You don’t have to be a skilled craftsman to decorate a surface with modern ceramic mosaic tiles. They come in a variety of designs and their small size makes it easy to tile round curves and obstacles.

D ecorating a surface with mosaics -small pieces of material such as stone, glass, tile or shell – is an art form with a long history. The main drawback with the traditional method was that you needed an artist to design the mosaic and, usually, a highly skilled installer to fit them – all of which was expensive. Today, however, there are mosaics available as ceramic tiles that you can lay yourself.

Modern ceramic mosaic tiles come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and patterns and can be used both indoors and out. In the kitchen they are ideal as wall surfaces or as a practical and attractive worktop which will be easy to clean and extremely hardwearing. An alternative to a completely tiled worktop is to have an inset area of mosaic tiles close to the hob on which you can put hot pans square, to round, hexagonal or Provencale pick a frostproof adhesive. Remember you can add colour pigments to grout to obtain a coloured, rather than the usual, white, finish. This technique can be most effective, especially if it’s used on a work surface where a darker coloured mosaic is used.


– Small, square mosaics usually come in sheets measuring about 300mm (12in) square, though larger sheets measuring 600 x 300mm (24 x 12in) are available.

– Shaped tiles are available on sheets measuring 470 x 300mm (18V2X 12in) or 547 x350mm (21 x14in).


Most mosaics are square or rectangular, but other shapes are also available -round, hexagonal and Provengale are the commonest.


Check that the tiles you intend using are suitable:.

– for exterior use (eg, on a patio) mosaics must be frostproof or vitrified

– for floors, select flooring quality mosaics.

– for kitchen work surfaces, check that the glaze on the tiles does not contain lead.


Use a 2m (approx 6ft) length of 50 x 25mm (2 x 1 in) softwood and mark the width of a number of mosaic sheet sizes along it, allowing the same gap between sheets as between individual tiles. In small rooms use a shorter batten.

Preparing the surface

The surface on which you are tiling should be clean, flat, dry and firm. You should allow a newly plastered surface to dry out for at least a month before tiling it; make sure old plaster is sound by removing all loose particles with a brush. Dusty or porous plaster can be treated with a stabilising primer to prevent the liquid from the adhesive being absorbed too quickly.

Mosaics can be applied on top of paint as long as the paint film is sound. If the paint is flaking, you should scrape it off as thoroughly as possible. Don’t use a chemical stripper, and avoid using a solvent-based adhesive for fixing the tiles (most are water based, but check first).

Old ceramic tiles provide a suitable surface if they are perfectly flat. Any chipped or broken tiles should be removed and the gap filled with mortar or adhesive, and any loose tiles should be firmly restuck. You should also remove dirt and grease from the surface of the tiles.

Don’t attempt to lay mosaic tiles on concrete unless it is absolutely sound and dry. (If it’s not perfectly flat, the small size of the mosaic tiles will be able to accommodate any unevenness, but it’ll still show.) If you want to tile over wooden floorboards, cover the floor first with sheets of plywood or chipboard (special water-resistant, resin-bonded sheets are available for very ‘wet’ areas like bathrooms). This will prevent any slight movement of the floorboards causing the tiles or the grouting to crack.

Where to start on floors

The best way of planning your tiling and deciding where to start is to treat a sheet of tiles as one tile. In effect this means you can use a tiling gauge to find the correct starting point in the same way as for laying ordinary ceramic floor tiles. Where a whole sheet won’t fit, you simply cut whole tiles off the sheet – and leave the cutting of individual tiles until last. Check with a square that you have a right-angled starting point, and adjust your starting point if the cut pieces are too thin for convenience.

In a small room where there is a prominent feature such as a WC, it may be more sensible to begin tiling outwards from the feature and work towards the walls. In cases like this you should measure up and find the central starting point. Adjust its position if it means you will have to cut very thin pieces of tile by including one less mosaic tile in each complete row.

Mosaics on wall surfaces

On a wall you can use a tiling gauge to mark off where complete sheets of tiles will fall, and so establish your starting point in the same way as for fixing larger ceramic wall tiles. Use a plumbline and a spirit level to establish a true vertical and horizontal. Aim to position the tiles so there will be a whole mosaic sheet width (with a grouting gap at the bottom) immediately above the floor line or skirting board.

Find the centre point of the wall or the centre of a window, and measuring from this point work out where the last whole sheet of tiles in each row will be; then mark off your starting point by finding where one of these will fall at a suitable level – usually just above the skirting board. Again, adjust your starting point if you will have to cut pieces of tile which are too thin. On a reasonable size wall you can fix a horizontal and vertical batten which meet at the starting point to serve as guides for fixing the sheets. On a small area this is not essential.

Fixing mosaics

It’s easier to work in small areas when fixing the tiles, one sheet at a time, otherwise there’s

A risk of the adhesive going off before you’ve finished making the final adjustments. Spread the adhesive over an area no greater than 1 sq m (about 11 sq ft) and fix the first sheet of tiles in place. You can then lay the other whole sheets, remembering to leave the same gap between each sheet as there is between the individual mosaics. On a floor you can gently tamp the sheets of mosaic down with a wooden batten to make sure they are level and securely fixed. When all the whole sheets are in place, the next step is to cut the strips of mosaic to fill the gaps at the perimeter of the wall or floor. Then, if necessary, mark off any individual pieces of mosaic to be cut, and fix these in place.

Mosaics are ideal for tiling round curved fixtures, such as a WC. You simply butt a sheet of mosaics against the base of the WC and push it up so some of the tiles will fit round the corner. You can then tear off individual tiles to fit round the front part of the WC base. Usually you will still have to fill some gaps with cut, shaped tiles. For this you will need to make a cardboard template of the required shape and mark this off on the individual tiles to be cut. With very small gaps, a bit of extra grouting won’t look out of place or upset the clean lines of the tiles.

Grouting mosaics

You should allow the adhesive to set before applying the grout and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. As when you are applying adhesive, work over only about 1 sqm(11 sq ft) at a time. Allow the grout to dry for about 24 hours before walking on the floor. However, if the mosaics have a paper facing, you can apply the grout to the back of the sheet making sure all the gaps between the tiles are well filled. The tiles should then be laid quickly on the adhesive and when dry the paper facing has to be removed are also available. Enclosed fittings are particularly handy where space is limited – in a hallway, perhaps – and since many are weather-proof, they are an excellent choice for the humid atmosphere of a bathroom or an outside porch.

More useful still are the spotlights. Usually mounted on adjustable arms away from the wall, they can be used to send a strong beam of light almost anywhere – back onto the wall, say, to light a picture, or out into the room to illuminate a desk or sitting area. Their only real snag is that they need careful shading, if they are not to dazzle you. Mounting them on the ceiling may overcome this problem.

And finally, don’t forget fluorescent lights. Slimline fluorescent tubes, though inhospitable looking, give off little heat and are easily concealed. Use them to spread a sheet of light over a wall. The light assembly can be mounted on a wooden batten and shaded by a pelmet or baffle. If you wish, the pelmet can be painted or papered to match the wall. Miniature fluorescents are also handy for lighting pictures and shelves, but whatever the size, be sure to use a ‘de luxe’ warm white’ tube, or the light will look cold and harsh.

Positioning the fitting

Choosing a light is only half the battle. To give of its best it must be carefully positioned. With the exception of enclosed fittings, which stand very well on their own, most need to be arranged at least in pairs, and sometimes even in a group. Traditional wall lights and mock candelabra, for example, tend to look best when arranged symmetrically in pairs – say, on each side of a chimney breast. Spotlights, on the other hand, are often most effective in a cluster. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules. In the end, it’s all down to what looks and works best in your particular situation. Try to imagine how the lights will affect the room – not only the lights themselves and their position, but also the direction of the light they will give out.

You ought to pay particular attention to the light’s height above the floor. The general rule is to place the light at just below eye level – about 1,500mm (5ft) – but you can vary this as necessary to stop the light getting in your eyes or to help direct it where it’s needed. Wall lights used as bedside lamps, for example, should be about 1,220mm (4ft) above the floor and positioned so they can’t get knocked as someone walks past them.

Installing the light

Having mastered the basic electrical techniques , you shouldn’t find it difficult to fit the light. But remember electricity can be dangerous if abused, so follow the instructions to the letter. If they don’t tie in with your home’s existing wiring, or if you’re unsure about what you’re doing, don’t take chances – get expert advice.

The first step is to find a power source, though it is best to leave the connections into the existing circuit until last. That way, you can do almost all the work with your home’s electrics working normally; you’ll have to turn off the power at the mains only for the few minutes needed to make the final connection.

In most cases, taking a spur off the existing lighting circuit is your best bet. Do check, though, that the wall light will not overload it. Isolate the circuit in question by removing the fuse carrier from the consumer unit, or by turning off its MCB, and add up the total wattage of the bulbs it feeds – those that are now dead, in other words. Bulbs rated at 100W or more count at face value; less powerful bulbs count as 100W. When you’ve done that, add on the wattage of the new light and make sure the grand total is less than 1,200 watts.

Assuming this is so, there are two ways to break into the circuit. In theory, the simplest is to connect a 1.0 or 1.5mm2 two-core and earth cable to a loop-in ceiling rose, and run it to a four-terminal junction box above the ceiling. In practice, it’s often hard to fit the extra wires in, so, as an alternative, trace a mains feed cable out of the rose, and connect the junction box into this cable.

Once you’ve got power to the junction box, wire up the wall light and its switch on the conventional junction box system with one cable going to the light, and another to the switch. The switch can be anywhere convenient, either close to the light or away from it. You can use the switch position by the room’s door if you wish. It’s a simple matter to convert the existing one-gang switch there (for ceiling light) to a two-gang (for ceiling light and wall light).

Many wall lights have a built-in switch, so you may wonder why a switch is necessary. Although these are fine for everyday use, you ought to be able to isolate the wall light completely so an additional ordinary plate switch is required.

Though fitting a wall light is not complicated there are two problems you may meet. The first is in fixing the light to the wall. Many can be screwed to the holes provided in the BESA box housing connections between light and cable. Failing that, you can fix the light to the wall using screws and wall plugs, and house the connections in a metal architrave mounting box sunk into the wall behind it.

The second problem is earthing. Even if the wall light doesn’t need to be earthed, the earth wire in the new cables must be linked to your home’s main earthing point at the fuse box or consumer unit. Connect earth wires to water or gas pipes.) You can, of course, do this by connecting it to the earth wire in the existing wiring, but, if the existing wiring is old, it may not have an earth wire. In this case, you should run a single sheathed earth core from the new junction box back to the earthing point.

Connecting to a ring circuit

If it’s inconvenient or impossible to take power from the lighting circuit, you can connect the wall light to a ring circuit. Essentially, you run a spur to the wall light’s junction box. You break into the ring either by connecting a 2.5mm2 two-core and earth cable to the back of a power socket, or by joining it to a three-terminal junction box and connecting this to the ring circuit cable beneath the floor.

However, there is a snag. The ring circuit fuse has too high a rating for a lighting circuit (remember, these need a 5A fuse). To get round this, you have to run the 2.5mm? Cable into a fused connection unit fitted with a 5A fuse, and continue the circuit to a four-terminal junction box and then on to the light and switch junction box with 1.0 or 1.5mm2 cable. Obviously, this involves considerable extra work and expense; but there is a short cut. You can do away with the junction box and separate switch, and use a switched fused connection unit to control the wall light. It sounds appealing, but it too has its drawbacks. The connection unit will not match the other light switches in the room, and it needs to be as close as possible to the light – an unnecessarily complex cable run would be needed to control the light from the far side of the room.


– fix ordinary wall lights about 1.5m (5ft) above floor level

– bedside lights are best set about 1.2m (4ft) above floor level.


Use a one-way plate switch for the wall light. Set it on a metal mounting box sunk into the wall or on a plastic box mounted on the surface.

– a separate switch is needed to isolate a wall light from the main circuit even if it has a built-in switch of its own.

• alternatively you can use an existing switch position to control an extra wall light by replacing a one-gang switch unit with a two-gang unit.


The wires of the fitting are linked to the circuit cable using insulated cable connectors. These are housed in a BESA box or an architrave box which is sunk into the wall and hidden by the light fitting.


The easiest way to provide wall lights with power is to run a 1.0mm2 two-core and earth, PVC-sheathed and insulated cable from a loop-in ceiling rose.

– run a cable from the rose to a junction box. Two cables then run from the box -one to the light and one to its switch (A).

– rather than connecting into the main lighting circuit at a rose, you can break into the main feed cable and install a junction box (B).


Wall lights can also take their power from a ring circuit.

• install a three-terminal junction box (A). Then run a 2.5mm2 cable to a fused connection unit fitted with a 5A fuse (B). Continue the wiring to the light (C) and a switch (D) as if the power had been taken from the lighting circuit (ie, use 1.0mm2 cable).

• alternatively use a switched fused connection unit and run the 1.5mm2 cable straight to the wall light. The unit then acts as an isolating light switch. — 7Vv.

Lighting up the approach to your home after dark is a good idea – for three reasons. The house looks welcoming, visitors can find their way with ease to an unfamiliar front door (important if your path slopes or winds, or there are steps to negotiate) and burglars are likely to steer clear – they much prefer houses with unlit approaches.

There is a great variety of porch lights to choose from. Most are relatively inexpensive and all are cheap to run, for a little light is, of course, very effective in the dark. A 40W bulb outside, for example, appears brighter than a ‘lOOWbulb inside.

There are three main types. The cheapest are the bulkhead lights, which can be both smart and functional. Named after the lights used on ships, they often have the house number illuminated on their face. Globe and cube lights are wall-mounted, slightly more decorative, and have a sottish glow rather than a bright beam. But most popular are decorative lanterns, which can often be seen on ‘period-look’ houses. They can be fixed to the wall or hung from the porch roof.

Unless your porch is completely enclosed, you must make sure that the fitting you choose is designed and recommended for outdoor use. Wiring in a porch light is not complicated. Break into an existing lighting circuit at a convenient ceiling rose or junction box and run 1.0mm2 PVC-sheathed two-core and earth cable from there to a new four-terminal junction box. Then take one cable from the box through a hole in the external wall to the light, and another to the switch controlling it.

So, installing a porch light is almost exactly the same as fitting a wall light inside your home; the only difference is that at some point you have to drill a hole right through the house wall. The cable is then connected direct to the new fitting. It’s that simple.

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