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Patti Cowger

Last week, I began to list 12 design tips, one for every month of 2018. I’ve given you six and now owe you six more. The first two tips are about grout. Although not the most exciting of topics, a multi-dollar project can be ruined by making the wrong grout choice.

1. Choosing a grout color that is lighter, darker or same as your tile is a matter of preference. However, when it comes to porcelain tile than simulates natural wood slats, I always use a darker color. Doing so mimics the thin, shadow-like line you see between real wood slats. A lighter grout highlights the fact that your material is tile.

2. I like to make grout widths as narrow as possible. I usually specify one-eighth inch but always ask my tile setter if he can make them even narrower. I especially like 1/16th inch when using wood-like porcelain. Thin grout is another way to get a more authentic, wood-looking installation.

There are times when the width you specify may not be the width you get. If your tile has a beveled edge, your grout will be wider. If it has a distressed edge, your grout will be uneven. Knowing this ahead of time gives you a chance to discuss it with your tile setter to see if he can adjust in some way. If not, at least you know what to expect.

3. I’ve been using wood-looking porcelain tile for about five years. I like it for many reasons, including the fact that it is porcelain, which is nonporous, tough as nails, and does not need to be sealed. I also like its numerous style and color options. I can find something for everyone.

No matter what that something is, I consider its size in relation to the size of the space in which it is to be set. I look for a visually-pleasing scale. Wood-looking porcelain typically comes in 3-inch, 6-inch, or 8-inch widths and 24-inch, 36-inch or 48-inch lengths. I also consider size and scale in relation to the pattern I want to create – herringbone, chevron, parquet, stacked, or staggered, for instance.

The standard rule when doing a staggered pattern (the most popular) is to offset the tile halfway down its length. If a tile is 6 inches by 6 inches, then the offset is 3 inches. If it is 4 inches by 12 inches, the offset is 6 inches. But, if the tile is longer than 12 inches, the rule changes from half the distance to one-third or less. This means a 24, 36, or 48-inch tile will have an 8-, 12-, or 16-inch offset respectively.

The practical reason for this rule change is that these longer tiles are not perfectly flat but peak in the center. Offsetting halfway down would create the greatest height difference (lippage) between two adjacent tiles. The aesthetic reason for a shorter offset is that it will look more like a natural wood installation. Your wood floors, for example, probably have a short or random offset. (Randomly offsetting your tile is okay, too).

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4. Grueling details, like tile offsets and grout, may seem bothersome and insignificant. But take time to make these decisions as they can be unexpectedly consequential and sometimes permanent.

5. During the course of your home-improvement project, challenge yourself, at least once, to step outside your comfort zone. Whenever I’ve nudged my clients to do so, that end result has always been their favorite feature of the project.

6. My last tip of 2018 follows two quotes on which I base my own design work. The first comes from Mad Men’s Don Draper, “Make it simple but significant.” The second comes from Albert Einstein, “Make it as simple as possible but not simpler.” Although they were talking about advertising and the Unified Field Theory, their words hit at the heart of what I consider good design.

Happy New Year!

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Patti L. Cowger is an award-winning, Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at plcinteriors.com call (707) 322-6522; or email plcinteriors@sbcglobal.net.