Millimeters Count

1 millimeter, 2 millimeter, 3 millimeter, 4 …

What millimeter will look best, all across the floor …

Tile is piled high in our India pied a terre. It’s time to think tile and grout now that the main door, windows and balcony French doors are getting installed.

We ran all over our Chicago home yesterday, measuring grout lines in tiled rooms. If you think 3 millimeters versus 5 millimeters is insignificant, take a closer look.

The crew in Chennai was talking about 5 millimeter grout lines between the 2-foot square tiles which will run diagonally throughout the apartment. Our ground floor powder room in Chicago has 5 millimeter grout lines between 1-foot square tiles with grout darker than the tile. It was here before we moved in and I’ve never liked it. It looks like these tiles in an Austrian castle:

This would fit in a rustic home, but our decor and style of this house is not rustic. Despite that, it’s OK in a tiny powder room that holds a sink and toilet. But spread across 1,200+ very visible square feet of floor, such obvious lines would drive eyes crazy-insane:


So 3 millimeters it is, with grout color matched to the tile, like the photos below. We’d rather have our eyes drawn elsewhere.

I researched grout line conventions, and beyond needing to accommodate sanded or unsanded grout, much is personal preference. In online discussion boards, I see many people talking of 1/16″ lines which is near invisible especially with large tiles. But that close installation must be very careful and precise and we do want to see some grout line. Some are recommending 1/4″ for tiles that are 20″ or 24″ square. Another factor is, are the tiles high-quality natural marble or travertine where they’re flat and perfectly square? Do the tiles have distressed edges or are they perfectly straight? If there’s any variation, wider grout lines are better. Because this is a second home and we’re holding costs down, our tiles are manufactured instead of natural, and consistent in size. For our installation, 3 millimeters is a hair under 1/8″.

The thing is, I get impatient with details. I prefer the bigger picture. But today I learned the importance of due diligence of each detail, no matter how much you’d prefer to not be bothered with them. How did I get beyond impatience? I imagined the bothersome grout line detail blown up across the floor — that’s how it affects the big picture.

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