kitchen reno – white subway tile and grey grout

Writing a post about some kitchen choices - very happy with tile and grout selection. #kitchenreno #newhome

On the night we were supposed to go Home Depot, the subway broke down. F trains weren’t running pretty much the entirety of Brooklyn (York to Kings Highway), and the car service lines were jammed by all the Brooklynites who were stranded god-only-knows-where, and trying to get home from work – this was right around rush hour. We waited on the platform for close to half an hour before giving up and when we walked upstairs to talk to the lady sitting in a booth, we learned that trains just weren’t running.

It turned out that due to extremely cold temperatures, the power had gone out and, without power, trains couldn’t run. I kept thinking about people trying to get home from work from one end of Brooklyn to the other, even from Manhattan.

No one bothered to make any kind of a clear announcement to those of us who waited, patiently, on the platform. Correction, an announcement was made but it wasn’t in any language anyone could recognize. There was some kind of muffled noise coming through the speakers, but no one on the platform seemed to discern what they were saying. Meanwhile, if we peeked into the subway tunnel, we could see the F train, its headlights on, standing there almost at the platform.

We grabbed dinner around the corner and kept checking our phones for updated information from the MTA. An hour plus later, there were still no updates. Defeated and frustrated, we turned around and went home.

Creating order. #kitchenreno #newhome

It would be fair to say that I took this whole turn of events poorly. I had a minor meltdown and threw what would qualify as a “fit”. Andrew stood there, bewildered, no doubt questioning his rationale for wanting to get married to a woman who cries upon finding out that she can’t have grout and subway tile. But because I had shielded him from about 90% of the bullshit that has come with this kitchen renovation, he couldn’t understand why this bump in the road was affecting me like the absolute worst thing in the world.

But to me, it wasn’t just some bump. It was another bump in the series of many, many bumps. Contractor not showing up? Bump. Kitchen sink being cracked? Bump. Being told I have to get a totally different (smaller!) sink? Bump. Spending hours looking for said smaller sink? Bump. Being told again that the sink in question will work but we need a new one because this one is cracked? Bump. Finding out Ikea is out of said sink til, uh, March or something? Major bump. Being married to that sink because the marble was cut exactly to fit it? Bump. Finding out a ceiling light needed to be moved? Bump. Dishwasher outlet had to be realigned? Bump. Limitations on what ceiling light could go in the kitchen (because of low ceilings)? Bump. Finding out that one of our light fixtures is has a GU24 connection (seriously, go look it up – it’s so obscure) and it’s rather hard to find light bulbs to fit it? BUMP.

Bump. Bump. Bump.

That first morning of making coffee in your kitchen and not in your bathroom - priceless. #kitchenreno #newhome

But more importantly, the time that it took in dealing with all of this – will drive anyone insane. Managing this renovation project is a full time job. Except, I already have a few full time projects (and some part time ones) on my hands.

All I wanted that night was to get to my friends’ place, borrow their car, drive to Home Depot, get the tile and grout, drive the supplies home, return the car, and take the subway back. But in the middle of Polar Vortex 2.0, it. Just. Wasn’t. Going. To. Happen. That. Night.

So, I went to only place where my emotional range could go – which was to throw a fit. Everything, and I mean, everything, felt like a major struggle. Nothing was easy. Everything was hard. I realize that to any sane person reading this – I might come across as slightly unhinged. I blame the kitchen entirely.

You can't tell but there's a crack in the far left corner which is why this sink isn't really sealed. I check ikea daily to see if new sinks have come in. So far - no dice. #kitchenreno #newhome

Every time I thought I was getting a leg up on work, something would happen, and I’d fall even further behind.

We had to wait until the weekend for our Home Depot trip (borrowing our friends’ car – yay!) and let me tell you: wading through Home Depot, even if you kind of know what you’re doing, is not easy. They have a lot of stuff, and while Home Depot is generally awesome, it’s not very organized within its respective aisles. We asked a lot of questions and made friends with the sales staff. In fact, my favorite thing about Home Depot was discovering they had cats. Super cute, cuddly, purry cats (probablys starved for human attention) that were just marching around the store following us around (possibly because I couldn’t stop petting them). I wish I had a picture for you – but I don’t. My recommendation for someone who isn’t a fish in the water at home improvement stores (me! Andrew!), is this: ask lots of questions. Ask the kind of questions you think are so stupid, you’re embarrassed to ask. Ask as many questions as you need until you find what you need. If you’re looking for grout, you need to be specific, as in “I am looking for grout for a backsplash.” Because if you just ask about grout, you will be pointed in a direction of an aisle that is 80% grout. Some of it is sanded, some of it is unsanded, some of it is dry and some of it comes in a sealed tub. And it’s very useful to know the type you need, because they are all different.

For all you folks out there considering a backsplash, this is the most important takeaway from this post (heck, you can skip reading the rest): you want UNSANDED grout for backsplash. Not the stuff in a tub, not the sanded kind. I don’t know what the tub is for, but I do know that sanded is for floor, while UNsanded is for walls.

We went with plain 3×6-inch white subway tile and light grey grout to match the grey in our marble. I actually prefer black grout, to be honest, but for that space, grey works a touch better and black just seemed too harsh. If we had ample light in the kitchen, I would go black grout all the way. For our small galley kitchen, we needed about 4 boxes (40 square feet) of tile. Keep in mind, we only put up tile on two sides of the kitchen and not a huge wall of it, but generally speaking subway tile is pretty cheap, looks clean and sharp, and seems to avoid falling into a trendy category. I can’t think of a time when it might look dated, but talk to me in five or ten years – who knows.

We are about 85% there. The remainder happens when everything else comes in: lights, sink, etc. #kitchenreno #newhome

In the end, I am absolutely thrilled about the subway choice/grey grout choice. It makes the kitchen look larger, airier, more luminous that it otherwise is. Galley kitchens tend to suffer from a claustrophobic feel and I am hoping that with our simple, clean design choices, we’re making it feel more spacious and pleasant to be in.

P.S. the pictures here make the grout look almost white. I have yet to unpack my real camera (sorry!) so once I do, I’ll update the pictures with more accurate shade of grout. It’s really grey and goes beautifully with marble veining.


  • Brian

    Today your demographic seems skewed, all of the comments appear to come from men so far!
    You challenged my mind to look up GU 24 Connection, for a minute I thought you were referring to an Aeroflot schedule. Thanks, I learned something I didn’t know about lights and lighting fixtures.
    On the bumps in this project, you are learning about one of the most stressful things a marriage goes through. Yes, Remodeling. The others you have or will discover shortly.
    Good Luck and thanks for challenging me to learn something new this morning!

  • olga

    Brian – ha, I think ladies should be well versed in these things too! Some of us are not technically/construction inclined, and it’s to our detriment, but I am loving the gentlemen comments (thanks Tim + Nick!)

    Also, Tim – that is genius, thanks!! If we need to do more lighting stuff (I suspect we will) I’ll totally use this. We’ve already had our contractor rewire the kitchen overhead lights.

  • Vicki A.

    You have suffered mightily and you are now on the other side; you can smile about it. You have a gorgeous kitchen. What you need now is a bright, gorgeous painting or photograph on that end wall that will welcome you in.

  • Kate

    The grout looks so wonderful! I’m impressed with your entire kitchen project — you have made just a gorgeous workspace.

    As someone who recently suffered that kind of meltdown (the one where all the little tiny things come CRASHING DOWN on you all at the same time), I can sympathize. I hope it was cathartic!

  • Christina @ but i'm hungry

    I picked the same tile and grout color when we did a kitchen reno at our last house a few years ago. It was one of my favorite parts of our kitchen! Yours looks gorgeous! I totally feel you on the reno-blues. After finishing ours (by tiling the backsplash!), I said, “Never again!” And here I am, at our new house, saying… “This kitchen could really use some work!” :)

  • olga

    Melissa – it pretty much made it the best home improvement home store visit ever. They were really sweet and adorable. And clearly fearless because of all the crazy noise in that store.

  • Lisa

    Hi – I just stumbled on this post while researching what grout color I should use with the white subway tile in our bathroom. I am looking for a light gray, but everything I find seems to refer to generic colors (like, “light gray”) rather than the actual colors that you find when you go to look at Home Depot (which, strangely enough, are not helpfully named at all). Could you post the actual Home Depot name of what you used? Thanks!

  • olga

    Lisa – when I went to Home Depot – they only had it in 1 color – which was “white”. I would just go there physically and take a look. I didn’t see any grays in there.

  • RJ

    On the kitchen renovation I did five years ago, I also went with standard white subway tile and dark gray grout, as the countertop was Kashmir granite, which in color is close to Carrera marble (but a lot more expensive, as the lighter the color of granite, the more it costs).

    I had to buy a box of gray grout and a box of black grout and mix it, as the gray was too light and the black was too dark. It looks fantastic but, get this, you have to rinse it a lot before the black stops running down the walls when wet. There is nothing wrong with that, it happens with all grout, but it is not noticed with white grout, just as stains are not noticed on black granite (but they are there!).

    Your kitchen looks great, but it does not seem like you would recommend either your installer or your contractor, as being reliable is #1. Is that the case?

  • RJ

    Oh, and btw, plain white subway tile will never go out of style or date your kitchen, as it has been used for more than 100 years in NYC subways.

    It is as timeless as hexagon tiles in a bathroom, especially in NYC, so good choice!

  • olga

    RJ – I think the guy himself was great, but hired not great people to work for him. As a result he was late with ALL of his projects, skipping dates and finishing things MUCH later. I think that the issue is in the people you hire as much as whether or not the quality of your work is great. One of his guys got arrested for something; the other had a standing court date that kept popping up; and the third just stopped showing up. We didn’t do granite partly because we wanted white counters in our narrow, dark kitchen, and partly because Carrara marble was much cheaper. I love my counters now, but our choice was somewhat guided by a shoestring budget.

  • olga

    RJ – yes, when we get to our bathrooms, the honeycomb floor pattern and white tile will be there. But I’m going to do black grout instead. I like the graphic look much more.

  • Meryl Weprin

    Amazing work! I love seeing others projects. I’ve used subway tile in a couple of houses I’ve renovated and it always got rave reviews from prospective buyers. Thanks for the share.

  • Michmash

    Love it! Lots of straight counter space no lost corner cabinets. And white tile with light grey (unsanded grout) looks very crisp and clean while not being to sanitized looking. Great job!

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