Transform a Small Space Using Mosaics (Part 2 of Mosaic Space)

Written by: techguru

Picture of Transform a Small Space Using Mosaics (Part 2 of Mosaic Space)

Do you have a space in your basement or maybe an old messy closet that you need to transform or fix up?

We did, and it was under our basement stairs. While my husband had transformed most of our basement into a padded play area for our two girls, we still had this unsightly closet space to deal with. At one point, it housed unused construction materials, but one night, we decided to fix up this space!

I'm going to give you an overview of the work that went into this project, and as requested by some of you, I'm going share with you the specific steps for mosaicing the stair backs (this was my part of the job)!

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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

Materials for Finish Work on the Closet (Shelving, baseboard, frames, mudding, and painting)




-Table saw


Materials for Mosaicing

-Ceramic Tiles (It will depend on your colors and designs how much you will need, but always over estimate slightly…I bought a case of black wall tile from our hardware store, and for the stairs that I covered, I used about 2/3 of the case)

-Colored glass (preferably upcycled scrap from a stained glass store)

-Mastic tile adhesive

-Weldbond glue


-Plastic wrap

-Sanded Grout (I used black and biscuit)

-Tile sponge for applying grout

-Plastic Safety Glasses

-Cheap Ventilation Mask

-paint stirrer or thin long piece of scrap wood or even an old wood ruler

-Vinal or latex gloves

-scraps of towel or old cut up t-shirts

-a putty knife (or an old butter knife that you plan to throw out...or even one of those dip spreaders that you never will literally be using it to "butter" your tiles!)

-Handheld Tile Cutters (will run you about $ can also get glass pinchers for about the same price. I used more tiles on my stairs than glass, but just note that neither model will cut both!)

-Handheld glass/tile file (again about $10, and maybe not vital but nice to have so that pieces are not too sharp. I don't file every piece I cut...just ones that seem like a hazard.)

-A Hammer


-Water and several large containers (remember to recycle, so maybe use cleaned out coffee cannisters. I use those now, but at the time I did this, I used an old large Tupperware that I was going to throw out.)

-Grout Sealer

-rubbing Alcohol

Materials for Decorating

-Foam Mat Pad (find a used kid one that fits together like a puzzle…this is to put under the rug for comfort since the floor is cement)

-Black Rug to fit the space

-Throw Pillows (get some from yard sales or thrift shops and throw them in the washer)

-Glow in the Dark Stairs or Paint (we haven't done this yet, but we plan to when our girls are old enough to help us with these finishing touches!)

-Curtain Rod


Step 2: Finish Work Overview

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As I said, my husband did all of this work, so I am not giving specific details and measurements here, but rather just an overview.

1. First Mud and Tape any seams and screw heads if your space is unfinished like ours was (drywall was already in place though). My husband used a quick dry material with low dust, so this process only took about a day. To be totally honest, I think he just filled the seams rather than taping them, but it's a closet, and it's in the basement.

2. After mudding, he primed the walls and stairs that we planned on using (the bottom stairs would be covered by a built-in, so he left those as is)

3. When the primer dried, he applied black paint over the primer. One coat seemed to cover it just fine!

4. Next he measured and used the table saw to cut two pieces to put on the outside of the closet to frame it up.

5. He screwed them in place.

6. He measured the space available for a built in, built it outside of the closet, and installed it with screws and a drill. That's all I have on the built in. I honestly don't know how he did it! I was so impressed, and when I asked him how he knew how to do it, he said, "I'm that good"…thanks, honey, but that did not help me with this Instructable!

7. He then cut the baseboard pieces in sizes that would fit between the frame of the closet and the built in.

8. Before installing those (those were actually installed LAST even after the foam mats and rug are installed because they help keep those in place and cover the seams), he primed them then painted them purple. He also primed and painted the built in purple at this time too.

9. Finally, he used the table saw to cut a sign (in the picture above, it is the large black piece on the floor). After I mosaiced, we found that the sign was too large, so he sawed it in half, and half became the sign above the door and the other half was halved again to make the "To Infinity" and the "And Beyond" signs that are above the built in. If you look really close at one of the finished pictures, you will see that the sign above the door is half framed and the other two signs above the built in contain the other half of the frame. This was sort of a happy accident, so it now looks like one big sign that says, "One Small Step To Infinity and Beyond" with our Solar System in between. Pretty cool! We knew we wanted the sign above where the curtain would go to look like any one of those types of decorative signs that people have in their homes so that when the curtain is closed, you would never know that something fun and funky is behind it!

This brings us to how to do the mosaicing...

Step 3: Mosaic Overview

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To create the planets, I decided to use glass, but for the black space and some of the nebula, I used ceramic tile. I usually say that mixing glass and tile is a huge no no unless you are using the tile for a frame on your piece. This is because tile is thick, and glass is thin. Therefore, when it comes to grouting, it can be very tricky. With that said, however, if you mosaic the glass together on larger spaces (like using all glass on a planet), then it seems to be a little easier. Just know that when you are grouting, you will need to smooth out the transition from where the glass ends and the tile begins so that it does not appear jagged at all.

TIPS Before Starting:

I used mastic adhesive for the heavier tiles (I used just basic glazed ceramic black tiles for the space part and black and biscuit colored tiles for the sign above the door…both required mastic).

I used Weldbond glue for the glass planets and for the glass letters and background on the "To Infinity" "And Beyond" mini signs. To create the planets, I used cut out circles of mesh (the mesh that some glass tiles come on at home improvement stores...I save this when I buy glass or tile!). Glue the glass onto the mesh over plastic wrap, let the glue dry, and peel off the plastic. That way, you do not have to glue to a vertical surface because glass likes to slip right off the wall. Instead, you can create your planets (or whatever design you choose) right on your workbench. Then, when dry, you can use a very thin layer of mastic to glue the entire piece of mesh to a vertical surface...saves a lot of frustration!

The three framed signs (the one above the doorway and the two above the built ins) were cut and framed by my husband, then I mosaiced, glued, and grouted on a horizontal surface. When they were done, he just simply drilled the frames into place with nails!

Step 4: Mosaicing Steps (Literally)

Picture of Mosaicing Steps (Literally)

First thing: plan out what you want your picture on the stairs to look like. Note our crude drawings and cude materials list in the pictures! Rough sketches are just fine! Then recreate your rough sketch on the stairs in marker.

1. Place black ceramic tiles wrapped once in a newspaper on the ground and begin smashing with a hammer. Maybe start by smashing 5-6 tiles of the colors you need. NOTE: Wear Safety Glasses! Also Wear shoes, do this on the floor, and be sure to use a shop vac after to pick up dust and shards! I don't wear gloves because I like to be precise, but be smart and are working with SHARP stuff!

2. Carefully pick up smashed fragments and put them in a container to carry to your stairs. I like an array of sizes for the ceramic pieces! While carrying those over to your workspace, grab your tile cutters and file (for trimming and reshaping pieces for a good fit) and also grab your knife and Mastic!

3. Start mosaicing! Do this by buttering the back of a piece of tile with your knife, and stick it to the stairs. You are on your way! *A few words of wisdom that you will likely learn on your own as well: -don't use too much mastic. You don't want it to spill up over your tile because ideally the grout should cover it. If it comes up around the tile and sticks out further, you will see if after grouting. -BUT don't use so little mastic that your pieces fall off! Mastic is great, and should hold your tiles vertical even as it dries, but you need enough for it to stick, so look at my picture. It is okay to see white around your tile as long as the white does not come up and over the tile! -Since this is a time consuming process, you may want to protect your investment of mastic by scooping some out into a smaller container so that the rest does not dry out as you work.

4. Use tile cutters to shape or make tiles smaller as necessary to fit your pattern.

5. I prefer to place tiles about 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart, but do what looks most aesthetically pleasing. There are no rules. Just be consistent once you decide.

6. Go back to your newspaper smashing area when you run out of tiles and smash more.

7. If you created planets out of glass and pre-glued them to mesh as suggested in the Mosaic Overview notes, then simply butter a VERY thin layer of mastic in a circle, and gently press your premade planet to its spot. I snipped some planets in half to give a look of continuity of the picture on the stairs.

Step 5: The Dirty Work

Picture of The Dirty Work

Grouting a vertical surface is very messy, so be prepared with a plastic drop cloth or sheet! Grouting the back of these stairs proved to be very messy as well as quite a workout (not to mention I was 6 months pregnant!).

Okay, so after you place and glue your tiles with the mastic, you WAIT 24 hours for the mastic to dry. Check that they are secure the next day. Then the fun begins (I hate grouting, but I love revealing the tiles under the grout once the grout is applied!)

1. Have you waited 24 hours and checked the tiles?

2. Put on your mask and gloves and get your paint mixer, grout, container, water, and sponge ready! Begin mixing the grout in your container according to directions (by adding water), and use your paint stirrer or a gloved hand to mix (do not use a bare hand...grout seriously dries out your skin!). I go for a thick cake batter consistency and let it stand for about 3 minutes after mixing. You don't want it too dry because it will be crumbly when applying, but too wet will seep out onto the stairs, so this is a trial and error type deal for you!

3. Once mixed, you can remove your mask. Take the grout in its container over to the first stair you are going to grout, and apply it in the cracks using your sponge. Smoosh it in and smooth it out. Be patient because about half will go in the cracks and half will fall out onto the floor. The joy of working on a vertical surface! Just keep adding more grout and smooshing it back in.

4. Once you get a whole step smeared in grout, try to even out the grout but wiping across your tiles with the sponge. Get a clean container with water, dip your sponge in, and continue wiping and evening things out. Add grout into crevices that do not look filled or even. You will slowly see your tiles again, but they will be hazy.

5. At this point, when things are pretty smooth between the tiles and you can see most tiles...albeit hazy, move on to the next stair and repeat the process.

6. Once you have done 2 stairs, go back the the first one. The haze will be drying well, but the grout is by no means completely dry. At this point, take your rinsed out sponge and start wiping the haze off with clean water. Another method is to instead use a dry cloth (cut up t shirt or towel) to wipe the haze and not use water. I like both methods equally, but the benefit to just cloth is that things will dry quicker, but with a sponge, you get smoother grout lines.

7. Repeat this process with all stairs. This process will take about 3-4 hours for every 3 stairs you complete.

Step 6: Polishing Touches

Picture of Polishing Touches

After grouting and the initial haze cleaning on all stairs wait 24 hours before sealing.

1. Put on your mask!

2. Spray sealer according to directions on 2 finished steps at a time. One coat is plenty.

3. Use a clean dry cloth to wipe sealer off of tiles. This also helps to shine them. This will take about 10 minutes per stair.

4. To get off any remaining haze or to further shine the tiles, put rubbing alcohol on a cloth and individually shine the tiles. This is time consuming, but it sure does make your mosaic sparkle! It will take as much time as you are willing to put in!

5. Next take your Weldbond and apply a layer of glue to the bottom edge of the steps to prevent grout crumbles and cracks. Once it dries clear, use a damp cloth to clean any giles or glass that you got glue on.

6. Finally, if you want to make your planets or pictures pop from the background, paint the grout in a color of your choice!

Step 7: From Ugly Storage Space to Book Nook from Outer Space!

Picture of From Ugly Storage Space to Book Nook from Outer Space!

Pillows were from yard sales or thrift stores as well as the Star Wars lunch box! We added push lights, and we'll be letting our daughters decorate with glow in the dark stars as they get older! Finally, we like the play on words and the overall message: "One Small Step" from Neil Armstrong since this is space after all, but it is also literally a space under stairs or "steps," and "To Infinity and Beyond" via Buzz Lightyear for our whimsical and dreamy side! The message together, "One Small Step To Infinity and Beyond" reminds us that we control our future but can take it in any direction...especially through the power of reading, but that's the English teacher in me!

My 2 year old loves to lay in here and "read" her books and play! We are so pleased with this INEXPENSIVE fixed up space! It was a fun upgrade and upcycle project for my husband and me!