I’ve had this vision of a installing a stone entryway floor for years. Sure, cool in theory, kind of what you’d expect in an old Adirondack cabin or serving as the base of your beach cottage outdoor shower, but I felt like the actual installation could go any number of ways. I didn’t know with any certainty that this shale floor entryway was going to work, even though the test run when I stomped my heart out seemed to perform just fine. Just call me Nervous Nelly. Beach-weathered shale is a fragile sedimentary rock (the parent rock from which slate) and is most often micro-thin and breakable by hand when you find fragments of it on the beach. But I wanted to try it anyways, and I’m really excited to show you how it worked.
It’s awesome. Here’s evidence. It’s pre-grout in this picture, but I’ll be back later in the week with a full how-to on grouting stony tiles. It doesn’t happen quickly.
This has easily marched its way to the top of my favorite-DIY-projects-ever list, and I’m so glad I tried it for a number of reasons:
Before diving into the full how-to, check out a few “before” shots of the entryway floor:
Circa 2009, move-in day. Bad laminate is my mortal enemy, but I bought the house anyways. It didn’t last long, I tore it out sometime that first year and painted the underlaying stamped cement gray. I clearly have a thing about previous-owner foot filth. As of last month with the completion of the new kitchen tile every single floor surface in my house has received an overhaul. Those tiles in particular, though, were pretty gross.
Circa January 2012. The exposed painted cement that had lived beneath the laminate was a drastic improvement, but you can still tell that it was often a messy surface. It’s not that the tiles wouldn’t wipe clean with a little elbow grease, but the stamped lines in the cement are always dirty. As nice as it is to have the original-to-the-house feature exposed, it wasn’t great visually.
Onward. I proceeded with this stone floor installation very cautiously, spending the better part of one morning planning the layout of the first dozen stones, digging through the box to figure out how they’d best fit together. I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick process; I wanted the stones to fit really well, as close to a puzzle as I could create from rocks that shared no common shape, while also focusing on using stones that had a heartiness about them, weren’t chipping, cracked, or beginning to show signs of layering, fragility, or fragmentation. I tried to keep each stone between 1/4″-1/2″ depth.
When I was confident enough with the preliminary layout and my ability to keep growing the puzzle, I mixed up the mortar, which was leftover (f-r-e-e) from our bathroom shower renovation. If you’re doing this at home, expect to spend $8-15 out of your pocket for un-mixed mortar; we were working with a polymer-fortified higher quality variety in a shade of light gray, not that the color matters immensely once you grout the stones in place.
I used a simple 3/16″ notched trowel to prep the floor surface with mortar and lightly butter the back of each stone since that’s what the people on TV do. The combination notched mortar surface and moistened tile/stone help promote good, strong adhesion on the floor.
I wiped down the floor with denatured alcohol before starting to help clean any left behind residue off the work surface, and then mixed a little bit of mortar to get the job started. Going slow, I didn’t want to risk the mortar drying out before I could use it, so the mortar that bucket in the next picture was never more than about an inch deep. I remixed about 8 times throughout the process. Also moving slowly and cautiously, I worked hard to ensure not to have any excess mortar shooting up between the stones. It’s not work overloading the mortar, something we learned when doing the bathroom subway tile. It’s better to keep the mortar beneath the tile, and leave room around the edges for grout to fit.
After installing what I considered a no-turning-back amount, I was happy. It was quickly becoming easier and easier to match pieces up that fit together well, kind of like any brain-stimulating activity. It’s not perfect, and that’s A-OK because its intent is to look like a non-commercial custom stone floor; I’m not working with those sheets of 12″x12″ stone tile mats that sell for $13/sq. ft. at the big box store, these are all hand-collected and meticulously selected stones from the shore of Lake Erie. And placement of the stones aside, I’m confident that like with other things we’ve grouted, your eyes won’t catch the flaws when it’s all done, it’s just going to be that spectacular a finished product. So excited.
Don’t ask me why I started in the corner I started in, it made for an inefficient Day 1. I was able to continue to scoot myself backwards into the corner as the day progressed, but once I ran out of space to kneel, I had to call it quits. DIY tip: Kneeling on a folded towel rag gave my knees some relief and also gave me a good place to wipe my constantly-mortar-covered fingers.
I worked ambitiously to finish mortaring the tiles into place on Day 2. Because the mortar was sitting and curing on a non-porous surface, I expected that it would take a little longer for the mortar to dry and stone tiles to cure, so I set up a scaffolding using a 2×10 board that extended from the open doorway to the hardwood floors, and hovered over the already-done floor. Again, kneeling on towels is a big relief, although it doesn’t stop your body from your hips down from going completely numb after 2 hours. Just be prepared for body exhaustion when you try this at home.
After I had finished tiling the whole floor, I left it alone for 48 hours to allow the mortar some time to cure completely, or as completely as I guessed it would need. At that point (yesterday morning) the stones were walkable, not cracking, and looking pretty great, so I spent some time buffering mortar smudges off the tops of the stones with a piece of green scrubby.
Much like when you grout tiles and are left with a haze over the surface, I had more cleaning to deal with, but it was already looking better than I expected it could. From the beach, to my own front entryway.
I’ll be back later this week for a Part 2: Grouting throw-down, so check back to see the finished project then!
Editor’s update: Check out the tutorial on grouting this slate floor, and see photos of the completed entryway here!