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Installing a Split Face Travertine Backsplash

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

I met Jacque and Matt from The DIY Village recently at Haven. They are such an adorable (AND TALL) couple:

Seriously, these two are TALL, I’m 5’6″ and I was wearing heels in that picture! Poor Matt was one of the few guy bloggers at Haven, but he was able to ham it up with us gals. Even if he didn’t get the memo that Jacque and I were wearing coral colors. 😉

As I’m getting ready to head out on the BIG GMC Adventure Along the World’s Longest Yard Sale, I asked these two fellow DIYers if they’d share one of their DIY adventures with you. I can seriously relate to this “simple” home improvement turning into a much bigger improvement. It happens to us DIYers all the time. So, check out how Matt started with simply swapping out their old microwave and ended up installing new drywall, removing and moving their wall cabinets, installing new stainless steel appliances, AND adding a beautiful split face travertine backsplash. Phew, I’m tired just thinking about it.

Give it up for The DIY Village People (sorry I couldn’t resist. Now you’ll have that song “Y-M-C-A” in your head all afternoon.)

Thank you Brittany for asking us to guest post here at Pretty Handy Girl. We are so excited to get to know your readers or rather let your readers get to know us. Let’s start with some quick introductions shall we?

I’m Jacque of theDIYvillage

And this is my husband Matt (the other half of theDIYvillage team)

We bought a new to us house in 2011 and are constantly working on our what seems to be our Never Ending Honey-Do list. We love to get our hands into just about anything we can. From installing a Paver Path:

Paver Path

Turning old Mason Jars into Pendant Lights:

Old Mason Jar Hanging Light

to creating a custom trellis wall treatment for my Craft Room:

Craft Room

Through the DIY Village we offer a His and Hers perspective on all things DIY, so we feel like we have a unique take on most projects! There isn’t much that we won’t try. The best part is we love sharing the how to’s with others. So if that’s what your looking for, today is your lucky day! Matt is going to share one of our more recent projects,

Installing a Split Face Travertine Tile Backsplash – take it away Matt!

Believe it or not, I didn’t start this project with the intent of installing a split face travertine tile backsplash. The original plan involved the simple task of removing the old microwave and installing the new stainless steel one. But like many of my DIY projects, this one took on a life of its own!

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

Since we spend so much time in the kitchen, we splurged for brand new stainless steel appliances. The refrigerator and stove installation went quick and easy, but the microwave… Well, let’s just say, the microwave swap led to an unexpected upgrade for our kitchen!

The plan was to take down the old microwave and prep the area for the new one to be installed. I thought it would be a good idea to remove the backsplash from behind the old microwave before we installed the new one. My thinking was that if I went ahead and did that, I wouldn’t have to take the microwave back down later on when Jacque decided that she wanted a new backsplash .

Here’s a good look at the old backsplash.

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

I figured I would be able to break the old tiles apart and easily remove them from the drywall… That idea was grand in theory, until I found that over the years, the old backsplash had grown quite fond of the drywall… At one point during my attempt to separate the two, I swear I heard the drywall tell the backsplash, “You go, We go!”

So here I was, the old microwave had been removed, the new microwave waiting to be installed, and an uncooperative backsplash and wall standing in my way. I did what any DIY’er would do… I embraced the situation and I took it all down! And by all, I mean I stripped the wall of EVERYTHING, all the way to the studs.

Now, keep in mind, Jacque thought that my plan was to just swap out the microwaves…She didn’t have a clue about the backsplash demolition or the cabinet removal. As a matter of fact, she lay sick on the couch in the family room about 25 feet from where I was working. She wasn’t kept in the dark too long… It was kind of hard to disguise the sound of breaking tile. Luckily, she’s a trusting wife! I get the feeling that nothing really surprises her anymore when it comes to me and projects! So with her blessing I continued the carnage, knowing very well that I was going to pay for disturbing her much needed rest… After all, we still had to go shopping for the new backsplash!

Installing Split Face Travertine TileInstalling Split Face Travertine TileInstalling Split Face Travertine Tile

The remainder of that day involved installing new drywall and mudding the joints. As partial payback, since I had the cabinets off the wall, Jacque asked if I would reinstall the cabinet above the microwave higher than where it originally had been. She had been brainstorming and I knew I was in trouble. That request led to me having to not only raise the cabinet height, but I also had to raise the electrical box and plug for the microwave!

(All of this out because I didn’t want to have to take the microwave down a second time later on… When will I learn???)

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

After a few days of mudding and sanding on the drywall, Jacque was feeling better and decided it was time for payback to go shopping. We had seen travertine split face tile at our friend’s, the Johnsons’ house and we fell in love with it! And as luck would have it, we were able to find the tile we wanted at Lowes, literally 5 minutes from our house! Jacque wanted to find something to add that “something special” to the backsplash, so we scoured the aisles looking for the right look. I ran across some decorative tiles and after some healthy discussion, this is what we decided on!

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

Now, on to the how this all came together!

(Unfortunately, I started the installation when Jacque had gone back to work, there wasn’t anyone to take progression pics for me.)

Since I had just installed new drywall, there wasn’t much surface prep required before I began the installation. I did take the time to clean the area of dust and debris by wiping the surface down with a damp cloth. Next I measured and marked out guidelines for my tile. I found the center of the wall and measured out 6 inches on each side, as to guarantee that my first sheet going up would be centered. The only other mark I made was the countertop height, so I’d know where to install the tile to meet up nicely with the countertop.

Next I began to apply the mastic (the adhesive designed to adhere the tile vertically to the wall). I used a v-notched trowel and spread the mastic on the wall surface in a fan like sweeping motion, covering just enough wall to place 2 sheets of tile at a time. The split face tile sheets are made to be pieced together like a puzzle side by side without a gap, so there were no spacers in between to worry about. Placing the tile was as simple as finding my reference marks and pressing the tile firmly into place. I installed the entire bottom row first and the only cutting I had to do was for the 2 outer sheets of tile to fit against the wall. For most of the project I used a wet tile saw for cutting, but in some instances, I found that peeling off the individual stone from the mesh backing and shaping it with a bench grinder came in pretty handy too! Once that bottom row was set, the remainder of the installation was simply repeating the same process over again.

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

The next step was to seal the backsplash with a product called Aqua Mix Gold. I went with this sealer because it advertises that it can be used as a pre-grout sealer and a stain protection. There is some debate about whether or not it’s necessary to grout split face travertine tile. Originally, I didn’t plan on grouting the split face tile, but after some reading and discussion with some tile experts, I’ve decided that I will grout it in the very near future. But, for the time being, I went ahead and applied the Aqua Mix Gold with a sponge and waited 24 hours to let it fully cure. Once the sealer had cured, I finished off the backsplash by adding some recessed plugs (So the kitchen appliances wouldn’t stick so far out on the counter top) and touched up the side wall with paint.

The project that started out as a simple microwave swap led to the installation of a gorgeous split face travertine tile backsplash!

Here’s what we ended up with! 

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

Installing Split Face Travertine Tile

Thank you again Brittany for letting us share this project with the Pretty Handy Girl readers. It’s amazing how quickly things can snowball, but don’t let that hold you back from digging in. You never know what the result might end up being!

Matt & Jacque

Wow, isn’t that backsplash delicious looking!  Thank you so much to Matt & Jacque for taking us on their kitchen renovation journey. If you want to follow more of their DIY adventures, hop over to The DIY Village.

Now, if I can just convince those two to come help me with my kitchen update. I think it would blow up into a nice overall renovation. What do you say Matt? Jacque? Want to make a trip to Raleigh, NC this Fall? Hint, hint.


16 replies
  1. Larry
    Larry says:

    Using splitface tile for a backsplash, since the surface is so uneven, how do you install the switch plate covers and outlet covers. Do you try to choose the pieces that are perhaps a little less uneven or even remove pieces of stone that are high and replace with thinner ones? Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      Larry, this is the reply from Jacque: “There is a slight variance in depth of the travertine tile, but not enough where we felt that a outlet cover would look awkward. We actually installed recessed plugs that are all one piece. They look fine.”

  2. Tammy
    Tammy says:

    Your back splash looks great! I am going to be tackling ours soon. I will be using a similar textured tile and am curious as to how you went around the outlets so that the covers sit flush? Any tips? Thanks so much!

  3. Barb Onken
    Barb Onken says:

    My husband is getting ready to install this Emperador Split Face Tile this weekend in my kitchen for our backsplash! We haven’t planned on grouting either, but someone at Home Depot me that if we seal it, I can wash it all I want, probably if I get splashes I would use a soft bristle brush and a little bit of soap and water? I hope it turns out because I LOVE THE LOOK Thank you for the beautiful pics!

  4. Matt
    Matt says:

    My wife and I got almost the exact same split face tile (minus the decorative stone strip).
    We installed it ourselves and it looks great, but I just don’t see how we are going to be able to grout this type of tile and it not completely ruin the appearance. Each stone tile is very porous, has sharp edges and its overall surface is all varying heights… which makes it impossible to clean the grout by wipe it off with a standard sponge after its grouted.
    I cant find any videos on YouTube, etc.. that shows how to grout this tile. I don’t want to ruin the look of the perfect job (so far)… So we are contemplating just leaving it as is…

    • michele
      michele says:

      Ugh, we just installed a tile which had a combo of split face and polished marble, its beautiful, but the surface is made up of stones of varying thickness, and the spacing is uneven, ranging from undetectable to 1/16. I decided I needed to grout thinking that if grout could get in the space, so could any kitchen splatter. because of the uneven surface you can not use a trowel or float, so I ended up spreading the grout by hand, if you try this method I would suggest wearing latex gloves. Removing the excess was really hard, any sort of rag or sponge, just shredded on the stone surface and did nothing to remove the grout. by the time I switched to a brush, the grout had started to harden and was really tough to remove from the split surface. I purchased a non-acidic stone stripping product and attacked the tile with the stripper on a stiff brush. This was labor intensive, fairly effective, but somewhat dulled the polished marble. On the next wall I attempted to apply the grout using a fine tipped pastry bag (grouting bags have to large of a tip and would have left the same overage as the hand application), but the tip was so small that squeezing on the bag just caused water to separate from the grout. I have now purchased sanded tile caulk, which comes in a regular caulk tube in colors that coordinate with grout colors. This is a slow process but is allowing me to apply the caulk in place of grout, and the small tip reduces the mess. Any extra I am able to either remove from the polished tile with a wet rag or from the split tile with a wet tooth brush. Our tile is Jeffrey court, I have searched their website as well as Daltile for how to information with no luck. I hope this helps.

  5. Stephanie G
    Stephanie G says:

    I love the tile choice, I think it’s so beautiful and adds so much texture and character to the kitchen! I also really like how you raised the cabinets for the microwave, it really seems to open up the stove area. Great job and way to take the process in stride, it got you to a great end result!

  6. Dona Russell
    Dona Russell says:

    It looks beautiful. I love Travertine. It is very porous and on the floor it is a life saver if you drop an ice cube, it just melts in and nobody slips in the puddle of water because there is none. My question is what did you seal it with to keep the cooking oils, steam and kitchen flavors from soaking into the back splash? It will be very hard to keep clean if you have not sealed it with anything. Please let me know what your strategy is for this problem.

    • Matt@theDIYvillage
      Matt@theDIYvillage says:

      That’s a good question! We used a product called Aqua Mix Sealer’s Choice Gold. We applied two coats as a pre-grout sealer. Next, we will grout the backsplash to fill in all the cracks and crevices where dirt and grime can hide. Finally, we’ll apply a few finish coats of the Aqua Mix Sealer to the grout and the tile . After it’s all said and done, when we need to clean the backsplash, we should be able to clean it with a phosphate free liquid dish detergent!

      • Dona Russell
        Dona Russell says:

        Thanks for the reply. Makes the whole project seem more doable. Beauty is one thing, but maintenance of that beauty is the deal breaker. Love the look. You guys did a great job!

  7. Christy
    Christy says:

    So glad to know that we aren’t the only ones that had to pull all the drywall out to replace the backsplash! We decided to replace the 4″ tiles (with fruit baskets on them – yuck!) with some slate a few days before hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house a couple of years ago. We got it done in time and it looks great!

  8. Sarah Biddle
    Sarah Biddle says:

    It turned out beautifully!! I am WAY impressed 🙂 We’ve experienced the “it’s just one little project” that turns into a HUGE project! Nice job!! The next time you guys are visiting in Cary, I’ll have to fight Brittany for some DIY time with you 🙂


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