How to Tile a Window Recess

Add style to your kitchen or bathroom while protecting your windowsill from splatters and spills with a tiled window recess.

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Tiling a window recess adds a whole new feeling to the design scheme of a room. With the right color, texture, and shape, window tiles provide the effects of a makeover without the costly expense of redecorating. And a tiled window adds a practical dimension as well: Tiles won't rot or stain, and they won't get scratched by cats seeking a sunny refuge.

Choose the color first, then the texture (most often they go hand in hand). A neutral color will cause the window to recede or blend in with the wall. Terra-cotta tiles are a good choice. If you want to call attention to the architecture of the window, use decorative tiles but design judiciously. Too many bright colors and designs can overwhelm a room and defeat the purpose.

If the window is situated on a wall that you're going to tile, the color choice is already made. Use bullnose tiles to round off the edges of the window frame and tile the wall first. That way you can make sure the grout lines of the recess are on the same plane as the wall.

You can expect to spend about four to five hours tiling a standard 36x40-inch double-hung window. Before you begin, repair any structural defects to the window and make sure it's in good working condition. 

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What You Need

  • Pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Handsaw
  • Margin trowel
  • Notched trowel
  • Grout float
  • Wide putty knife
  • Caulking gun
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Joint tape
  • Joint compound
  • Mortar
  • Tile
  • Caulk
  • Sandpaper
  • Spacers
  • Grout
  • Rags
  • Nails
  • Fiberglass insulation

Step 1: Remove Casing and Sill

Remove the window casing with a pry bar and hammer, inserting a piece of scrap wood under the pry bar to keep from damaging the surfaces. Remove the stop molding if the tile will extend all the way to the sash. Remove the sill, cutting it with a handsaw if necessary.

Step 2: Insulate Gap

Stuff insulation into the gap between the jamb and the wall but don't hinder the movement of the sash weights in an old double-hung unit. If you're tiling the wall, apply fiberglass drywall tape and compound. Feather the compound level with the wall. Let it dry and sand smooth.

Step 3: Set Tiles

Spread and comb thinset on the sill plate, and set these tiles before the sides. Then mortar the jambs and set the side tiles, holding them in place with 8d nails. Pounding nails into hardwood causes tiles to shift, so insert finishing nails in a drill and spin them in. Grout tiles with a float.

Bonus: How to Tile a Bathroom

Step 4: Add Supports

To create a straight grout line at the edge, install wall tiles flush with the jamb. Then set the ceiling tile in mortar and support it with three boards (battens). To avoid pushing the end tiles too deeply into the mortar, don't force the supports. Let the mortar dry.

Step 5: Caulk Joint

Caulk the joint between the tiles and the window to prevent water damage. Choose a caulk that's the same color as the grout and smooth it with a caulking tool or a wet finger.

Edging Options

Option 1: Set Bullnose on the Wall

To finish the edge of a tiled window, you have several addtional options. Instead of setting bullnose inside the recess, set it on the wall surface. Set the recess tiles first, then the bullnose.

Option 2: Use Corner Edging Tiles

Use corner edging tiles, similar to countertop V-caps (but without the raised lip that forms the front edge of the counter). Mark the wall where the edges of the corners will fall. Set the wall, then the corners, then the jamb tile.

Option 3: Apply Decorative Border

Apply a decorative border strip around the recess; place bullnose or rounded field tiles on the jambs. Use bullnose if the border tile does not have a finished edge. Set the wall tiles and border first, then set the jamb tiles.

How to Create a Tiled Molding

You can achieve an eye-catching effect with a tiled molding. Pry off the trim and build a molding from milled stock. Make the internal width of the molding 1/4-inch larger than the tile. Set the tile in thinset (applied with a margin trowel) or silicone adhesive.

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