There’s always that one part of your home that you wish was different, and if you’re like me you tend to get fixated on this one area, searching for ways to improve it and dream scenarios for what you would change it to. For me it was my kitchen, and I had my heart set on
- open shelving
- darker cabinets
- marble countertops and
- white subway tiles
Basically this kitchen…
So I priced it out, and promptly decided that for the price, my black countertops and current cabinets were something I could live with, and retiling my backsplash was not going to be an option. That left me with a couple of projects that I felt I could take on:
- removing some cabinet doors
- painting the cabinets darker
- finding a cheap alternative to new tiles
I’m going to talk about that last item, the tiles, in this post. Removing my travertine tiles seemed beyond my skillset, and also they weren’t exactly ugly, they just didn’t suit my style. So I decided to go with temporary, stick on tiles instead. I could do it myself, I could remove them later if I changed my mind, and they wouldn’t ruin the travertine underneath. Plus, they actually look real. I checked out other reviews like The Bewitchin Kitchen’s and L Bee and the Money Tree and decided to give Smart Tiles a try.
I chose the classic white subway tiles, even though I was also really tempted by their Hexagon tiles, but I felt like subway tiles were something I would love for years. Smart Tiles sent me the tiles to review and from the first interaction were very helpful and responsive.
As I said in my kitchen renovation game plan post, usually each sheet is about $12 at Home Depot, but I’ve also seen Wayfair carry them on sale for less than $5 per sheet. I calculated that I needed about 25 sheets to do my backsplash and another 25 to carry out my open shelving idea. So that would have cost $125-$250, depending on whether I wanted to tile the backs of my upper cabinets (which I did in the end). This is a fantastic price for what you end up getting.
The whole process took me 3-4 hours. Compared to the tedium and pressure of painting my kitchen, this half day project was really, really easy and pain-free. If I had just done the backsplash it would have only taken me about 2 hours. Taking off the doors and shelves took me about 15 minutes.
Then the first step was to clean all of the grime off the surfaces.
That box on my counter is the small, compact box that the tiles came in. That’s all it took!
A note on supplies:
The directions recommend a metal ruler and a box cutter to cut the tiles. I thought I could outsmart the system by using a straight edge I had and an X-acto knife. Not the same thing. They did not work at all, so just follow the directions and get yourself a metal ruler and a box cutter.
In the photo above you can also get a good idea of the size of the tiles. I kind of wished they were larger, like a classic subway tile (most commonly 3″ x 6″) but it still has the subway tile proportions so I think it still gave my kitchen the look and feel I was going for.
Here you can see just how thin the tiles actually are. They were a lot thinner than I was expecting, and felt kind of like those puffy stickers you used to collect in 3rd grade (or I did anyway). Even though they’re thin, they’re very durable and feel high quality.
I was rarely able to get the tile perfectly straight on the first try, normally I would have to do some readjusting or wiggling to get it just right, so this step of folding over just part of the sticker back allowed me to do that without having to pull the whole sticker off and readjust every time.
Then came the first tile! The directions recommend starting off at the farthest point of your kitchen, the one that you rarely see up close. I keep a small TV on my kitchen counter (to watch while I cook) so I started with the corner that is always covered by the TV.
Once the first tile was down, it was surprisingly quick and easy to do the rest. This row took 15-20 minutes to complete. It was the easiest row because there was no additional cutting (after that initial tile). Just peeling and sticking in a straight line – anyone could do this.
You can also see the place where the stickers meet the grout of my counter in this photo. I was lucky that my kitchen was built relatively recently so the edges were pretty straight and the corners were 90 degree angles, otherwise the grout and tiles might not have been so seamless.
The second row was a little trickier, at this point I had to deal with a few outlets and light switches. It still wasn’t too bad, I just took the outlet plate off with a screw driver and traced a line around the opening, then cut the rectangle out with the box cutter. As you can see, with this outlet I made a mistake and cut the hole too big, so I had to go back and stick part of the sticker back on. Not a huge deal, you couldn’t even tell once I put the plate back on…
That was probably the most tedious part of the whole process for me. Which is still not very tedious when you consider how hard actually retiling my backsplash would have been. I made things a little bit more difficult for myself by tiling the backs of my cabinets because they were small spaces that required a bit more cutting, but the actual backsplash was a very quick and easy affair and can be done in less than 2 hours.
Here’s what it looked like when I just had one more tile to go.
In order to cut the last tile to size, I held the tile up to the corner and made two small cuts with the box cutter, one at the top and one at the bottom, to indicate the length that it needed to be. Then I held the metal ruler up to the two small cuts and cut a straight line – done.
Then peel and position it, and stick! In this photo I’m working on the cabinets. I want to note that even when I really messed up and had to pull the whole sticker off and start again, it didn’t mess up the surface of the my cabinets or pull off any of the white, so I know that if I ever need to remove these they won’t ruin the cabinets.
This is what it looked like once it was complete. In my opinion they look very realistic, I don’t think anyone would ever guess that they were stickers. In fact I’ve had people over and they were all shocked when I told them they were stickers.
Initially the bright white tiles looked really clean and sparkling new, almost a little too new in that model home kind of way. But once I added in my kitchen supplies I loved the way everything pops (and looks more expensive) against the white backdrop.
And this is the final look with the tiles. I’m biased, but I think it’s a giant improvement. I don’t even mind that the counter tops aren’t white marble like I originally wanted.
I don’t know if you can properly tell from the photos, but tiling the backs of the cabinets really helped mimic an open shelving look. And the glossy finish helps brighten up everything on the shelves and counter tops and makes them pop. It definitely feels more like a restaurant or cafe rather than a builder grade kitchen with the cabinet doors taken off.
The only evidence that these aren’t real tiles is probably the grout (it’s so white) and the seams of the tiles, which are slightly raised. This is probably one of those things that only my eyes would ever notice, but this photo gives you an accurate idea of what it looks like.
I think these tiles are totally worth the money, especially if you can get them on sale (keep an eye out for those Wayfair sales). I know that Home Depot and Lowe’s carry them too, and there are many more varieties beyond this plain white tile. They have glass mosaic tiles in plenty of shapes and colors, but I preferred the more classic subway. If you’re looking to renovate your kitchen on a low budget, or if you’re a renter who wants to make a non-permanent improvement, I would definitely recommend giving these a try. I just wish I knew about them sooner!