Saturday 5 December 2020

Tiling Upside-Down

The last couple of weeks have been a flurry of painting and tiling, as we try to complete the current tranche of rooms at the top of the castle. As ever, it's the finishing off that takes the time. The ceiling in the female servants' bedroom took at least 5 coats of white paint. I have a "painting coat" that displays the splodges of battle.

Tiling in the female servants' bedroom was problematic, as being in the roof space, the ceiling starts to come in at a low level. The choice was between having just three rows of tiles (which would look pathetically minimal) or trying to tile up the sloping bits of ceiling (which had the potential of looking awful and was going to be difficult/impossible to achieve). 

My friend Elise came over and I asked her opinion: "You have to go for the three rows of tiles, David, no matter how well you tile the sloping bits, it's going to look awful". She had a point, there was no practical way the tiles on the sloping surfaces would line up with any other tiles, let alone the large number of awkward triangular shapes that would have to be cut.  I thought long and hard about this. Mathematically, you can make tiles line up at any edge - imagine placing a mirror there - then the second side to be tiled follows the reflection of the first side that has been tiled. The downside is that the tiles will shoot off at some kind of angle - and anything other than tiles on the horizontal looks weird i.e. worse than the problem you are trying to solve. 

You could chop down larger tiles to fit the slope, but then it just becomes silly. The only aesthetic solution was to tile a horizontal level, no matter the slope, and to work with this. However, the sloped areas were triangular with the point at the bottom, so the level could only be established at the top. In short, one would have to tile from the top down or "upside-down" as I have put it.

Before Elise gave me her advice I had also settled on the "3 row" solution, as least for a time. On later reflection it seemed inevitable I had to go for the slope. And to make things look intentioned, I had to go for 4 (equivalent) rows up the slope i.e. just one more than the rows on the conventionally vertical wall. Ironically, Gregor has put on some initial oak beading to frame the tiles, and had put on a vertical length equivalent to 7 rows. I have yet to ask Gregor how he knew the correct solution well in advance of me. :-)

Photos of the upside-down tiling in progress, with duck tape galore:

tiling in progress: right-hand section of coving

tiling in progress: left hand section of coving

When I say "correct solution", there was no guarantee. Tiling on the slope could look awful. I would have to chip them off and eat a slice of Elise humble pie. :-) The work was extremely slow, as instead of allowing gravity to allow the next row to sit on the previous row, I had to tape the row underneath to the one on top, using duck tape under high tension. To make sure the top row was anchored in place firmly, I could only do one row a day and then let the adhesive dry overnight. Occasionally, I was a little braver and did a couple of rows, but I also taped the new tiles to the established tiles on either side. I had to make extremely stiff tile adhesive to slop the tiles sliding down the walls straight away. With stiff adhesive you have to get the amount correct within tight tolerances, as the amount of squidge you can use when pressing a tile to the wall is much reduced,

Photos of the finished tiling:

tiling complete on right-hand section of coving

tiling complete on left hand section of coving

What is allowing me to write this blog entry is that friend of Balintore, Steven from DD8 Music, has taken over the baton on voluntary Saturday morning painting duty. He arrived at 7AM this morning - way beyond the call! I will follow his example to give a good push on the painting front over the course of this weekend.

Steven cleaning the coving prior to painting

To donate to the Balintore restoration project click here.


  1. Hi, wow against all odds you did it ! A tip for when you have to tile an awkward space is to make a ply template, glue the tiles flat onto the template then fix it to the wall in one piece, just an idea. Keep up the good work xoxo

    1. What a brilliant tip! :-) This had never occurred to me.

  2. The finished result looks great!

    I would offer yet another option for situations like this: just omit the tile on thr sloping area projecting beyond the tiled wall. It obviously wouldn't give the protection of a tiled surface, but I think it could work visually, as those sloping planes are not judged as part of the tiled wall, but projecting through as part of thr ceiling.

    I think your solution looks great and gives the practical result of tiled protection, but thought I'd share another take on things.

    1. Thanks Seth, your suggestion was one I considered. I agree that it probably would have looked OK.