the art of the grout joint
by clé tile | published: Sep 23, 2022
So you’ve finally made the momentous decision on what grout color to use. your next conundrum? grout joint size.
grout joint size
casale rustico normale bundle with a larger grout joint. design: colette luesebrink / photo: charlotte lea
casale rustico normale bundle with a smaller grout joint. design: cbc builds / photo: sarah baker photography
for the uninitiated, joint size refers to the space in between each tile with grout being the way to seal these gaps. it used to be thought of as a purely functional matter. lately, however, grout has become much more than a space filler between your tiles.
at one time, grout sizes were fairly straightforward depending upon the tile but designers have upped their grout game of late, using joint size as a major design element to play up the tile and create visual interest.
where to start
modern farmhouse brick in gloss black with a 3/8 inch grout joint. design: the bureau / photo: yoshihiro makino
at clé, we always recommend a joint size for each tile using industry-standard guidelines: these are located in the grout section of our product specifications at the bottom of each product page. with the prevalence of exaggerated grout lines, however, things have become a little more complex. it’s not just a matter of how much grout you buy but the number of square feet you need. your order will change depending on the grout joint size: a bigger joint size means less tile.
recommended joint size will also change depending on the material.
for example with zellige, we recommend a 1/16” joint, while in the case of brick we recommend an industry-standard 3/8″ grout joint.
for a brick installation, the standard is a 3/8″ grout joint size that yields 5.53 tiles per square foot.
for a smaller joint, you would need to order more tile, as our checkout calculations are all based on 5.53 tiles per square foot. for example, a tighter joint of 1/8” grout joint would equal 5.88 tiles per square foot.
a wider 1/4” grout joint would mean 5.70 tiles per square foot so in those cases less tile would be needed. with no grout joint, the pieces per square foot comes to 6.06.
our suggestion: use our recommended grout joint sizes as a start then tweak according to your grout needs.
getting creative with grout lines
there are all sorts of ways to play with grout. sarah sherman samuel used tight vertical joints for her shower installation using our modern farmhouse brick paired with a thick horizontal grout line to create visual interest (read about her project here). in another creative example, anthony d’argenzio used contrasting grout in a wider grout size and contrasting color to elevate the brick on his kitchen floor.
sarah sherman shower: grout width 1 inch (horizontal) and ⅛ inch (vertical). modern farmhouse brick white matte.
anthony d’argenzio floor: grout width ¾ inch. foundry flats in sand cast.
the mixed design of terracotta planks and rectangles from our le sol collection are emphasized with thick white grout lines.
shale plank from our pantry pavers collection of tumbled travertine takes on a different personality depending on the width of the grout joint.
anthony argenzio opted for no grout in this installation above of weathered white in this hudson valley kitchen.
note that when designing with grout, keep in mind that some tiles offer less leeway than others. in other words, some tile installations will do better with the grout joint size we typically recommend for that tile. for example, in the case of zellige, a wide grout joint may detract from the glazed surface and hand-cut character of the tile. however, done thoughtfully as in the image (far right) below, the contrasting grout becomes a clever design detail for the backsplash.
argon brown zellige 4×4, grout width 1/16 inch x”
weathered white zellige 4×4, grout width xx. design: studio robert mckinley / photo: hotel joaquin
riverbed zellige 4×4, grout width xx”, design: desert wild / photswiley interiors
love a thick grout joint? what to consider
foundry flats sand cast. design: ome dezin / photo: virtually here studios
the pros: thicker grout joints are a great choice if you’re looking to add design interest to a tile installation that needs to feel somewhat more elevated. these joints work best with solid-colored tile where the grout can stand out as a design element.
thicker grout joints are also a great way to increase slip resistance in wet areas such as showers or bathroom floors.
the cons: while thick grout lines bring great design interest, the downside is that they need to be well-maintained and cleaned regularly so they don’t allow dirt and grime to accumulate. this is especially important in the case of a light grout color.
antique terracotta hex with contrasting grout. design: sarah ruth interiors / photo: theresa wooner photography.
antique terracotta hex with matching grout. design: half baked harvest / photo: emily redfield.
keep in mind: your chosen grout joint size may affect your choice of color: a brighter or higher contrast color in a wide grout joint will have a dramatically different effect on design than a wide grout joint featuring grout that more closely matches the tile.
to get the design you are after we always recommend mocking up a 3’x 3’ board with grout ahead of installation so you can be sure to get the look you are after.
here’s the bottom line: like anything related to tile, it’s a matter of doing your homework on the tile–and its grout–and hiring the right installer who has experience with the particular tile you’re considering. we just can’t stress this enough.
in particular, if you’re looking to use a wider-than-recommended grout joint, make sure they are comfortable with the idea and have experience in using them (this will save you headaches–and potentially, extra cost. also make sure that you test extensively first.
do that, and you’ll be reaping the rewards for years–and even decades–to come.