Kitchen Counter Tile Options
Kitchen counters are subject to some of the harshest use and abuse of any area in the home. The goal for most homeowners is a surface that's both durable and attractive. Widely popular granite slabs are the dream of many folks; however, they tend to be quite costly. You can get the same durability and a great look with kitchen counter tile. Options 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 sizes. Some of these large tiles can reach the full depth of the counter, needing just a special front bull-nosed tile. This tile is 18" x 21", more than 2½ times the size of a basic 12"x12" tile. Larger tiles mean fewer grout lines, and a surface that is easier to keep clean.
Shaped Edge Tiles
Some of these large tiles have shaped edges built in, 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 paired with the large tile above, only a single grout line is needed from the front to the back of a standard counter. Voila! You've got the look of a granite slab countertop for a fraction of the price.
Many kitchen counter tile manufacturers have patterns of edge tiles 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.
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 may offer a multitude of choices. If you can’t find a shaped edge tile to go with your counter, wood is a good option (see below).
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.
The few I have done were very challenging, and I would not recommend the process to DIY beginners. To keep nasty germs from living in the near-invisible gaps, a sealer or adhesive should be 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.
Don’t Forget the Backsplash
Whether your countertop is made of tile, a solid slab or other option, the backsplash will add style and provide wall protection in a kitchen environment.
Granite, marble, ceramic – the choices are numerous, but the desired result is simple. We want something that looks nice, is durable and easy to keep clean and doesn’t cost as much as a new car. Tile can do all of this, and is a great starter DIY project to boot. Smart choices in tile selection and installation will give you a work surface capable of handling just about anything.
If you'd prefer to go the professional route, find an expert tile contractor to install your kitchen countertop.
Kevin Stevens writes for networx.com.
Photos by Kevin Stevens too.
Updated February 13, 2018.