Choosing backsplash tile, part II (Or: Reality strikes.)

Disclaimer: this is a long-winded and overly emotional post about kitchen tile. The short version: expensive tile from Japan FTW!

It turns out, renovating a house isn’t … fun.

Not unless you have a gajillion dollars and an architect on call and probably an interior designer that shows up to appointments with lattes and a bag of chocolate croissants.

Yeah, no. Maybe in another life.

What I’ve learned is this: renovating a house is a lesson in facing reality. It has four parts: 1) need vs. want; 2) compromise; 3) processing disappointment; and 4) the time-quality-cost (or “triple constraint”) triangle.

A little explanation on number four, if you’re not familiar — you can’t increase one arm of the time-cost-quality triangle without reducing the others. You can have it cheap and fast, if you settle for lower quality. You can have great quality, quickly, at a high price. Or you can have excellent quality at a good price, if you’re able to wait.

We are bedeviled by this triangle, mainly because we don’t live inside Dwell magazine we have limited cash, and limited time to make the most of the cash we have. (No, I cannot reasonably spend another minute googling “large area rugs under $300.”). So there has been lots and lots of compromise where the “cost” arm wins big. No quartz countertops. No select-grade wood floors. No soaker bathtub. Tons of DIY. Etcetera.

Monday was Tile or Die Day. With a two-week delivery window, and three weeks until we move in, it had to be done. I was resigned to accepting the most basic, white subway tile available and moving on, because it was also Carpet or Die Day. Choosing carpet sucks away my will to live, because I dislike carpeted rooms in general — so I’m paying for something I’ll inevitably resent. Thus, I was all set to spend a bunch of money feeling pinched and hateful.

(How many of you want to work on a renovation project with me right about now? Yeah. Me either.)

And then I walked past the tile clearance display. I turned to the spouse and said, “Look at that. I love that. It reminds me of everything happy about my childhood.”

Those words tumbled out before the impression was clear in my mind. Who has a visceral, emotional reaction to kitchen tile?

They are earthy, polished, glazed ceramic, the dimensions a balance between light and grounded. They remind me of the thick, stoneware dinner plates from my childhood. Those plates were made by a family friend and potter by trade. He had a huge, braying laugh. We used to trek, with his kids, down to the mucky drainage ditch behind his house and look for salamanders.

The tiles remind me of vegetarian feasts. Of teapots and sunlight and incense. They remind me of the smell of a hot slide projector and the sound of Tangerine Dream at my parents’ parties. Our giant backyard garden.

But … on clearance this tile was $7.50 per square foot. Twice what basic tile costs. And they had only half of what we needed–the rest would have to be ordered at full price. A very full price.

We’re doing it. We’re getting that tile because part of this project was about trying harder to surround ourselves with things that make us feel healthy and happy. Rooted and aspirational.

Triangle, meet rectangles.

Cepac tile

2 thoughts on “Choosing backsplash tile, part II (Or: Reality strikes.)

  1. Your description of family life moments, evoked by tile, has evoked memories, fond ones, all the way ’round the world. Thanks, Amy, for sharing a corner of your associational matrix. It feels really good.
    Nice tiles, too. Brave, wise choice.

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