and see what it all was. It was seriously like Christmas!


After carting (literally using a hand cart – well not me – but the very  nice neighbor) a few boxes in the house, I opened up this glorious 12×24 white marble tile. So pretty and so heavy. I ordered a lot of it too – for the master shower, floor, and tub surround.


I had to get a picture of it with the matching basket-weave tile.


The marble was one of the palettes, the other was full of white subway tile… which I somehow neglected to take a picture of. You’ll see plenty of those below though. I ordered white subway tile in 3×6, 4×12, and even 6×6 (is the square making a comeback? I don’t know but it was on clearance so the bargain shopper couldn’t pass it up).

A few days later, another palette came with this gorgeous black 12×24 porcelain tile. I have a deep and abiding love for this tile. It’s so beautiful!


The last tile to come from BuildDirect (because I FORGOT to order it with the rest), was this classic 1″ marble hexagon mosaic tile for the master shower floor. We had little porcelain hexagon tile in our last house, and I loved the idea of having a few common touches to remind us of our former home.


There is one last tile item that I ordered from Mission Stone & Tile. This was a specialty mosaic hexagon tile called Hex Appeal that I found at the last minute and decided to incorporate it into our master bathroom floor. Once I saw it, I just couldn’t resist having this tile as a statement piece. It was pricey, so I just ordered 24 sq. ft. without much of a plan, and was hoping for the best.


Okay so that’s the tile… let me share the first phase of installation (which we are still more or less in).

Here is the inspiration board for my Master Bathroom – this has a floor plan and style guide so you can see what we’re aiming for.

First installation was the master shower. This took FOREVER. Apparently showers take a lot longer than floors because there are so many sides. We wanted the tile on the ceiling as well, so even more work. Also it’s kind of hard to lay giant 12×24 marble tile… who knew?  Here’s progress being made:



And the gorgeous finished shower (without grout)… note the pretty hexagon tile on the floor and in the niche.


You can see the ceiling here, and a better view of the tile. This marble is pretty white, and the veining is really pretty. I couldn’t be happier with it (okay maybe if it were Calcutta marble, but that’s like 10x the price). Really it turned out so so beautiful.tile-marble-shower-2

The big hexagon floor was pretty tricky, but our tile guy did an awesome job. He helped us lay out and plan the hexagon “rug” area to fit the space perfectly (really it was perfect, I only had 2 tiles left over). Mr. Project had the great idea of doing a black tile border (using some of the extra black tile that I had ordered for some other rooms), with the 12×24 marble creating an additional border and field tile for the room.



In the end it came together surprisingly well, and it’s… well… you can see it… I’d need to be a poet to describe how amazing it really is.


With the master bathroom being mostly done (tub surround still needs to go in), the tile guy moved on to the Mud Room and Pantry.

Here’s my Mudroom Style Guide and a  boring before-shot:


And an awesome during shot. Of course it will look really fabulous when it’s all cleaned up and grouted.


Here’s the nearly identical Pantry floor:

And I wanted to show the marble thresholds in the house. I am a HUGE fan of marble thresholds. I love how they finish off a space, and visually (and actually) transition from one floor to another. I also think they help protect your tile from cracking or having issues at flooring transition points. They are relatively affordable. I actually found mine on clearance for $5.49. But normally they are anywhere from $9-$20 (which is much cheaper than wood transitions). We put thresholds in all of the tile transitions in our old house, and they were one of my favorite parts of the floor.


The Boys Bathroom is getting a lot of different tile – see the Style Guide here.

You can’t see it terribly well in this image, but we used the same black tile for the boy’s bathroom floor. I loved it so much I wanted to use it everywhere, but figured 3 rooms was about my max for using the same exact tile.  The boy’s bathroom has a room with the shower and toilet. Unexpectedly, we had almost enough tile to add a wainscoting of tile to this room. Having a potty-trained 2-year-old means the occasional “overspray” (haha) and Mr. Project and I both thought that the best course of action was to tile up from the floor and up to about 50″ to keep all fluids safely away from the drywall and subfloor. This subway tile is the 4×12 size. I was a little nervous about getting away from my trusty 3×6 tile, but I actually really love it. And I think it’s just a touch more masculine, which is nice for a boy’s bathroom. Still incredibly neutral of course.


We had our tile guy create a border by placing the end row of tiles vertically. This effect works really well with this proportion, not quite so well with the 3×6. We had ordered some extra glass 3×6 tile to use an accent strip, but Mr. Project forgot to tell the tile guy to put it in. Once I saw that the accent tile was missing, and of course the spacing was off to use the existing tile (a 4″ hole and only 3″ tiles available) I checked the BuildDirect site, and found that they carried the same Ice Mist glass tile in a 4×12. I was so happy, and quickly ordered it the next morning, along with enough to add an accent strip to the wainscot. That day, we explained to the tile guy and had him start the wainscot. I didn’t know exactly how much height I would get with the existing tile, but I was pretty sure I’d get up to 32″. I thought we would have enough with the extra row of glass tile I just ordered, and a wood cap piece that Mr. Project would make. However, after seeing 32″ actually on the wall, it seemed a little short. I knew I had to get my hands on another box of white 4×12 tile. I called BuildDirect and asked the sales rep to pull up my order from that morning of the 4×12 glass tile to see if he could just piggy back a single box of the 4×12 tile, thus saving me additional shipping costs. He was so incredibly helpful, and was able to make everything work, get the extra tile, combine orders etc. and assure me that it would get out super fast.


Onto the last bathroom on the main floor.The guest bathroom features the basket-weave tile. When I was putting together my order, I knew that the basket-weave was a big splurge. Aside from the Hex-appeal tile, it was the single most expensive tile on my order. I was originally planning on putting it on the entire floor in the guest bathroom, but trying to stay under budget, I had the great idea of ordering only enough for the middle of the floor, and using the 12×24 marble (which was about 1/3rd of the price) as a border. This room is 4’x6′ – so the floor is 24 sq ft. I used about 12 sq. ft. of the basket weave tile, so I saved half on the cost of basket weave, but I have the same effect. In fact, we think it looks even better then if the mosaic was flooding the whole floor.


I also picked up a little black pencil tile from Lowes to give a nice transition from the mosaic to the field tile. It turned out great:


The shower in the guest bath is incredibly difficult to photograph, but I snapped this shot of the 3×6 subway tile on the shower walls (it’s also on the ceiling). I love this little enclosed shower. I’ll share more and better pics once all the grout is in and the plumbing fixtures etc. I’m going to break out that DSLR and wide-angle lens!


I used the same basket-weave on the shower floor in the guest bathroom. I like the consistency of using the same tile in both spaces, and I always recommend a mosaic or small tile as the floor in a shower. Not only is it kind of fancy, it also make it much easier to contour the tile to the slope of the shower floor.


At the last minute, we decided to add a 3×6 wainscot to the guest bath. It turned out great, and I’m super excited to see the final product. To finish the top edge off,  Mr. Project is going to install a wood trim piece at the top of the tile with a little cove moulding, and a small ledge.



So that’s pretty much where we are with tile. There is a little tile work downstairs that I’ll update on once that gets going. I love seeing it come together, and like I said before, I only have raving reviews for If you’re thinking about a tile project, be sure to order some free samples and see for yourself how great their product is. If you have any questions about ordering tile online, or BuildDirect specifically, I’d be happy to answer them. I’ve already had a dozen or so people ask me about the process of ordering online, and how working with BuildDirect has been.

More updates coming soon, so keep checking back. for daily updates subscribe to my Instagram and Facebook feeds. 

To see past updates – view my Canyon View House Category.


11 responses to “The Project House – Tile update part 1”

  1. Laura says:

    I’m fangirling over all your posts. Your attention to detail and insider understanding are superb. I’m in love with every choice you’ve made so far, and cannot wait to see the final product.

    My totally nosy, can’t-believe-I’m-asking-this question would be: how did you finance all this? I’m obvs not expecting you to divulge income or costs; just curious if a custom home build would even be a possibility for our family.

    Was this something you were able to do thanks to a sudden increase in income or prior home sale, years of saving and scrimping, or did you find ways to make the cost comparable to buying an existing home in your area? Sorry if that’s none of my biz. I suppose what I’m really saying is: do you feel like all your bargain sourcing and sweat equity has made your dream home possible, or were you just in a good place financially to do this?

  2. Jen Allyson says:

    That’s a great question Laura! I can tell you honestly that the only way we could afford to build this custom home is from money that we made (mostly through sweat equity and bargain sourcing and of course a rise in home values) on our former “Project House“. We bought that home at a very distressed price, and with Mr. Project’s tireless work on it, we were able to sell it at a substantial profit. Another huge factor is the price of building a home in Utah vs. California. We were able to take our “California dollars” and translate that into something that we never could afford in California where the price of land and the price of building (permits alone are close to 100k) are 2-3 times as much as Utah. In addition to those two factors, because of our “cost-plus” style build, we are able to save, in my estimation, more than 100k in labor + material + building + contractor costs. AND one last thing, we were able to buy our land in Utah when the housing market was at 10-year lows. So to simplify, many stars aligned for us to make this an affordable build. In building this house, based on all the information I have available, I believe we will have built a substantial amount of new equity because of the work that Mr. Project is putting into this build. Which is great if/when we sell it, but I hope we can live in it for at least 5-10 years.

    Our builder – Bangerter Homes in Utah – has been incredible to work with. The truth is, that with them, we could have built a smaller, more affordable and still completely custom home. So I don’t think that the idea of a custom home is completely out of reach for someone with fewer resources – if you find the right builder who is willing to work with you, and let you source a lot of your own items and even do some of your own labor as well.

    Hopefully that answers some of your questions 🙂

  3. Jen Allyson says:

    All that being said, I think the cheapest way to get almost exactly what you want is to renovate. building has a lot of unknown costs, and additional costs that really add up. renovating you can take one projects as you have money, and you have a lot of flexibility with how and when everything gets completed.

  4. Cari Skuse says:

    Looks awesome, Jen! Some of my favorite tiles. Glad to hear the BuildDirect was great to work with, I will definitely keep them in mind for whenever we get our build underway (still bogged down in the early stages). You really have great style!

  5. Cari Skuse says:

    Jen, I also wanted to say that I agree with you partially with renovating. We currently live in a 100+ year old farmhouse that we renovated — the plan was just to make this house “liveable” and then build our dream house on another part of our property soon after. Well, almost 10 years later and we are just now ready to build!
    You are right about getting what you want (by looking out for great deals) and doing it as you can, but you can still run into a lot of unknowns! We didn’t know it when we started, but we needed to totally replace the main beam of the house in the basement…my awesome DH came up with a plan and we did it ourselves with the help of my dad and brother. That would have been a huge cost if we had someone doing it for us! We also had to totally rebuild the garage as the water coming down our hill pushed the cement blocks out of kilter. One side at time we took out and relaid each side (with the roof still overhead) and added drainage, then we sided the whole thing. At this time, I am still waiting to have gutters put on the addition in the back and soffit & facia installed — could never find someone reputable to do the work or even call me back! I am also finishing the trim painting and I know if I need trim or doors painted in my next house I or someone else will be spraying them!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us your dream!

  6. Qwendy says:

    I have been oogling over your home project and following along. We did a Cost-Plus addition to our current home and I would not do it any other way. Our cabinet maker told us that most contractors mark up the cabinets alone 120%!

    When we were moving from Orange County to LA we had a lot of trouble finding the home we wanted. Building a home from scratch was pretty much out of the question, because we live in Los Angeles. So we found a home in the hills that was on the most amazing lot. The house didn’t matter because we knew as long as the bones were good we could make it work. So we renovated the old and doubled the size of the house. I would do it again in a heartbeat and yes you are right the permits alone in Los Angeles are the price of a modest home in another state.

    Wish we had known each other when you lived in LA! I think we could talk tile and home design for hours.

  7. Laura says:

    Thanks SO much for your honest and helpful answers, Jen. Clearly, you were meant to build this home (if only to let me and mucho others live vicariously through you). I appreciate you listing some of the factors that made it financial palatable for you. I think a renovation will be our first foray into the “custom” building world, but I do daydream about building a modern farmhouse in the not-to-distant future. Thanks for your insight!

  8. Jen Allyson says:

    I would love to renovate a 100+year old farmhouse!! Though I would consider the cost of doing so to be just as much as building from scratch as I’d be inclined to gut the entire thing and replace all plumbing/electrical/hvac etc. I think renovating a 10-30 year-old home is pretty cost effective 😀

    I bet your home is gorgeous though, and totally worth it!

  9. Jen Allyson says:

    Hey Qwendy, I feel flattered that you’re following along! Your renovation sounds amazing – and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen and been inspired by your gorgeous kitchen pictures. I know a lot of people who just aren’t renovation people, but we love the process of building/rebuilding/creating so much. I walk into older homes, and my mind wanders to everything that I would do to make it look fresh and new inside. We would really love to flip homes as a hobby. Maybe in a year or so when we recover from how much work a build is! If you’re ever in Utah, PLEASE come visit 😀

  10. Robin says:

    Your home looks amazing, I will be following you the rest of the way through your build. 🙂

    What would you recommend for a 70 year old house as far as wood floors? We have the original 2″wide oak wood flooring that came in the home. The problem is that the house has had some additions,(concrete slabs) so the flooring is running the wrong way. Every person I bring in to have restore the wood floors makes a statement about how the flooring. All the same, saying my wood floors are running the wrong way. When you open the front door the floor should be running parallel, with the door open? right? its going the other way. So,
    my question is what wood did you put in your new home??
    and did you get it from
    Hubby and I have been restoring this house for the last eight years. My house never reaches a “finished” point.
    Do you have any advice?

  11. Jen Allyson says:

    We got our hardwood flooring through our builder’s flooring supplier. I’m not sure about the whole “running the wrong way” sentiment. I don’t really think there is a wrong way. Whatever you love is the right way! That being said, you can change the direction of flooring in any given room from one room to another by having a threshold or just butting into the adjacent flooring. I personally wouldn’t replace the original floors though, I think original oak floors have so much character, I’d pay someone to patch in the rest of the house so everything is consistent, and if you want maybe do a different floor right in the entry – a tile, or some wood that goes on the diagonal or creates a pattern to make it stand out from the rest and possibly not “look wrong”. Best of luck in your project house! I’m sure it’s beautiful. I love all homes built in the 1940s!

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