Installing a Slate Floor in Your Kitchen
I have always loved the look of natural materials, especially on a floor. When we bought our house the kitchen was absolutely unuseable. The layout was all wrong, the drawers didn't work, the appliances were ghastly. The previous owner, put enameled covers over the stove elements to cover the grease, rust and hideous condition they were in. My wife refused to use this kitchen, and I agreed with her. The first day after closing escrow, in late December, I was gutting this disgusting mess.
The weather was freezing and there was a lot of snow, which is unusual in this part of Washington. The well drillers were trying to finish our well and the storms had knocked out power indefinitly. In the meantime, I had promised my wife a new kitchen by Valentine's Day. Well everybody moved into a hotel (no power or water) except for me. I labored on. Somehow everything seemed to stay on schedule and soon it was time to choose a floor material. Slate was our pick and we are very pleased with the result.
Slate floors are beautiful, but there are a lot of things to consider before installing the slate. The material varies in thickness from between a quarter inch to three quarters of an inch. There are many substrate materials available. You can use Hardibacker, wonderboard or float a mortar bed if your floors are out of level. Anyway, you start out with a nice flat and level surface and try to end up with a nice flat and level surface; using this rough textured and uneven material.
Start laying your slate with the thickest slates as a gauge for the rest of the floor. Plan on using a lot of thinset mortar, to maintain a flat floor. Some slate tiles will have high and low spots, that you will have to split the difference on, while lining them up to the adjacent tiles. You don't want to stub a barefoot toe while making a run to the refrigerator for a midnight snack. I used the rubber handle on my hammer to tap high spots of the slate for height adjustments, and constantly check the slate with a six foot level.
If you have a long kitchen, you should lay the slate in a diagonal pattern. It will add a lot of interest and prevent your kitchen from looking like a long hallway. It is more work to lay a floor diagonally, it requires a lot more cutting and a little more material. I can promise you the end result will more than compensate for the extra work. It's all water under the bridge; down the road when you are living with the finished product. I would probably lay the tiles diagonally for almost any shaped kitchen, just because it is much more interesting and attractive.
My ten year old son laid out all of the tiles for me, choosing the layout by color and pattern. I laid a few tiles one day while he was at school and incurred his wrath, when he came home. My section was 'Boring!' and fortunately is hidden under the dining room table. I am of the opinion that you should leave that part of the job to the professionals like my son. I must say he did a beautiful job and the floor is very striking.
Throw away your plastic tile spacers when laying slate. The slate tiles are not uniform enough in dimension to stay on course using spacers. Decide how big of a grout line you want, strike some chalk lines and then you just have to eyeball it from there.
The counter-tops are a dark green granite and needed a contrasting material in the back-splash. Slate seemed to be the perfect solution and would carry the floor theme up through the cabinets. I took the 12"x12" floor tiles and cut them down to 6"x6" and laid them diagonally for the back-splash. The back-splash accents the counter-tops perfectly and at a fraction of the cost of having them fabricated out of granite.
Slate needs to be cleaned and pre-sealed before grouting. Try and keep the slate clean, while laying them. A damp rag and bucket of water are indispensable items, that will save a lot of clean up work and time later. Slate is pourous and will absorb grout, so it is imperative that you seal it, before grouting. I used the same finish sealer to pre-seal and it worked great.
The masonry sealer was purchsed at Home Depot in the paint department. It goes on white and turns clear when it dries. In my opinion it is an awesome product, the sealer is very economical and durable. It took two coats of sealer after grouting; and application is just about goof proof. Use a brush, roller, sponge or rag and spread the sealer around in a reasonably even coat and wait for it to dry. The finished product was so beautiful it takes my breath away, just like my wife.
Oh! and by the way it was all done, except for some small trim details by Valentines' Day.
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