Installing the tile
So now that you have a big waterproofed hole in your shower wall whaddya gonna do with it? (If you do not have a waterproof hole in your wall start with Building a Shower Niche Part 1 and Building a Shower Niche Part 2.) I’ll just kick back and finish my beer Pepsi while you read those.
Once your niche space is waterproofed you can do just about anything you want with it as far as design is concerned. That is not to say you should cut out and build the niche space then decide what to do with it – you need to know what you’re going to do with it before you start.
The niche I’m using for these posts is simply an empty shelf in the wall. There are no additional shelves or design elements incorporated into it. We’ll get to that in a bit. This one is very simple, though. We will just place one full tile in the back and install bullnose pieces on the sides.
You can start by running the remainder of the wall tile up to and around the bottom of the niche and the sides. (I did not do both sides of my niche yet because of the distance to the back wall – you should.) Do not run the tile over the top of the niche yet.
If you’ve planned it correctly your grout lines should be lined up with the top and bottom of the niche like they are in the photo. Depending on your layout, design, or framing this is not always possible but if you can line them up it looks better most of the time.
I’ve built this niche to be the exact size of one full tile and exactly as deep as the bullnose is wide. The overall size is 13 x 13 x 3 inches. We will install the full piece on the back wall first. With the field tile installed up to the niche you will notice that there is actually more than three inches from the back of the niche to the face of the field tile – that’s normal, don’t panic.
To enable you to adjust the back piece of tile we need to install it differently than normal. We will not be simply spreading the thinset on the wall and back-buttering the tile and slamming it in there. If you do that you will never be able to adjust it. What we need to do with the back piece is called ‘spotting’ the tile. Place five big globs (that word just made me giggle – I don’t know why) of thinset onto the back of the tile like photo 1.
Spotting the tile will allow you to move the tile in or out and make small adjustments to get your bullnose absolutely even with the field tile. If you install it normally (with full coverage) any adjustments would be impossible.
Place that tile into the back of your niche. Do not push it all the way in yet! Get it to about 2 3/4″ back from the face of the field tile. In other words you want the space from the face of the tile on the outside wall to the tile in the back of the niche to be about 2 3/4″.
If you push it back any further than that it will not be out far enough to contact the back of the bullnose piece and you will have a space between the back and bullnose piece. If it is too far back at any point you will need to start over. Pulling it out is a pain in the ass – so don’t do that.
Now start with the bottom piece of bullnose. Just backbutter the tile and stick it onto the bottom part of the niche.
Notice in the photo above how the front of the bullnose is not yet flush with the field tile? That’s the way it should look when you first get it in there. Now you want to SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY wiggle the back piece of tile back and forth just enough to make the bullnose flush with the field tile. Remember, if you go too far you get to start all over. Unlike most things do-overs in tile installation aren’t always a good thing.
Concentrate mostly on the bottom of that back piece, we’ll take care of the top after we get the bottom flush. When it is flush you should place a small level on the bullnose piece to ensure that you still have the small slope towards the front so water drains properly.
When you have the bottom piece installed you need to install the top piece next. The niche tile installation should be completed in this order so that when you install the side pieces they will support the top piece without any additional bracing. So what are you waiting for? Get the damn thing in there already.
Since there is no tile above your niche to gauge how far to push it in we need to figure out another way to do it. Lucky you! I’ve already done that. Take your straight-edge or level and place it against the face of your field tile from below the niche to above the niche. You should lay it so that the entire front of the niche is flat and flush. You will probably need to wiggle it back and forth to get everything pushed back flush. You can also hold a scrap piece of tile up above the top piece of bullnose to ensure it is in the correct place.
Once you get the top piece in there you need to measure and cut the side pieces. Measure and mark the cuts for the bottom of the side pieces. The measurements at the back of the niche will be different than the front due to the small slope of the bottom piece. If you try to cut the top of the side pieces they will not fit correctly.
Now take your straight-edge or level and place it against the face of your field tile and niche in several different directions to make sure everything is flush and even.
And there you have it – rubber ducky storage!
Now at this point you can either let it set overnight and cure fully so nothing moves as you are finishing the remainder of the tile, or you can go ahead and finish the tile now.
Due to the order in which you’ve placed the bullnose pieces in the niche you can go ahead and place the tile over the top of it and the top bullnose piece will support it since it is braced by the side pieces.
Be aware, however, that before the thinset is fully cured there will probably be movement in one direction or another as you are working around your niche. So pay close attention to anything that moves and make sure you either brace them to remain where you want them or use some blue painters tape to hold them in place. Believe me, it sucks when you come back the next day and something has moved.
I was going to describe different layout and design choices but I’m already half drunk this post is already so long I’ll just put all that in a separate post. With my tendency to babble endlessly give you as much information as possible I’m certain that post will be long enough anyway.
If you simply want a square niche the size of one tile that is as far as you need to go. The entire process is there. If, however, you want all that fancy-ass stuff like listellos, shelves, arches, or any of that you should probably read the next post before starting. Either way, take a break. Too much of a good thing can be draining.
I’ll leave you with a photo of the completed shower with the niche I’ve used for all these posts. If you look closely, or you know, click on the damn thing, you will actually see two of them – one on each wall. If you want that just start at the beginning and repeat, but turn around and face the other wall first.