Thursday, September 16, 2010

Versailles Pattern Travertine Porch

 Porch Project Background

We purchased our house in the country last fall.  The soil is clay, and gets tracked everywhere.  So to minimize the dirt coming into the house, and make the outdoors wheelchair accessible, we had concrete sidewalks put in.  Because of the clay soil staining the concrete, we went with stained concrete.  A problem with the concrete color had us wind up with stamped concrete.

It would have cost us about $4/foot to have the porch concrete ripped out and replaced.  Instead, my husband and I decided to spent $4.80/foot to install antiqued travertine tile.  There are 4 different sizes of tiles:   8x8, 8x16, 16x16, 16x24.   It is laid in a random pattern called Versailles.   Of course, this is a do-it-yourself project for us.  We are two accountants, we are not professional.  So don't laugh at our methods.  My dad was a stone mason and always built his own houses so I am not afraid to try anything; and my dear husband is a sport for any adventure we dream up.

Why didn't we leave the white concrete alone?  Well, because sometimes you just do things without thinking it through.  It's supposed to be "outdoor living" and after 30 years in the Portland, OR. rain, we thought porches sounded great.  We also found out white concrete gets badly stained with the rust colored clay soil.

Before Photo
"Before" any work was done.   This photo was one of the few before purchase.

This is after the concrete got poured, before any plants were put in.  Click on the photo to see the enlargement.

I went crazy with sidewalks.  My mom is in a walker, and I wanted her to be able to "explore" the yard if she moves here.

Prep Work
A close-up below shows the lip that we will use to butt up the new tile.  Unfortunately, it was poured a bit high which we discovered as we were laying the tile, causing us to have to "float" the tile in lots of mortar.  This isn't good because the tiles can sink and become uneven as it dries.
This is the lip of the stamped concrete walk coming up to the porch
 We had to cut the rock pillars to be able to lay the tile underneath the rock.  The rock was so uneven, we didn't feel that cutting the tile around the rock would look very good, it varied as much as 2 inches.  I know, rock should look like it went in first, but hey, this is lick & stick, who are we fooling?  Oh yea, this involved a tool purchase for the hubby, a grinder or something...
The "lick & stick" rock pillars posed a problem.
Snapped lines & crack cover
They make a sticky product that you put down over cracks in concrete--to prevent your tile from cracking.  The photo above shows this, along with snapped lines.  We ran 2 lines to find the center and then laid the tile off the line.  This is VERY important, the 2 lines must be square to each other.  We did play with the pattern for a few hours, trying to figure out how to maximize the pattern---you don't want to have to cut 24" tiles.  They are very fragile in that large size.

Travertine is a crumbly rock and is not easy to work with.  It goes down easy enough, but it is more fragile than marble or any other material we've cut on the tile saw.  It can blow apart when the saw hits it--at least this unfilled antiqued tile.

 DAY 1 

Our first day doesn't look like we made much progress.   Note another prep step:  we laid down kraft paper to the driveway, where the tile saw is parked. That way we can run the wheel barrow loaded with mortar to the job without dripping anything on the stained concrete.  It makes for an easy cleanup job.  Pieces of tile hold down the paper--very sophisticated.
1/4" board , plus Day 1 tile laid....
We only laid about 4 square feet the first day.  We ran to Lowes and got some board to put down.  We were floating so much mud and this helps with the thinner layer of mortar.   As we move up the porch there is enough slope so we won't have to continue to use the board. We use a level as we lay--to make sure that the water will run off, and not puddle on the porch.

We laid more tile today, but my helper had a conference call, and we quit by 4 PM.   Or, I quit then.  My husband continued to work. 
Day 2 progress has the spacers, Day 1 progress has the spacers removed.
Since we are working so slowly, when we quit, we need to make sure that the tiles don't "wander".  So I pile stacks of tile at the edge of  laid tile so they don't move.  This is a real problem if you are a novice and work slowly. 

Day 2 ended around 4 or 4:30 for me.  Hubby continued to work.  In order to go around the post and head down the porch, we'd have to remove the iron fence.  We didn't think laying tile on top of it would look good--just think about mucking up the tile job going over the nuts holding down the fence.  So, the fence removal involved chipping some rock off to get to the nut in the wall.  Well, the wasps with their nests there weren't happy.  Oh yea, that was another reason I was in the house.  So he finally got it removed.

We were off to In-N-Out where I get a tomato sandwich for dinner.  (crazy cheapskate vegan--it's a hamburger, no burger, no mayo, extra tomato (4 slices), onion slice, and a thick SLAB of lettuce, on a toasted bun)  When you work all day, food becomes important as that is the only other thing you do, eat, work!

Day 3
Today we laid 41 square feet.  Again, we are still "floating" tiles in lots of mud.  This will allow the water to run off the porch to the flowerbeds.   It makes us go very slowly.  Once we get to the sides of the porch we think it will go faster because the base concrete is sloped properly.

Day 3 progress--tiles with spacers

We had a slithery helper today.  I wonder what kind of snake he is.  We left him alone....

We did a quick lunch break for frozen Amy's burritos, and on return, we found a "helper" right next to the front door!  Yikes, that critter could crawl under the door into the house!

Tomorrow we're hoping to finish the area in front of the door.

Mortar is very hard on your hands.  When you're setting the tile it gets all over so you need gloves.  Kitchen gloves and rubber gloves don't work, neither do gardening or rubberized gloves.  It is because they are too big, the rubber ones make your hand sweat, etc. The best gloves in the world are ISOTONERS!!   I pick them up at estate sales for nasty jobs.    When you're scraping mortar out of the wheel barrow, it's really easy to take the skin off the tips of your fingers.  Isotoners have leather strips on your fingers which helps. They also let your fingers be more sensitive in check tile height, we don't want any toe-catchers!  The isotoners are also great for wiping mortar off the tile.  Yea, lots of accidents here.

As an aside, a friend of mine used to pick up old white dress gloves at estate sales and used them for gardening.  Unfortunately my hands are too big to use all of those gloves from the 40's and 50's.

OK, now you know I am nuts.  But it does work!!

Day 4
Today's progress felt slow, but we had to cut tiles around one post, and along the front door against the house.   Notice how we sometimes stack tiles to keep the laid tiles from "drifting" into the unlaid area.  It is really important to keep things squared up.

Day 4 - Tile laid to front door!
 Our goal today was just to do from the sidewalk to the front door.   However, Mrs. "Let's get ahead of schedule" had Mr. Mortar Mixer do one more batch, and we went down the side. 
Day 4 - Laid tile starting down the side

Day 5
We finished off the left side of the porch, put the railings back.  Now we need to put the rock back.  I'm so tired of working all the time, that we took a break and went to our favorite garden store.  I am on the hunt for a long bench, and the only long bench was a Lutyens bench, or should I say a copy of one.  It was designed by Edward Lutyens for Sissinghurst Gardens in England.

Lutyens Bench in Sissinghurst Gardens

I decided to get the bench even though the back is higher than the window--the back is pierced so it really doesn't block the light from the window.   The other reason is that the high back was a lot more comfortable to sit in than the low-backed bench (and it wasn't as cute).
Day 5 tile, with new bench to enjoy the front courtyard.

Tomorrow we plan on finishing laying tile, with only grouting left.  We're really tired of this.   The benches were a nice treat.  As was dinner at Buca di Beppo.

Day 6
Almost done.  A small area left to tile, plus areas around the fence

Day 7
I am tired of the project, it's lasted too long.  However it is nice to get two crates of tile out of the garage.

View across the porch.  I like the travertine with the rocks, the colors go well together.
No more tripping hazard transitioning from the sidewalk to the front porch
  Ok, we have grouting left to do.  There are some rocks that have to be replaced at the bottom.  However we will be gone for a week to rest.

The grout job will make the porch look really nice.  The tile is antiqued tumbled travertine with rough edges.  It looks like this after grouting:
Back porch view of grout.  The tile looks like old-world hand-chiseled edging.

In a week or 2 I'll add a photo to this post of the final grouted job.  In the mean time, I think I'll go do something with all that money we saved by doing the tile job ourselves!  A piece of furniture?!!


  1. Hi Simone, Your travertine is gorgeous. I saw your question about rings. Buy a can of silicone, spray it on a rag and wipe it on your poles (don't get it on your wood floors, it's slippery) Then buy Kirsch wands that attach to the first ring, behind the pleat. It should slide much easier !

  2. What a ton of work and such beautiful results! I am a huge fan of the Lutyens bench and did an entire post on them awhile back, after buying a pair for our home...that I wish was in the country!

  3. Tammy, thanks for the comment. I am going to the store today to get some silicone spray. We're headed back there Friday, I'll post my results :)

    Acanthus, I can't wait to go read your post!

  4. Looks great ! Nice to see the play by play too


  5. The travertine tiles which you put at the porch definitely complement the rocks at the foundation of the pillars.

  6. Thanks Frances. It really was a worry. Check out the way they look 2 years later.