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Bathroom of the Week: An Artist-Made Mosaic Tile Floor, Start to Finish

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Bathroom of the Week: An Artist-Made Mosaic Tile Floor, Start to Finish

February 1, 2019

When our friend photographer Aya Brackett and her family moved into a house just across a shared courtyard from their former place in Oakland, California, they gained more space. But they found themselves missing one detail in particular: the handmade tile floor in their bathroom, an existing feature that had sold them on the house in the first place. Fortunately, they knew how to track down its creator, Sarah Myers—and understood it was a project worth the time, effort (overall bathroom touch-up included), and expense, to do right.

And so Myers was summoned and the many-months project got under way. A West Marin, California, artist and art teacher who grew up in Northern England—and has a masters in painting and drawing from Ohio State—Myers specializes in the ancient art of mosaic. And that involves cutting each tiny glass tile by hand. Here’s a look at the room’s various stages of transformation.

Photography by Aya Brackett.

After

Wanting to inject a bright, clean look to their master bath, Brackett and her husband asked Myers to create a floor evocative of &#8
Above: Wanting to inject a bright, clean look to their master bath, Brackett and her husband asked Myers to create a floor evocative of “the ocean, fog, and the inside of sea shells.” The herringbone pattern is composed entirely of white opal glass tiles that, once laid on a mortar bed, present a dazzling range of shades varying from translucent to opaque and many points in between.

Brackett told us, she and her husband had been so taken by all the color options Myers showed them that they had initially picked a trio: white, blue, and gray. Myers then made a sample maquette, and seeing that—and all the nuances in each color—made them decide to whittle their choice down to white.

Myers does most of the tile work in her studio in Inverness. But before that could begin the couple had their trusted contractor, Sallie Lang of Bliss Design Build, get the room refreshed and ready. That included installing subway tile (Daltile in Arctic White) around the existing clawfoot tub as well as a new watering can shower head and hand faucet in brushed nickel (by Randolph Morris) and painting the walls Benjamin Moore Super White.
Above: Myers does most of the tile work in her studio in Inverness. But before that could begin the couple had their trusted contractor, Sallie Lang of Bliss Design Build, get the room refreshed and ready. That included installing subway tile (Daltile in Arctic White) around the existing clawfoot tub as well as a new watering can shower head and hand faucet in brushed nickel (by Randolph Morris) and painting the walls Benjamin Moore Super White.

After considering custom sink vanity options, Brackett decided to simplify matters by buying Restoration Hardware’s Marten’s Single Vanity, which came with a Carrara marble counter (the exact model is no longer available, but the Martens Single Extra-Wide Vanity Base could be fitted with a marble countertop). It’s fitted with a sink from Kohler’s Purist line, and there’s also a new Kohler toilet (added after the mosaic was installed for a clean look).

A tiled step neatly separates the mosaic from the subway tile, which was added under the tub in lieu of mosaic as a way to economize.
Above: A tiled step neatly separates the mosaic from the subway tile, which was added under the tub in lieu of mosaic as a way to economize.

Before Myers could get to work, the remodeling crew’s crucial final step was the laying of a three-quarters-inch mortar bed of self-leveling poured concrete. “It had to be as even and as perfect as possible,” says Brackett. “On the floor, where it gets walked on, if there’s any tiny pebble, it can decrease the strength of the glass,” explains Myers. After it was fully dry, Myers made detailed measurements of the floor, which she took back to her studio to create a template and do the tiling.

The Process

Glass tiles, known as tesserae, are handcut from sheets of pressed glass of uniform width (Myers sources hers from Spectrum and for this chose a streaky opal). The process involves scoring the glass on both sides and then using a nipper to break it into pieces.
Above: Glass tiles, known as tesserae, are handcut from sheets of pressed glass of uniform width (Myers sources hers from Spectrum and for this chose a streaky opal). The process involves scoring the glass on both sides and then using a nipper to break it into pieces.
In her studio, Myers adheres the pattern onto a fiberglass mesh that she then cuts into outsized puzzle-like pieces—each labeled with a corresponding letter—for transport to the site. Shown here is a map of how she broke up the floor.
Above: In her studio, Myers adheres the pattern onto a fiberglass mesh that she then cuts into outsized puzzle-like pieces—each labeled with a corresponding letter—for transport to the site. Shown here is a map of how she broke up the floor.
&#8
Above: “Though I deeply enjoy transforming large, rigid sheets of stained glass into flowing designs, it’s a obsessive commitment I wouldn’t wish on anybody,” says Myers. Here, she holds one of the tiled mesh mats ready for installation (also shown is the plastic mat tucked underneath to keep the tile clean and dust free.
Myers can transport all the sections at once in the back of her Prius and loves the fact that it&#8
Above: Myers can transport all the sections at once in the back of her Prius and loves the fact that it’s a low-tech process—there’s nothing power-based—that she can do singlehandedly. Shown here: One of the sections, carried on a large drawing board, awaits installation.

The Installation

Myers jigsaws each of the pieces together leaving no trace of borders, something she says that&#8
Above: Myers jigsaws each of the pieces together leaving no trace of borders, something she says that’s impossible to do with ready-made mosaic. Though most of the floor is laid in her studio, she fine-tunes the threshold and fills tiny holes by hand on site. Some of the pieces are as tiny as 2/8-inch long.
Myers uses a no-VOC industrial adhesive by Eco-Bond to adhere the tesserae to the mesh. Laying the tiles on the concrete mortar bed is what brings out the foggy blue variations in the opal glass. After the tiles are cut, Myers notes that she mixes up the pieces &#8
Above: Myers uses a no-VOC industrial adhesive by Eco-Bond to adhere the tesserae to the mesh. Laying the tiles on the concrete mortar bed is what brings out the foggy blue variations in the opal glass. After the tiles are cut, Myers notes that she mixes up the pieces “so that the different nuances of the glass are evenly distributed,” and says that if she didn’t the floor would look patchy.
As needed, Myers cuts tiles on the site. The yellow tool is her Japanese pistol grip scorer and she is shown using a nipper: &#8
Above: As needed, Myers cuts tiles on the site. The yellow tool is her Japanese pistol grip scorer and she is shown using a nipper: “It’s like a pair of jaws and on the bottom is a bump aligned with a white line. When the score line is lined up with the nipper’s white line, that bump causes the glass to break along the score.”

Grouting

Once the tile is taped into place, Myers works section by section applying sanded grout—&#8
Above: Once the tile is taped into place, Myers works section by section applying sanded grout—”a mix of sand and lyme and water; pretty much the same as what the ancient Greeks used.” For bathroom floors, she says, white grout is too hard to keep clean looking, so she uses a pale gray (shown) or bone.
Before and after the grout is added.
Above: Before and after the grout is added.
 Once the grout is in, Myers says there are no exposed edges and the overall surface, thanks to so many small pieces, is nonslip.
Above: Once the grout is in, Myers says there are no exposed edges and the overall surface, thanks to so many small pieces, is nonslip.

Go to Sarah Myers Design to see more of Myers’s work, including at Pizzaiolo and the pre-fire Manka’s Inverness Lodge; she’s available for commissions.

Before

The room is in a 80s addition to the house that Brackett describes as &#8
Above: The room is in a 1980s addition to the house that Brackett describes as “hippie Bolinas handmade.” It had a tile floor, a wood-paneled peaked ceiling (which the couple preserved), and fine proportions, but an overall gloominess.

See more of Aya Brackett’s home in Kitchen of the Week: Aya Brackett’s Hippie House Update in Oakland.

N.B.: This post is an update; the original ran on December 16, 2016.

Go to Bathrooms to see more projects, including:

Wanting to fix up your bathroom? See 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Renovating Your Bathroom.

Finally, get more ideas on how to evaluate and choose the hardware items for your bathroom in our Remodeling 101 Guide: Bath Hardware.

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