Kitchen counters are subject to some of the harshest use and abuse of any area in the home. Having a surface that is both durable and attractive is the goal for most homeowners. Granite slabs are widely popular and are the dream of many homeowners; however, they are luxuries to many, as they can be quite costly. You can get the same durability and a great look with kitchen counter tile. Options can range from the same coveted granite and marble that many slabs are fabricated from to more common ceramic and porcelain tile.
One way to achieve the look of slab counters is with large kitchen counter tiles and small grout joints. A number of granite and marble tiles are now available in these larger sizes. Some of these larger tiles can reach the full depth of the counter, needing just a special front bull-nosed tile. This tile is 18" x 21", more that 2½ times larger than a basic 12"x12" tile. Larger tiles mean fewer grout lines, and a surface that is easier to keep clean.
Large tiles allow you to keep counters cleaner, due to fewer grout lines.
Shaped Edge Tiles
Some of these large tiles have shaped edges built into them, or you can find specialty tiles that include bull-nosed profiles and complete profiled corners. Here is a 3"-wide bull-nosed kitchen counter tile that is 24" long. When this is paired with the large tile above, only a single grout line is needed from the front to the back of a standard counter.
A bull-nosed tile mimics the look of a granite slab countertop when paired with large tiles.
Wood Edge Treatments
Many tiles, however, are not available in large formats or with specialty edges. In these cases, other counter edge details can be used. Tile size and pattern can offer a multitude of choices.
If you can’t find a shaped edge tile to go with your counter, wood is a good option.
Many kitchen counter tile manufacturers have patterns of edge tiles that are designed to work with their standard field tiles. These can be of the same glaze and finish, as pictured below, or in a contrasting color or pattern.
Tile manufacturers often make special edge pieces to match their tiles.
Groutless or Thin Grout Installations
Installing kitchen counter tile without grout space may be new to many homeowners and even some tile professionals. The “wiggle” room that a grout joint provides is non-existent and the margin for error is huge, but with proper preparation, careful planning, meticulous cutting and installation, it can give you a “near slab” look. Most professional installers will advise against groutless installations for many reasons. For the few I have done, it was very challenging, and I would not recommend it to beginners. To keep nasty germs from living in the near-invisible gaps, a sealer or adhesive was used between tiles. This installation method works best for small areas, as the level of precision involved needs to be maintained for the entire area. Very narrow 1/32"–1/16" grout lines are also nice looking and easy to install, by comparison.
It’s tricky, but groutless tile installation yields an attractive result.
Don’t Forget the Backsplash
Whether you have tile for the countertop, a solid slab or other choice, the backsplash is an area that can add style and provide wall protection in a kitchen environment.
Add a backsplash for design and protective purposes.
Granite, marble, ceramic – the choices are numerous, but the end purpose is simple. We want something that looks nice, is durable, easy to keep clean and doesn’t cost as much as your first car. Tile can do all of this, and can be a great starter DIY project to boot. Smart choices in tile selection and installation options will give you a work surface that can handle just about anything.
Talk to a professional tile installer about your options.
Author Kevin Stevens moved to Colorado from Michigan in 1991. He has been a woodworker for over 30 years, and has also worked as a biotechnology engineer. Kevin now runs a remodeling business where he practices green technology and sustainability.
Photos by Kevin Stevens too.