Brownstone Boys: Getting the Grout Right

Testing grout color cheaply with tubes of matching caulk

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 33rd installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

We spent a lot of time picking out tile for the bathrooms. We visited several tile stores, saved lots of photos on Pinterest, and listened to advice of designer friends. We chose tiles that would complement the place and each other as well as work toward the master design plan. But other than the hours we spent choosing tile there is another decision to be made to make it look its best that’s not to be underestimated: Grout joints and color.

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Grout has been added to the master bathroom shower. The color is exactly what we had in mind

The grout color can bring out the tile color, show off or hide the pattern, and minimize dirt showing. Matching the grout color to the tile will give a more uniform look; a contrasting grout color will highlight the shape and pattern of the tile. We also had to decide how wide the grout joints would be. Sometimes a wider grout joint can be as much of a feature as the tile itself.

The tiled areas in our place are two bathrooms and the kitchen backsplash. Our choices are mostly classic with a few modern touches.

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The contrasting grout color has been added to the guest bathroom walls

Guest Bathroom
In the guest bathroom we chose a classic hex floret for the floor and subway tile for the walls. All of the tile is in a matte finish. We wanted the grout to contrast with the tile and show the pattern, but we didn’t want a stark contrast with too dark of a grout color. Darker grout also has an advantage of not instantly looking dirty like a light color grout can (although we’ve been warned against too dark of a grout in a shower because the soap can leave a white residue — can’t win!) We went with a medium grey grout to contrast with the white subway and hex tile as well as the black hex tile since it’s lighter. We love the way it looks and think it’s a perfect happy medium.

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We added a light grey grout and grout release to the handmade tile in the master bathroom

Master Bathroom
For the master bathroom we went with something a little bit more modern. We got beautiful handmade tile from Fireclay Tile. The floor will be a charcoal grey 4-inch hex and the wall will be 6-inch square matte tile. Since the tile is handmade, it has an amazing variation in size, shape and color. The 4-inch hex creates a great pattern that we love, but the room is not huge and we don’t want it to take over.

We went with a grey color that would show the nice variation in the overall make the tile look lighter but not contrast too much. It’s slightly lighter than the tile itself. Now that the tile is grouted, the pattern can be seen but it is not overbearing.

Since there is so much pattern in the floor, on the walls we are going with a very light grey grout color to blend with the white subway tile. The tile is in a matte finish that can be prone to staining if we use too much of a contrasting color. We’ll be using grout release — a coating that prevents staining — even though the grout is light.

It really is amazing to see how the grout color transformed the look of the 4-inch hex tile in the master bathroom. The slightly lighter grey brought together the various shades in the different tiles and made the varying sizes and shapes more cohesive.

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The master bathroom side walls are next on the grout list

Kitchen Backsplash
The kitchen backsplash is all about the pattern. We got a white 2-by-6-inch handmade tile from Fireclay that will be installed in a herringbone pattern. We definitely want to show off the pattern with a contrasting grout so we’re going to do a darker charcoal color. The tile has a bit of gloss so we aren’t too worried about staining but we’re still going to use grout release.

So far the full guest bathroom and the master bathroom floor are grouted. Next up: the master bathroom walls and kitchen backsplash.

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