Which Shade of White?

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Architects tend to be perfectionists and also indecisive, which is a dangerous combination. In the architecture offices where I worked I spent hours locked in conference rooms with colleagues agonizing about the height of a baseboard, the profile of a window mullion, and the location of a light switch.

These are details that aren’t important to a client and don’t often affect the overall impact of a project. But architects agonize over things like this; it’s part of what they do. For my kitchen remodel I spent hours deciding between different cherry wood stains, different shades of white paint, and different cabinet door knobs.

In the end details that I thought were highly important were not carried out. For my bathroom I thought it was crucial to reproduce the tiny 1/32″ tile grout joints from the original walls. A typical ceramic wall tile grout joint is 1/8″ but I felt that this size joint was simply too wide, too crude, and that it would detract from the beauty of the tile. I even had a bad dream about it. In this dream I returned to my bathroom after a week-long holiday and found my shower walls finished with 1/2″ tile joints. I awoke with a start!

In the end, almost as a comeuppance, my bathroom was completed with 1/8″ grout joints. This was entirely my own fault. The tiler began his work very early one morning, before I or the site supervisor could speak to him. I’ll never forget walking onto site that day and seeing all the tile laid out on my bathroom walls, absolutely beautifully, and set apart with 1/8″ spacers. The mason was beaming. He turned to me and said, “Look at how much I’ve completed already.” I couldn’t ask him to redo the work; he’d done exactly what was expected. So instead I took a very deep breath.

Tile Comparison

In the end the bathroom walls turned out beautifully. The cream-colored grout that we had selected in order to miminize staining brought out a golden hue in the glaze of the tile. The original 1/32″ joints that I had wanted had created a colder, more clinical surface. The 1/8″ joints, which I had abhorred, gave the entire room a warmer, more welcoming feeling.

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