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Pieces keep memories whole

February 15, 2007|Leslee Komaiko

"I have a dish disorder," Susan Cuscuna says. "Wherever I go, I pick up dishes." She also has a habit of accidentally breaking them. But because the pieces have sentimental value -- her mother's teacups, for instance, or a platter she bought on a trip to Brazil -- she can't bear to part with them.

Cuscuna's solution? Use the broken dishes to craft an elaborate 10-foot-wide mosaic backsplash for her 1930s Laurel Canyon cottage. Nevermind that this do-it-yourselfer hadn't made a mosaic before.

Here's how she did it:

After removing the old backsplash ("cheesy wood with old bathroom tile," she says), Cuscuna needed a flat stucco surface. This was the only part of the process for which she enlisted professional help. Cost: about $500.

Next she created a full-size template using heavy-duty construction paper purchased at the hardware store. She also bought a tile cutter, which she found easier to use on pottery and other porous ceramics than on fine china. She and her 15-year-old son had a fine time smashing the already-broken ceramics into smaller pieces.

Using a hot-glue gun, Cuscuna applied the broken ceramics to the paper. Then she cut sections of the paper, about 1 foot square, and began transferring the design piece by piece to the backsplash.

A professional might have used a trowel to apply the mortar, but Cuscuna found it easiest to use a tiny kitchen knife to "frost" the back of the mosaic pieces. The mortar has to be thick, "like cake batter," Cuscuna says, "and if you don't move really quickly, it hardens."

She picked a mauve grout that she thought would contrast nicely with the green countertop. The strategy was much the same: Move fast. She used a flexible sandwich spreader to get grout between the tile pieces, then used rags for polishing.

Cuscuna applied four layers of sealant but she admits the backsplash is still tricky to clean. That said, the mosaic has held up beautifully, and Cuscuna enjoys the stories it tells every day.

-- Leslee Komaiko

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