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Looking for some simple ideas to refresh your guest bathroom before the holidays? Were sharing our adventure of our guest bathroom in our downstairs area. The space continues to be upgraded, but it’s had a minor overhaul which resulted in a great aesthetic upgrade. We wanted to refresh our bathroom for our guests coming this Christmas and I wanted a change from the old plain look it had before.

Subway Tile Backsplash

Our first upgrade to this bathroom was done several weeks ago, we had leftover subway tiles, mortar, and grout from another project. We have an existing vanity backsplash that was plain and not very appealing, so we decided to add 4 layers of 3×6″ subway tiles over top of the existing. It’s cheap, easy and adds lots of character to the once plain backsplash.

Subway Tile Backslash

Materials Required:

Subway Tile Install Planning

In order to begin your backsplash project, you need to measure out the area you will be adding tiles to. If you are unsure how to find square footage, follow our guide in another article. Once you have the required area you will need to decide what size spacers you will use, and I recommend 1/8″. Take the required square footage, and add 15% overage for any mistakes or broken tiles you may encounter during your install. Pick out a light mortar, and the appropriate grout color for your design.

If you are an avid DIYer you should go ahead and opt for the nicer Tile Saws as well, we tried projects in the beginning with the cheap one and it cut horribly. The motto “buy once, cry once” is certainly one to live by, especially when you are going to be working on your own home often. We also opted for the nicer tile and grout floats, mortar troughs, and spacers. One thing most people will need is a mixer attachment as well, and I recommend using a hammer drill as the power tool to drive it. You can get cheap Lowe’s or Home Depot 5 gallon buckets and they are invaluable in projects like this, and will be required to mix your own mortar and grout.

Subway Tile Install Prep

Prepare your work area by removing any items you don’t want to get dirty, tape off and lay plastic over any surfaces you want to keep clean. I recommend a tape line around the perimeter of the backsplash if you are only doing partial areas. Then you will mix your mortar in the 5 gallon bucket, following the instructions on the back of the mortar. Apply mortar to small sections, using your trough to scrape off excess. Install your tiles starting in one corner using two spacers in between tiles on any intersecting sides, and return from that corner back to where you started.

I opted to use a brick pattern for my subway tile design, a brick pattern is the most classic way to lay subway tiles. In a brick pattern, each row of tiles is typically offset by half a tile width, which results in long, horizontal lines that can subtly widen a room. This means your tile will not be perfectly lined up, which looks better in my opinion. Measure twice and cut once making sure you are using a WET tile saw to get clean and straight cuts. Take your time when using the saw, and making cuts on tiles.

Install Subway Tiles

Continue applying mortar and installing tiles until you have completed the entire area desired. Allow the mortar to dry for 24 hours minimum before applying grout. Once the mortar is dry, and it’s time to move on; you will need to use a new bucket to mix your grout according to instructions on the bag. The grout float is the tool to use when applying your grout, and you will be working it into the lines between the tiles. As you are applying grout into the spaces between the tiles, try to scrape off excess and avoid leaving big clumps on face of your tile. The less grout on the face of the tiles, the less work for you later.

Apply the Grout and Clean up

Once you have installed the grout into all spaces around the tiles, it’s time to get a bucket of clean water and the sponges. Saturate sponges in the clean water, and wipe down tiles until the grout is recessed into the spaces between the tile and properly cleaned off of your tile. It is not an easy job to get the grout properly cleaned off, but do not leave behind any excess grout as it will be much harder to manage once dry. Let the grout dry for 12 to 24 hours, and then use the cheesecloth to polish the tiles back to their original shine. Apply grout sealant within 24 to 48 hours to avoid mold and mildew growth in the grout.


We opted for some standard triangular mount style shelving which matched the theme of our bathroom. We picked them up from Lowes for around 30$ each, and they were the perfect size for our little guest bathroom. I made sure to measure out the shelves and mount them as centered to the wall as possible. Make sure you get your brackets in the same location for each shelf when installing multiple, or else it may look odd.

Dual Shelving Upgrade

There are also other options with two shelves attached, with pipes holding together at Lowes. These look great or an industrial, farm-house, or even modern style design.

Cabinet Hardware

We opted to upgrade the cabinet hardware while doing our quick refresh of the bathroom. We swapped out our plain jane silver rounded handles for some rustic nautical handles. These are a nice dark color, and match the floors we have in the bathroom. The dark color contrasts our grey cabinets quite well also!


We opted to paint the entire bathroom a new color, so we removed all of the hanging pictures, mirrors, shelves, toiletry and anything else we could remove easily. We already had a medium grey/blue tint paint on the cabinets from the home builders, and decided to match our living room color of “Online” grey.

Online by Sherwin Williams/Lowes

We made sure to properly prep all surfaces by cleaning around the toilet and lower trim with the TSP cleaner. Follow directions when using TSP to avoid any contamination! One we cleaned up our area and wiped down the surfaces with the proper cleaner, we spent time prepping our working area. Taping up windows, tile, and vanities you don’t want paint on is important for a professional looking result! If you are not comfortable with cutting edges, tape your trim and roof lines also.

Paint colors in your bathroom refresh are very important, since it’s usually a smaller space. It will make the room feel more “put-together” by choosing the right color to go along with the decor.

Light Fixture

We opted for a simple modern fixture. We had a plain contractor grade light before, and installed this beautiful and elegant glass surrounded light. It was a simple and impactful upgrade.

Light Fixture and Online Grey paint

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