The Best of the Cottage: Subway Tiles 3 Ways

For those of you new to The Painted House, let me introduce the cottage.  TPH oldtimers know all about it.  They are the smug ones over there–smug but so pretty, aren’t they?  Anyway, it was a summer day in 2008 when I first walked into this rundown, vacant house in the mountains.  It was neglected.  Animals stored chestnuts in the living room.  In spite of all this, I knew it was a gem needing a good cleaning and a little love.  Along with my parents-in-law, we put an offer in immediately.  A month later it was ours.

I had done one small-scale remodel before but nothing like this.  Aside from some amazing stone work, timber ceilings, and wood floors, the whole house had to be redone.  New plumbing, new electrical, new sheetrock, dig a well, new roof, new exterior facade…  And, we had to furnish it–all this on a tight budget.  There were some DIY moments, some faking, some serendipity, and lots of wheelin’ and dealin’.  We hit Craigslist, garage sales, outlets, and roadside stands for goodies to outfit what we now call The Cottage.  The finished product is a lesson in how frugality and beauty can be BFFs.  This week I share my favorite finds, deals, and tricks that created our little mountain getaway.

Original stone wall.


With a kitchen and three bathrooms, the cottage required a lot of tile work.  Tile work isn’t cheap.  There isn’t a lot you can do about the cost of labor–unless you hire a drunk tile layer like we did, our only major hiccup in the remodel.  So, we looked to save money on the purchase of tile.  Friend Holly gave me a few boxes of biscuit-colored subway tiles that were left over from her bathroom remodel.  Unfortunately, biscuit wasn’t going to work in the white kitchen; but I found that white subway tiles come cheap at Home Depot.  Cheap and charming and a classic?  I was sold on the popular white subway tile for the kitchen in the classic brick pattern.


Eliminating the upper cabinets gave us more room to install the tile–all the way up to the upper shelves.  I originally wanted to run the tile up to the ceiling for maximum texture but decided it was better to save that cash in labor and materials.  Turns out, having an exaggerated backsplash does the job just fine of adding texture and shine.

White subway tiles with white grout.


Early on in the project we bought on Ebay a copper sink for the master bathroom.  Then came the antique white clawfoot tub.  I knew I wanted to do travertine on the floor–but also in the shower?  I had those few boxes of biscuit subway tiles from Holly–but not enough to do the whole shower.  Plus, I didn’t want biscuit ceramic tiles and a white enamel bathtub.  Good ol’ Home Depot to the rescue again.  What if we mixed the biscuit tiles with the white tiles?  The white tiles looked great with the bathtub and the biscuit looked great with the copper and travertine.  Mixing the two together gives the perfect vintage look.


We mixed Holly’s biscuit tile with the white tile below the tile mosaic band.  Are tile bands lame now like wallpaper borders?  If so, oh well, because I like that I was able to bring in some glass and natural stone in this accent.  Above the band is only white subway tile.  It all is grouted in tan–which drives the vintage look home.  Travertine squares cover the shower floor.


Meanwhile, downstairs, another bathroom needed attention.  This subway train was unstoppable.  For the price and timelessness, white subway tile couldn’t be beat.


I decided to do a more contemporary application with it in the second bathroom by installing the tile in a grid pattern.  This time I chose white grout to keep the look fresh and modern.  And, there goes that tile band again.


There is more Best of the Cottage:

For the complete before and afters of the cottage renovation, type cottage tour in the search box on the right.

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  1. Wow…. how do you do it?! I mean, I probably would have walked into that house and walked right back out. I have some vision but you really do have an eye for a diamond in the rough and how to turn it from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan! Kudos to you and all your hard work putting it together. You are amazing and the cottage looks both beautiful and peaceful! Can’t wait to rent it sometime….

  2. My kitchen is just screaming for white subway tiles. And I’m screaming for someone to put them in for me!

    I just adore that cottage kitchen. I wish I lived closer so I could luxuriate in all that tile-ness for a weekend!

  3. Christy says:

    Awesome job Angela! I love what you did with your cottage – the mixing of the subway tile colors looks so great and I never would have thought of that! Can’t wait to hear about all your great furniture finds! What I wouldn’t give to have a Pottery Barn outlet here in IL!

    My hubby and I are rehabbers too. We buy fixer uppers and then resell them or rent them out. We’re currently doing a nondescript little ranch house. My problem is convincing hubby of my design vision. He & his dad do all the labor so we save major costs there, but they are both old school and think that the cheapest, easiest, fix is fine. I’m just trying to add a little character to the place! I finally convinced him to at least try a board & batten wall treatment in the family room and we’re doing some cute hex tile on the bathroom floor. So does your hubby pretty much agree with all your design decisions?

  4. Peggy says:

    Turning that ugly duckling into a beautiful, graceful swan was amazing to watch.

  5. Karen Tyner says:

    Love seeing it again and again. Something about turning an old home into something new and lovely almost has spiritual implications for me! Thanks for sharing your wonderful project! KT

  6. I CAN.NOT. WAIT to see this place IN PERSON!!!!
    SO AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Layla :-)

  7. love love – the clawfoot tub

  8. Yes! Yes! Yes! How I adore subway tile. I’m planning to use it as the backsplash in my kitchen and I especially ADORE your bathrooms. Gorgeous.

    PS…Layla’s coming to visit???? How fun!

  9. I’m still in awe the second time around! Love it!

  10. I am having so much fun reading about these awesome transformations. Really you have made this place look like a million bucks

    P.S – We hired a drunk tile dude when we first moved in and then had to replace the floors 3 years later. We were cheap and totally learned our lesson.

  11. oh my, what a beautiful transformation. I wouldn’t mind having this as my permanent home.

  12. I love it all! Can you tell me where you got the bathroom vanity with cupboards? Or did you build it? Thanks!

  13. Lovin your style. seriously. Now, I just gotta get some stuff done around this house of mine!!

  14. I don’t think the tile band is lame at all. I love the way it adds an extra bit of texture to the design, to draw your eye. You’ve done a beautiful job rescueing that little cottage. Bravo! I am in the process of renovating my kitchen now too!

  15. RubberChickenGirl says:

    Did you buy your travertine tile online? Pray tell where?

    Thanks mucho,


  16. My dear Angela!!! You are one talented woman. Everything is beautiful. I love all your ideas and style. An amazing transformation!!!!!!

  17. Joanne McPhee says:

    Cute cottage. Just a thought: Next time try installing the subway tiles in a herringbone pattern, floor to ceiling – like on the back wall of your shower, or behind a stove in the kitchen. It really gives the illusion of taller ceilings (your eye automatically follows it up the wall) and it looks amazing.

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  1. […] Subway Tile 3 Ways […]

  2. […] cottage was a labor of love.  Want to see what I consider the best of the cottage after remodeling down to the studs? Cancel […]

  3. […] other news, my friend Angela, from The Painted House, invited me and few other bloggers to her cottage home in the Blue Ridge Mountains to do a tour of the 2012 Cashiers showhouse and to do some shopping and antiquing in Asheville.   […]

  4. […] to read more about the cottage?  I wrote a five-day series on the Best of the Cottage.  And you can take the full tour that I posted in 2009, fresh off our renovation (some things have […]

  5. […] real artist, blogger, and decorateur, mind you), Angela at The Painted House, has recently had her work published in the October issue of Cottages and Bungalows! Not hard to believe, considering her […]

  6. […] so grateful that a magazine took notice of her beauty to share with its readers.You can take a tour here of the best of the cottage…but the posts are 6 years old and some things have changed. […]

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