Let the tiling begin

With all of the structural elements in place, we can now begin the work of making everything look pretty. The bulk of this work involves tiling all of the surfaces. Specifically:

  1. Pool retaining walls
  2. Flower bed
  3. Pool deck
  4. Rear wall behind deck
  5. Stairs down to pool deck
  6. Pool coping
  7. Cupboard and seating area

Areas to be tiled

The various surfaces requiring finishing.

Site before tiling

The current state of affairs - ugly grey brick surfaces.
Color palette

The design color palette began with the pool surface, as we had decided early on that a deep, indigo blue was our preferred color.

For the pool deck, we wanted something light to ensure it didn't heat up too much under the summer sun, and so settled on bone/ivory travertine to provides a nice contrast against the pool blue.

To provide some contrast to the pool deck, a darker color was needed for the vertical surfaces (flower/plant bed walls and pool retaining walls). Since the top of the wall behind the pool deck was to be finished with a rich brown hardwood deck, we chose something similar and went with a brown/grey combination stacked stone.

These decisions gave us the following color palette:

Pool deck/coping ivory
Retaining wall / wooden deck brown
Retaining wall grey
Pool blue

The stone we require for the various surfaces is as follows:

  • Ivory travertine stone tiles (12mm)
    • Rear wall (610 x 305mm)
    • Cupboard and seating area (610 x 305mm)
  • Ivory travertine stone tiles (30mm)
    • Pool deck and coping (French pattern on deck, 610 x 305mm on coping)
    • Stairs down to pool deck (610 x 305mm)
    • Flower bed capping (610 x 305mm)
  • Stacked slate (i.e. flagstone) tiles
    • Pool retaining walls
    • Flower bed walls

In all, we have 77 square meters of tiling to do. The walls will be done first, followed by the pool coping and finally the pool deck.

How does one cut stone?

With a tile saw of course. Although a hand-held device like an angle grinder with diamond blade will happily cut through stone and tiles, to achieve a clean and straight edge, a table saw is required. The saw holds the stone in place while moving the blade along a fixed rail, resulting in a smooth, straight cut. It also squirts water over the blade as it cuts, dramatically decreasing the amount of fine dust that is shot into the air and increasing the blade life by preventing it from overheating.

Tile saw
Super cheap table tile saw

We will be using this extensively as much of our work requires custom tile sizes (e.g. the pool coping, flower bed coping, stairs down to the pool deck, cupboard, etc).

The rear wall and cupboard / seating area (610 x 305 x 12mm)

Before proceeding, the tiles need to be categorized. In an ideal world they would be quite uniform and changing which tile was laid next to which would not affect the final appearance. While this is the case for manufactured tiles, natural stone has great variation; travertine more so, and our budget travertine even more so. So some sort of grouping is required to easy the transition between tiles of differing shades.

Stacked tiles
Although very similar, tiles of very different shades will look odd if laid directly next to each other.

With the 12mm tiles sorted out, I was ready to start sticking them to the cupboard and walls. Having never tiled anything, I did some deep diving on technique and materials and settled on the use SMP Evo tile adhesive. As written, I have no experience in this area, but research indicates that it is a very well regarded product and meets our criteria of being white (darker adhesives may mark the travertine), non-vertical slump (important for large wall tiles), flexible and non-shrink. With 50 odd square meters of wall tiling to do, we needed an awful lot of it.

We also need primer to prepare the concrete walls for the adhesive. The primary purpose of the primer is to improves adhesion. In the case of our porous concrete walls, it reduces the rate at which the moisture will be sucked out of the tiling adhesive, thus allowing it to cure for longer and achieve a greater bond strength.

Primer on concrete cupboard
Cupboard and bottom seating area after priming.

Once primed, it's a process of measuring, cutting, and adhering the tiles to the primed surface. The life of the mixed adhesive is only around an hour so, so it's necessary to move as quickly as possible. Typically this means measuring and cutting all the tiles ahead of time, and then adhering them in one go.

Half tiled rear wall
The almost completed rear wall and cupboard.

The stair area proved painful given the number of cuts required, but once they were done, the 12mm travertine tiling was complete.

Completed rear wall
The completed rear wall and cupboard. Subtle shade differences can be seen between the tiles - an inevitable result of discount stone.