how to use grout as a design element in tile installation

by clé tile | published: Mar 05, 2021

some of the most common questions our design experts get aren’t actually about tile. in fact, they revolve around grout. surprising? not to us, because of two key factors: grout is an essential part of the installation process, and grout isn’t confined to just installation. it can be so much more. when used thoughtfully, and deliberately, using grout as a design element can deliver a delightful twist to even the most standard tile installations. here are some considerations when embarking upon your next tile project.

always, for every and any project, ask your contractor to mock up some sample boards with excess tile from your order in what we call grout trials. grout trials enable you to have a more true-to-life way of seeing what works best in your space, and are the only way to test for all of these x-factors. yes, grout trials add time and labor to the process, but if your contractor doesn’t see the importance of making these boards, we suggest finding a new contractor. that’s how crucial this is.

bringing surfaces to life

grout serves a functional purpose. it is necessary for the construction process; solidifying the surface and preventing any potential damage or wear. but, that’s just one part of its overall contribution to any tile project.

just as other design features meld together to complete a space (paint color, lighting, furniture, fixtures), grout can elevate a tile’s presence and bring it to life. whether you choose a grout that matches, complements, or contrasts with a tile selection, you’re incorporating a nuance that is far beyond “function.”

getting creative with grout’s palette

grout comes in a wide variety of shades, allowing designers to use that palette in different artistic applications. compared to tile’s centuries-old history, the trend of using colored grout is quite recent, only emerging over the past 50 years. this means the tile community still has a lot to learn about using colored grout — but it also gives designers the opportunity to infuse a unique aesthetic that can range from striking to subtle.

in a past post, we highlighted how application of different grout colors can dramatically change the look and tone of tile. for example, pairing a very light-colored grout with a white or light-colored tile allows the tile to take center stage while the grout rests quietly in the background. alternatively, pairing a contrasting color grout with white/light tile makes a bold statement and really highlights the desired layout or pattern. 

however, we actually suggest that you avoid highly contrasting grout colors. high-contrast grout used with any tile, including subway, can result in issues including showing invisible crazing and noticeable texture that can create undesirable changes in the color of your tile. if you’re inspired to take this road, we recommend you test on multiple pieces of tile and wait to see whether it produces any undesirable effects.

with dark tiles, using a darker grout color will create an uninterrupted, consistent look. matching (or closely matching) tile and grout color in this way may also make a room appear larger.

sometimes, contrasting too much can give a space a “busy” look. but, if the tile itself has a design feature that serves as a focal point, contrasting grout colors can provide a nice balance.

ultimately, grout color choice is best left to the discretion of our clients, their designers, or their contractors, as they are the ones who really have a first-hand look at the installation.

experimenting with grout joint size

grout joint size is another detail that opens up design possibilities. sarah sherman samuel’s bathroom renovation is a perfect example of how joint size can be an integral part of the design. as sarah notes, using grout this way was an “experiment; something i had never seen done before.”

using clé’s modern farmhouse brick in white matte, sarah installed an extra-large one-inch grout line horizontally, and a 1/8-inch grout line vertically. she used tec power grout in “bright white” to complete the look.

being this was a new design approach, sarah had waited a while before sharing it with her audience—so as not to put her experiment out there without it first being tested. but, when she did, it was met with abounding curiosity and accolades.

that first foray has now served as inspiration for a limitless combination of different colored tiles, shapes, grout ratios, grout colors to create new and unique layouts.

grout: an overlooked piece in an important range of design elements

the beautiful thing about designing in the modern world is that inspiration is literally at your fingertips. scrolling through pinterest and instagram, following your favorite designer or influencer’s blog… there is so much to be discovered. when shaping your vision, don’t forget to explore different grout options. often overlooked, it may be the unexpected design element that elevates your project to perfection.