Tile is a beautiful way to add style and texture to a space. Use this detailed, step-by-step tutorial to learn how to tile an accent wall or backsplash and turn your project into a fun and easy home update!
This post was originally published on September 5, 2018 but has since been updated to include more tips for installing.
Whether you’re looking to extend your kitchen backsplash, add a creative element to your fireplace or hearth, or simply wanting to add a bit of character to your room, a tile accent wall is a fantastic way to create a beautiful focal point!
I didn’t want tile for the flooring, because we have plenty of left over hardwood from our main house to install in the office, but I couldn’t get this bathroom from My Life From Home out of my head because I am so in love with her accent wall!
Seriously, ever since I saw her room reveal I’ve been dying to do a tile accent wall. So, I decided what better place to give it a go then my home office?!
I ended up ordering Riad Tile’s Knox Grey Tile. I love the hexagon shape, the geometric pattern and the fact that its grey color has a soft, almost warm, feel to it.
For this tutorial, I’m sharing with you simple, step-by-step instructions for how to install concrete tiles on a wall as an accent in your home.
While it’s pretty simple, there are some really important things to consider when planning and installing, so we wanted to give you as much insight as we could from our recent experience.
I hope this tutorial teaches you how to put wall tile up and helps make your installation process super easy!
There are printable instructions at the bottom of the post, and as always, let us know if you have any questions along the way. 🙂
How to Set Tile on a Wall
For a printable copy of the materials and instructions, scroll down.
- 1/16″ Tile Spacers
- Rubber Grout Float
- Wet Tile Saw
- 4″ Paint Roller and Tray
- Tape Measure
- Clean Rag
Before you start your DIY wall tile installation, be sure to evaluate which wall you want to make your accent wall.
My rule of thumb is to use a wall you’ll see when you enter the room that also has windows on it (if possible.)
Yes, you can make a wall with windows your accent. 🙂 It’s actually the best choice if you’re doing something bold or dark because the light comes in through the windows offsetting the intensity.
Step-by-Step Instructions for Tiling an Accent Wall
STEP 1: Prep the Wall
The first step to installing cement tile on your wall is to prepare the wall for the tile.
Be sure to check the installation instructions on the tile you get to see if it can be installed over drywall or cement board.
Ours could be installed over either, and since we were starting with a new-construction wall (with just studs and insulation), we chose to cover most of our wall with cement board, with just the top row of tile going onto the upper section of the wall which was covered with drywall.
We also realized that installing the tile on top of the drywall/backer-board would put the face of the tile flush with the front of our door and window trim.
Which meant that we needed to install our trim before doing the tile wall so that we could notch the tile to fit around the trim.
Most likely you will face this same situation, so be sure you have all of your trim installed and finalized before moving onto installing the tile.
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STEP 2: Plan the Layout
Next up is planning how you’re going to install the tile.
It’s SUPER important that you take your time and do a thorough job of planning out where and how you’re going to place the tile before you start installing.
The first thing we considered was how we wanted the pattern to look.
Since our tiles had geometric lines on them, and the pattern looked different depending on which direction you installed the tile (straight edge horizontal vs vertical) we took the time to lay them out on the floor and get a feel for which pattern we liked better.
Here’s what the pattern looked like with the horizontal straight edge:
And with the vertical straight edge (which we ended up going with):
Once you have the pattern orientation selected, it’s time to think through placement of that pattern on the wall.
We had one section of wall that went all the way down between the front door and window that was about 16″ wide – and rather than starting the pattern wherever and ending up with an odd pattern between the two openings, we chose to position our tile so that a full row of tile would land centered in that space.
We also knew we wanted a row to land nicely against the top of the door trim, so we chose to start our pattern with the tile that landed centered between the door and window and flush with the top of the door trim.
Here’s a shot of Chris using our 6′ level marking those lines for us to know where we wanted the tile to be placed:
If we could go back and do it all over again, we definitely wouldn’t have started at the top of the wall because these cement tiles are heavy…
Instead, we would have measured down to the floor using full tile and gap dimensions and then started there.
Where do you start when you tile a wall?
We recommend you select a tile you want in a particular spot (for pattern or placement reasons) and then measure down to the floor from there and start with the bottom row of tile. That way you’re working your way up and the weight of the tiles is held up by the tiles below.
STEP 3: Install the Tile
Now that you have prepped the wall and planned your tile placement, it’s time to actually install the tile!
Our tiles from Riad Tile recommended soaking the back of the tiles for 30 seconds before installing, so we set up a little wetting-station for them out of a tote lid turned upside-down, filled with about 1/4″ of water in it.
I did my best to keep 3-4 tiles prepped and ready for Chris to install throughout the process.
Pardon the baby wipes – you never know when they’ll come in handy, even in construction! 😉
After wetting the backs of the tiles, use your sponge to wet down the backer-board where you’re going to install.
We chose to use the “buttering” method for applying mortar in this case, because applying it to the wall was just too messy.
If you’re a pro and can spread the mortar on the wall and scrape it with your trowel without spilling it everywhere, then by all means, go for it.
If you’re a newbie (like us) then it’s MUCH easier to apply the mortar to your tile and then place it on the wall.
Use the straight edge of your trowel to flatten it out a bit.
Then, scrape it off using the notched edge of your trowel.
Now, press it into place on your wall using spacers to hold it the right distance from the tiles around it.
Be sure to wipe off any mortar that gets on the face of your tile immediately, as it can stain the tile if it is allowed to sit on it too long.
When you get to a spot where you need to cut or notch a tile to fit around an edge, mark the tile with a pen and use your wet tile saw to trim it.
If you’re using cement tile like us, it’s really important to wash off your tile with clean water and your sponge after cutting it as well, as the residue from the tile saw will stain the cement tile face.
Continue installing, one tile at a time until your entire wall is covered.
After your entire wall is installed, let it dry for 24 hours and then remove all of your spacers (my kids really enjoyed this part!) 😉
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STEP 4: Seal the Tile
Next up is your first round of sealing. For cement tile, it’s recommended that you seal the tile both before and after it’s grouted.
Be sure to check the instructions for your specific tile to see what they recommend.
Working in small, 5 sq/ft sections, we rolled on the sealer, let it sit for a minute, and then wiped it off with clean, dry rag.
Let the sealer dry for at least 24 hours.
STEP 5: Fill with Grout
Next up is the grout!
Again, working in small 5 sq/ft sections, scoop a bit of grout into your float and pack it into the grout lines at a 45 degree angle.
Once you’ve filled all the grout lines in your small area, use a wet sponge to wash all of the grout off of the faces of your tile, doing your best to leave a flush fill of grout in the seams.
Keep working in small sections until the entire wall is filled and let dry for 24 hours.
STEP 6: Seal Again
The last step is to seal the entire wall one final time!
Now, sit back and admire your tile accent wall – isn’t it fabulous?
Our Cement Tile Accent Wall
I know I love how ours turned out in the she-shed office!
A lot of people ask from pictures if it’s a wallpaper, but in person the texture is my favorite part.
Ok, let’s review.
How do you tile a feature wall?
- Prep the wall with the appropriate backer – could be cement board or drywall depending on the tile you choose.
- Plan your layout and where you want to start depending on how you want the tiles to land in your design.
- Install the tile with mortar, using spacers to uniformly set them in place.
- Seal the tile (according to the manufacturer’s instructions.)
- Grout the seams in small sections.
- Seal again!
Here are the printable instructions for installing cement tile on a wall:
- Prep the wall by making sure it's covered in drywall or cement backer board.
- Plan your tile layout by evaluating the direction of the tile and determining if there's any specific way you want the pattern to look on your wall.
- Install the tile by using your trowel to apply mortar to back of a tile, scraping it with the notched edge of your trowel and then placing it on the wall. Continue along the floor using spacers between tiles until the first row is finished.
- Work your way up the wall, making notches in the tile using your tile saw as needed.
- Allow the mortar to dry for 24 hours then remove all the spacers.
- Seal the tile in 5' sections using a roller to apply the sealer and a clean rag to wipe it off after a few minutes. Let the sealer dry for 24 hours.
- Fill the grout lines by using your grout float to press the grout into the cracks and then wiping off the excess from the face of your tiles using a wet sponge.
- Let the grout dry for 24 hours and then seal again.
Start at the bottom of your wall - the tiles are heavy and trying to hold them in place as you work your way down is NOT FUN.
If using cement tile, be sure to wet down the backs before installing and keep the face of the tiles clean throughout the entire process - cement tile tends to stain easily when not sealed.
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Be sure to let me know if you have any questions!
Also, I’d love to see how your DIY accent wall turns out, so please post it on social media and tag me!