With 2023 well underway, we’ve seen countless articles about tile design trends and have been inspired by the beautiful images accompanying them. I can't help but think about how grout is often seen as an overlooked background character within the overall design plan. Although grout is seldom seen as the star of the show, it can actually be essential to transforming the overall look of a tile project. 

For thousands of years, cement and other fillers in basic white and gray colors were most commonly used in everyday tile or stone applications; with high-cost pigments like red and black reserved only for elite projects. When grout was ultimately invented back in the 1800s, its purpose was still largely utilitarian – patching and repairing existing structures, as well as saving money on tile installations by leaving wide gaps between each of them. Grout technology wasn’t developed enough to ensure the grout ratios and pigmentation were uniform from batch to batch, making inconsistencies a common occurrence.

Fast forward to the mid-1980s and into the early 1990s, when a wave of technical advancements encouraged designers to use grout not simply as a way to keep tile in place, but also to enhance the visual effect of their installations.

Thanks to industry professionals who recognized the potential for unique styles, in addition to functionality, grout became a new and unexpected star. From distinctive colors to intentional spacing, grout can help take projects to new design heights.

Modern designers have more grout color options than ever – including the ability to customize grout to the precise colors that bring their visions to life. Whether creating a softened or uniform color palette with natural hues or opting for a bold color choice to add depth and character, the options for combining tile and grout to make a true tonal moment are virtually endless.

Designers and installers are also getting creative with grout line sizes by bucking the norm of uniform spacing between tiles. For clients who want a stately and bold design, installers are creating thick grout lines or alternating them in interesting thin-thick patterns. 

While grout’s design potential evolved over the years, so did its impact on the environment and the health and safety of those who live and work in the spaces where it's been installed. For example, grout has increasingly been formulated to emit low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These upgraded formulations meet or exceed many of the top sustainability and “green” construction guidelines, including Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and UL Greenguard Certifications, which help identify the environmental impact of tile and flooring installation materials.

Additionally, many grouts incorporate antimicrobial technologies, such as Microban, and other additives to keep them cleaner looking, easier to maintain and longer lasting – offering peace of mind to customers and helping transform grout’s reputation as a “necessary evil” into an important design and safety element in the homes and businesses where it's used.

Grout has come a long way in solving ages-old – in this case, centuries-old – installation problems. At the same time, technological advances in recent decades now allow grout products to be color customized, cure at rates faster than ever, resist stains and fight mold and mildew. I’m excited by this continued evolution and innovation that allows the once-background character to step into the spotlight.

For more information on grout, check out "Customer-Centric Innovation at the Heart of Grout and Mortar Products" by Mitch Hawkins.