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10 Ways To Use Subway Tile That Aren't Boring AF

I still love subway tile. Sue me. I know there are people out there that are so over it but I'm not one of them. It's neutral. It's inexpensive. It's timeless. What's not to love? I know it is all the rage to use cement tile, mosaic tiles and colored tiles and I'm down with that, too. But, there comes a time and place that you might want to use subway, whether it's to tone down a room a bit to balance out busy tile or you might simply like to have that classic subway look. Maybe you want to use subway tile for its nice price tag. That doesn't mean it has to be boring. Let's look at some bathrooms to see how subway can save the day.

Click any of the photos shown below to see more about that room.

1. Disappearing Act

Why not start this subway tile list with why I use it so I can't see it! Yeah it's like that. This might seem boring but actually it's PERFECT in helping the other tile STAND OUT. For instance, in the bathroom below, you can see the arabesque tile on the accent wall. You may not even be able to tell that the shower faucet wall has subway tile. THAT IS THE ENTIRE POINT. I wanted the back wall of this tiny bathroom to stand out. Had I used that arabesque tile in the whole shower, it would have been quite overwhelming. Now, your eye goes straight to the back of the room making it feel larger, while the subway tile sits back and keeps that wall from getting in the way. To make sure the subway pattern didn't compete with the focus tile, I used white grout so it would all fade away. This is also a good with cement tile and busy mosaics.

2. Go Vertical

Subway tile doesn't have to be laid in the classic brick pattern. I've tried every pattern known to man in my renovations. Here is one where I did a vertical subway pattern with a 4" x 10" subway tile. The larger tile and the vertical spin makes this bathroom just a little different. 

3. Vertical In A Brick Pattern 

Want a modern spin but like the traditional look of subway tile? Turn it vertical and do a brick pattern on its long ends. For some reason vertical just feels modern. Pair it with a modern shower head and curtain. 

Pro Tip: When describing how you want your tile laid to contractor, be sure to draw it out on paper or on the wall! As you can see with this example and the one before it that we can call them both "vertical brick" but they are two different patterns! Don't assume they can read your mind.

4. Herringbone VERSION ONE

In the next kitchen we wanted to have a fun pattern but not get too crazy. There is a bold accent wall in the adjoining dining area, so we needed to stay a little low key. We chose to lay the subway tile in a herringbone pattern. To be sure the pattern stood out, we used a darker charcoal grout.

5. Herringbone VERSION TWO

While this isn't your classic white subway tile, here is another herringbone pattern example that could be done with subway tile.

Pro Tip: Again be sure you draw out how you want the herringbone pattern to go. I don't even know what this is called but I showed up to the house and this is how it had been installed. What I really wanted was a W pattern but I didn't draw it out. I thought W was enough words. It was not. I still like this way, too though! So, you can now see there is a third herringbone pattern which would be where it looks like W's or M's.

6. Modern Stack

Go ultra modern with this vertically stacked version. To make sure any subway tile pattern stands out, use a darker grout color.

7. Stick With The Classic 

Sometimes you just want that regular ole brick subway pattern! The master bath in this home got a wow-ing shiplap shower, so I felt like I needed to tone it down a little here as well as stick to a tight budget. So, instead of blowing my budget, I decided to stick with the classic but punch up the wow factor somewhere else. THE CEILING. The fun doesn't have to be all tile related. If on a tight budget, find your focal point outside of tile.

8. Go Casual

Using a more unusual subway tile can help add texture to your room. This tile from Floor & Decor adds texture to the walls without being too busy and taking away from the fun wallpaper accent. The tile has a wavy, wonky edge to it that gives it a more boho-relaxed vibe.

9. Go Formal

On the flip side of the casual tile, choose to go more traditional with a beveled tile. A bevel tile adds texture to your wall and an air of classic formality. I choose to let the bevel do the talking, not the grout. Keep the grout white to enhance that 3D effect.

10. Random AF

You could just throw them up there and they land where they land. That said this was not random. Ok it is but it isn't. My tile installer spent much much time laying these out on the floor so we had just the right look. I used this ombre pattern to represent the nearby mountains here in Phoenix. I used different colors to achieve an ombre look, but you can use just plain ole white tiles if you like. You could use a bunch of different colors. Break all the rules. It's your shower, dude

I know this is not an exhaustive list so I will be working diligently to tile more bathrooms and kitchens so I can post about them. :) Get with me if you need help designing yours! Maybe you'll make the next list!

 
 

How To Design A Custom Range Hood

Let's talk about the super secret in custom kitchen details...custom range hoods. Seriously the biggest "joke" out there because it's seriously so easy. I love love love this trick if you can call it that. We all want custom details yet rarely look to the range hood for help. We throw up a stainless thing and assume we can't afford to trick this area out. Not true. The range, and therefore the hood, are typically a focal point in the kitchen. They are the center of attention. So, it makes sense that this would be a place to drop some dough. BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO DROP A TON. The big secret to custom hoods is....

THEY ARE JUST A FREAKING BOX!

Frame it. Cover it. Throw a hood insert inside. Done. I discovered this a few years ago and have been trying to do them ever since. No need to buy an expensive matching cabinet hood cover. Truthfully I don't even know what those are called because I refuse to pay for them. Instead I have my contractor build them for me. You could build one or hire a handyman or contractor. Totes easy and way cooler. 

The Hood Insert

The hood insert is something you can easily purchase. Here is one that I've used pretty often.

***It does not come with the venting kit and the hood liner ( the framed part around the actual appliance shown in the photo), so make sure you get those, too. Amazon shows them as "frequently purchased together" if you scroll down, so you can add them all to your cart at once. The total comes to just under $330. 

Please note: I'm not saying this will always be less expensive than just installing a regular all-in-one hood appliance. The chimney hood shown is also $330 but the price can go way up from there. Obviously, in this scenario this hood would be less than doing custom since the insert alone costs $330 before building out the custom part. Take a peek at the options between what chimney hood you would choose and what kind of custom hood you would like. You might find that the most acceptable all-in-one version for your kitchen is going to cost you the same as custom. Do math. Then decide.

Where To Put It

Now, let's get to some ideas. The following are four totally different styles I've done. The first one was my first custom hood.

Custom Modern Range Hood with Wood Trim

In the photo below you can see a gray bump out in the living room. I wanted to recreate that shape in the hood. I didn't want anything fancy or intricate. I wanted sleek and modern. So, my contractor framed out the area above the range all the way to the ceiling, drywalled it and trimmed out the bottom. He used the same wood to create floating wood shelves on either side.

Hood Insert for Custom Range Hood

That's it! Literally just a drywalled box! You can see in the photo above how the insert sits inside the new drywalled box.

Another style I did just recently was the same idea but bridged between two cabinets. The contractor framed out....you guessed it.... another box and then we wrapped it with some salvaged cedar siding from another house. This could easily be painted shiplap if you'd prefer that look.

Custom Range Hood with Cedar Wood Shiplap
Custom Range Hood with Shiplap cedar

See more about this kitchen here.

A third custom hood I designed for a kitchen was this adobe looking specimen. It was supposed to be actual adobe but we had trouble getting the adobe people wrangled. So, we moved on from that idea and went with plaster. Looks like adobe and blended well with the walls.

Custom Adobe style hood made with plaster and cedar
Custom Plastered Range hood with Cedar wood trim

Now, the more detail you add to it the more it will cost. Adding trim details take time, so forgo those if possible. But still, even a little bit won't hurt. This hood I did had just enough trim to help it fit in with the cabinetry but not break the bank.

Shaker Kitchen with Custom Style hood with insert

So that's how it's done. Build a box. Wrap it. Boom, done. I'll say one of the keys to being successful at doing custom details like this is making sure you have a contractor or handy person who is game. Not just someone that says, "Sure I can do that.", but is actually interested and excited. As is with every job and project, if the major players aren't into it, then the finish product may not be as creative and frickin' awesome as it could be. Gauge their interest and your determination on whether to move forward with the custom hood, ditch it for an all-in-one hood or find someone else more suitable to implement your plan.

Ready? Go.

Note To Self: 10 Steps To Handle The Haters

I hear that once you have haters, you're doing something right. I've been getting a taste of that lately, so I'm 100% positive I'm becoming sort of a big deal. Mahogany and leather bound books, y'all (please tell me you can feel the sarcasm oozing). I've seen comments stating that my designs are carbon copy HGTV. (Is that a compliment?) I've also seen "no personality....dull and lifeless" as a description of the kitchen above at one of my recent renovations. Whether the negative feedback is accurate or not, is not really the point. It's what do I do with this information? WELL, I'll tell you. Below are step by step instructions for myself on how to think my way through the hater-ade. Tweak as you feel necessary for your own haters.

1. Decide if this person's opinion is constructive criticism or just bullying. This is sometimes difficult to judge but my rule of thumb is if they are being blunt and rude, then their comments are automatically null and void. If they seem to be making an effort to be kind, yet state where improvements can be made, then perhaps they are on to something. 

2. Pay attention to where the haters are coming from. If they are commenting on my page or social media accounts, then it's likely they are or have been a fan of my work sometime in the past. They found me somehow. They must have liked something. I'll take note of their comment and move on. If it is a photo of mine that someone else has shared or that I promoted/advertised on social media, I give bad feedback or bullying very little merit. I'm now once removed. They don't know me. Maybe the commenter is not even a fan of modern design. Maybe they don't understand that certain houses require certain design details. That's ok. I can't help them understand.

3. Remember that design is subjective. Not everyone will like what I like. That's fine. If someone showed me a huge traditional kitchen, I probably wouldn't like it and would say so if asked. That doesn't mean it wasn't done well. Just not my cup of tea. There's no way of knowing a person's tastes unless they come right out and tell you.

4. Repeat my mission. Push the envelope, try new things and set myself apart from the "others". This is very important. If I'm going to be different, I'm going to get different responses. Maybe even....GOD FORBID....negative responses. Some may not understand why I don't like to put upper cabinets in many of my homes (am I the only one that gets a dented skull from open cabinet doors?) or why I won't design a typical "yuppy farmhouse" style Arcadia home. It's been done. My mission is to create new designs, not carbon copies. Not even of HGTV. Truth be told....I don't even have cable and only recently borrowed a TV so we could watch Olympic gymnastics.

5. Remember that armchair bulliers are regular people. They're sitting at home or bored in their office throwing out thoughtless comments to faceless accounts. They aren't thinking or caring about the person behind the Dwelling Studio brand. In fact, they probably don't know it's just little ole me!

6. Know that I can, do and will make mistakes. My designs might miss the mark in places sometimes. That's ok. Every house is a new blank canvas. I learn from each house and apply those lessons to future homes.

7. Tell myself, "At least I'm out there trying." Most people aren't brave enough to flip houses. If I had a dollar for every person who told me they wanted to flip houses but never did, I'd have all the monies in the world to flip EVEN MORE HOUSES and make even MORE BOLD CHOICES and DESIGN MAGIC (or mistakes). I'm out there plugging away making design decisions. Countless design decisions. My brain hurts sometimes. 

8. Remember that I'm a house flipper and stager, not an interior designer. There's a huge difference. I'm designing for an imaginary person, not a known client. I straddle the line between pushing the envelope and pleasing a small portion of the public shopping in that neighborhood, on that date, with X amount of dollars. Shoot that just scared me and I've been doing this for a while. 

9. Remind myself of the tight budget and timeline. While some might drop $60,000 on their kitchen, I'm spending that on an ENTIRE house. When I stage my homes, I buy everything myself. I like to do it and I think it makes the house look more custom. I don't always have time or money to go get another bed (plus bedding, pillows, mattress) and I almost never have the patience and money for curtains. I work with what I've got. People see one of my rooms, they say, "Hmm, curtains would've been better." Well, no shit. Please buy them and install them. Thank you.

10. Move on from the haters. They aren't worth my time.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about this over the years. Too much time. I've let the fear of what others might think or say about my work (aka me) creep into my head and slow me down. I can't say it won't slow me down again in the future, I'm human. But it won't stop me.

No one can. 

NO ONE. 

Wah ah ah ah ah! :)

How To Start Over From Scratch: Moving To Arizona

For years I've wanted to move from Cincinnati to anywhere warm. Cincinnati is an AWESOME city. The changes it has gone through in the past 5-10 years are gigantic. It's actually cool. I'm serious. But, the winters I just can't handle. So for years and years I tried to move but "couldn't".

SPOILER: One of my last renovations in Cincinnati

I was scared.

How could I start all over again?

I'd have no business connections. I'd have to know a new city and it's neighborhoods. I'd have to know what buyers were looking for in that part of the country, how much that would cost to do and how much a buyer would pay?

How long would it take to gather all of that information

How would I be able to replace all of "my people"?

Would I be successful?

Even though I had lived in Phoenix before, it was more than a decade ago as a college student at ASU. Aside from remembering the name of some streets and parts of town, I knew nothing of the real estate market. I got my Crossfit Level 1 Certification just in case. Maybe I could coach while I figured things out.

Turns out.... I was an idiot for doubting myself.

My first house in Phoenix.

Six months ago I landed in Phoenix and hit the ground running as if I'd been here all along. Last month marked my 10th year in business and I forgot about it because I was...

TOO BUSY WORKING.

Some of it seemed like luck. I met my contractor, Pace Morby, through Instagram. He is about to begin my third renovation here. But was it really luck? I had been chatting with him occasionally on Instagram posts for about a year. Networking from afar if you will. One of my agents, Michelle Houze was referred to me by a Cincinnati friend. Her and then another agent I met, Rachel Hugenschmidt, showed me the neighborhoods and what people were looking for in a home. Another contact I found at an AZREIA meeting I attended a couple winter's ago while vacationing here (nerd alert---> me, who does that on vacation?). He went to the University of Cincinnati back in the day. He'll be checking on one of my remaining Ohio homes when he attends a football game there soon. One of my favorite furniture dealers was found on Craigslist. Some people have reached out to me, while others I have hunted down. Things are weird, adventurous and random.

I love it.

My second renovation in Scottsdale.

There was no reason to be scared. The skills I learned over the past 10 years transferred. If you know how to learn, you can relearn. I didn't know anything about desert landscape, but I knew how to figure it out. I dove in. Head first. I went to nurseries. I learned names of cacti, how much palm trees cost and what an irrigation system costs. I asked my contractor 1.2 million questions, pinned ideas and studied comparable homes. I'm still asking a billion questions and learning on my own home.

Dragged some great staging stuff with me from Cincinnati like that vintage kimono. :)

The secret to starting over or learning new things is this....

Just do it.

Start.

GO.

If you're thinking about changing careers or locations, do it. If you want to flip houses, do it. Just learn. Learn more. And then learn even more.

Learn EVERYTHING.

How to Install Shiplap In A Shower (and be the coolest people on the planet)

Let me tell you a tail of when I got sick to death of tile. I already had a white subway tile bathroom on the first floor of this renovation and I didn't want to repeat again in the master. After all, I was trying to get top dollar with this home. The sale price of this home would change the neighborhood. No pressure. 

So, I became obsessed with finding a way to pull off shiplap. Maybe it would work if I could find the longest tile known to man. Nope. Six foot tiles do not exist. So, I did what I do best, I Googled shiplap showers. Unfortunately, my best Googling found mostly examples of outdoor showers with the exterior shiplap siding. Eventually, I came across one indoor shower (which I cannot find now) with overlapping shiplap boards (I believe this is true shiplap). It wasn't flat stacked Joanna Gaines shiplap, but at least it was a start.

So, it could be done! The woman who posted the indoor shiplap shower had been painted it all a shade of purple and said that after 5 years, they repainted it. It was still going strong. This was acceptable. A bonus even. Can you imagine? In 5 years she could paint it blue and now you have a totally different bathroom. 

I pitched this idea to my contractor, Joe Wood of All Around Joe, to figure out the best way of getting this done. You know those contractors that get annoyed with challenges and are quick to say, "No that can't be done."? Joe is not one of those people. It didn't come to him immediately, but I could see the wheels turning. He didn't give up. This would be his creation, too.

So for all of you with questions on how this works, I decided to interview Joe for ya. 

What were your thoughts about the shiplap shower idea?

This wasn't going to be something you'd see or get to install everyday. I got excited about it and immediately started thinking about what we could do to make it happen. 

What were your concerns about having a shiplap shower?

My main concern was durability. My other concern was how to do shiplap and keep it water tight. So, my goal was to make sure the prep was 100% perfect before the shiplap was installed. 

Can you tell me about the material you decided to use?

I decided to use a material called AZEK. It's a material usually used on exteriors so I knew it could hold up. Just to make sure, I called AZEK to see what their thoughts were on using their trim boards in the shower. It was funny because the first person I spoke to said, "Hmmm. That's a good question. We've never had anyone use it in that manner. But, I don't see why it wouldn't work." He then asked someone else in the office. I could then hear a bunch of them discussing how nobody had ever asked that but they thought it was cool and didn't see why it wouldn't work. I was confident this was the right product to use.

How did you go about installing the boards?

I started by making a waterproof system before installing the boards. I used the Schluter-Kerdi board system to make it 100% waterproof. Next, to install the AZEK "shiplap" boards, I used OSI adhesive for PVC material to bond to the Kerdi board. Then, to install the next board above it, I siliconed the entire "grout" seam. I could only do about 5 rows at a time, then start again 24 hours later after it dried. 

How did you finish off the shiplap? 

I sprayed it using an airless HVLP sprayer. There are two types of this material. I chose the type that was more porous so it would accept paint once installed. I used a marine grade acrylic enamel which would normally be used on a ship. I knew it would be durable enough for a shower.

What kind of upkeep and maintenance do you expect for this shower?

I expect it to be able to be washed down with soap and water. Like a boat or a cast iron tub, it will likely have to be be painted again some day. That wouldn't be for many many years. 

So there you have it. A shiplap shower if you want one. 

***UPDATE:

Many of you have asked how the shiplap shower is holding up. We sold this house right away, before listing actually. So, the only way of finding out was to ask the new homeowners. They reported back that after more than a year in the home, the shower is holding up well. They take care to wipe it down after showering just to be sure. 

How To Install a Ship Lap Shower

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