How to DIY your Own Penny Tile Patterned Floor

August 24, 2021

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I’m so excited to share with you our powder bathroom floor today! We’ve been working on laying a cute little pattern in penny rounds over the last week and we’re so happy with how it turned out! The powder room is really squared off: At 22 square feet, it’s small, so the angles feel especially sharp, and the room seems especially rectangular. Also, the wallpaper we chose is striped (see all the plans here). Tiny round tiles felt like the perfect, soft, charming touch.

We got all of the supplies we needed for this project at our local Tile Shop. Which is, actually, SURREAL to say because we have been working with The Tile Shop since 2012 in our VERY first kitchen. (see that marble backsplash here!) and then again for our wood tile floors in our rambler, and we most recently used all of their pretty limestone in the primary bathroom in our Modern Cottage–and we never stepped foot in one of their showrooms until this project. It honestly felt like Disneyland. The associates were really helpful and knowledgeable and it was a one stop shop for everything we needed for this project. And more. Meaning…I already started eyeing tile for future projects. :)

Here’s everything we needed for this project!

Hardie Backer Board
Trowel for Hardie Board
White Penny Round Tile
Black Penny Round Tile
Trowel for Tile
Grout Float
Scrubbing Sponge
Neutral Cleaner
Grout Sealer

The Tile Shop actually had some really cool ready-made mosaic options for penny rounds and beyond, but since it was such a small room, it felt like a good time to try something creative and try my hand at my at a custom pattern. I printed out a white sheet of paper with true-to-life sized penny tile, and I started coloring in different blocks. This was such a great first DIY project in our new home because it’s really not a heavy lift. There’s no power tools or tile cutting involved. You can easily cut the mesh backing of tile sheets with sheers to whatever size you need, all the way up to the border of your room.

First things first!

  1. Lay down a subfloor

Our contractors removed the wood flooring that was in the powder room previously, and we started with a plywood subfloor. You can’t lay tile on plywood because wood is a living material, and it “breathes” through the seasons, causing tiles to crack and break away from the floor. So we installed 1/4-inch Hardie board. It’s so easy to cut, you don’t even need a saw. Just score it with a razorblade knife and snap it. Using a 1/4-inch trowel, apply mortar to the plywood and then secure the Hardie board. For additional security, screw down the board every 12 inches. Apply mesh tape to all of the seams and, using a spackle knife, run an extra layer of mortar on top of that. Smooth it out, and let this dry for at least eight hours, or overnight.

  1. Plan your border

When you’re ready to lay your tile, dry-lay your border, and play with the white tile sheets on the interior (or inverse it if you’re feeling spunky!). One thing to note: There’s a straight side of penny tile, where the pieces align perfectly, and then there’s an offset side, where a “straight” line is more …toothy. Don’t fight it! Once I embraced how the tile lays and fits into each other, the pattern-making got really fun and easy. We applied the straight border on the long side of the room and the offset border on the short side of the room.

Practice with the placement of the “straight” side of the penny tile mats and the offset side until the corners are sharp and the border is exactly how you want it. Hold off designing your interior pattern for now…if you can. I should note here: –we finished the edge of the tile where it meets with the hallway, with a black Shluter edge that will meet our wood floors going down in the hall this week!

  1. Mortar the tile in place

Working in sections, remove a portion of the tile. Apply a thin layer of mortar using a narrow-tooth trowel. (The smaller the individual tile, the smaller the teeth on the trowel.) To ensure you’re not applying too much mortar, make sure the trowel teeth scrape on the floor. Lay the tile border and sheets in sections, pressing each piece into the mortar. Allow to dry for at least eight hours.

  1. Design your interior pattern

After all the tile is laid and has dried, you are ready to start laying the pattern inside. Pop a few black tiles out from the mesh sheets, and begin placing them (dry) over the mortared-in-place white penny tile. Place all of the black tiles, planning the entire pattern and its spacing to make sure you’re happy with where it starts and finishes. Use a dry erase marker to mark the location of black tiles, if you wish. When the pattern is exactly the way you want it and the spacing is right, use a screwdriver to pop out the mortared white tiles, replacing them with black tiles. We used a plastic bag with a tiny hole in one corner (like a pastry bag!) to apply a tiny dollop of mortar on the back of the black tiles. I call this the pop-and-place method :) Let the black tiles dry/set overnight.

Below is before grout.

  1. Grout your tile

We decided to go with a warm gray grout.

Using a grout float, skim a layer of grout over the tile. Hit your grout lines at every angle — pushing and pulling the grout backwards and forward until grout is tightly around every circular tile. Scrape off any excess. Using a sponge and warm water, continue to wipe the tiles clean of grout. Important: Work in five-minute sections. The grout dries over the tile quickly, making it hazy.

  1. Acid wash the tile

Even if you work quickly, you’ll likely have SOME grout haze over the tile. Let the grout dry overnight, and then, wearing gloves and using the abrasive side of your sponge, scrub the tile with an acid cleaner (a mix of vinegar and water also works). Pro tip: Don’t use the acid cleaner on anything but ceramic tile – it’s too abrasive for natural stone materials.

The end result is a double black border around the perimeter of the room and then 17 black “diamonds” arranged in the interior. — They’re not really diamonds. They’re… asterisks?

Such an easy and impactful DIY. If you have a small space, I hope you try your hand at designing your own custom pattern. It’s really the most fun you can have with penny tile.

I’m honestly so in love with how it turned out and think it’s going to be the perfect little bathroom for all of our guests to freshen up in over the coming years. And with such a small space, the extra work required to make it happen was definitely worth it.

Next up! Paint and wallpaper!

Check out the finished powder bathroom here :)


Hardie Backer Board
Trowel for Hardie Board
White Penny Round Tile
Black Penny Round Tile
Trowel for Tile
Grout Float
Scrubbing Sponge
Neutral Cleaner
Grout Sealer

Special thanks to The Tile Shop for sponsoring this project! 

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What do you think?

  1. Cindy McDonnell says:

    Fell head over heels in love with your design and DIY encouragement, so I decided to give our powder room a make over. It turned out fantastic, but not without any hiccups. Here are some of the problems I encountered, hope it helps if you find yourself in the same situation.

    The 1/4 inch hardi board didn’t score and snap easily. I hacked away at it all day, ended up hammering the line with a screw driver to help. Do not do this because it will not score all the way through, and a piece cracked and I had to start over! I was also doing all of this in the room where I was installing…not smart on my part. Go outside!

    Scared to mix mortar due to lack of precise measurements? Me too! I looked on YouTube for help and found thetileguy. He has done a ton of work with different brands and his measurements were perfect. I was dreading this step but turned out to be fun once you get the swing of it.

    Screwing down the hardi board was tricky. Press too hard and it goes through the board making it useless. Too light and it sticks up, which is bad too. I put in many more screws then necessary and took out the ones that were sticking out. It looked ugly but at the end was stable.

    Laying out the design was very fun and satisfying. The more cuts you make to the sheets, the bigger your puzzle is to mortar in place. That’s fine. Just do yourself a favor and label the pieces. I did not and thought, oh I will remember where this goes its so obvious. Trust me label.

    Popping out the tiles. This was going smoothly until I started chipping the adjacent tile. Be careful and this will not happen to you.

    I LOVE the way the floor turned out. I post this for encouragement because I was definitely feeling scared that things were not going as easily as above.
    Hope this helps!

  2. Dear Julia & Chris,

    My name is Kingdon and I am undertaking a renovation of a studio apartment here in NYC that is earmarked to be the 1st home for our 21 yr. old daughter Olivia. Its located in the Cobble Hill section of Bklyn. which is a lovely area and community. Olivia is in her final semester of college and her mom and I want this space to be hers someday so I’m working on it as we speak. Lots to do! Its an old pre-war building built in the early 1900’s and has tons of charm & potential but is in rough shape currently. I like and prefer a pre-war building here in NYC if possible as in some provides you with high ceilings, large windows and lots of character. The place has been neglected so tons of work to be done but my latest focus is the shower floor. I’ve seen bigger bathrooms in submarines lol but hey, it is what it is. There was a tub originally but I decided on a shower instead. Tight space for sure but hopefully enough. Shower is approx. 30″ x 59″ so yes, tight but should work. I solicited the advice at the outset of my wife and daughter on design aspects but OMG, forget about it, each wanted something different and our budget is tight so I’m pressing on. t. I was never really a fan of the “Penny Round” tile until I discovered your post. First of all congratulation on an amazing design for your bath floor, its awesome and you guys did a great job, its beautiful!

    My daughter spent her Junior year of study in France and speaks the language fluently, she was hoping for some “French Inspiration” in her eventual home. Your design speaks to that if I’m not mistaken and so I have adopted your vision to Olivia’s bath. Just got started but we will be using “Penny Round” as well. If I may, I borrowed your lovely design for Olivia’s shower floor and will incorporate same to the main bath floor as well, with your permission.

    My install will most likely not be as beautiful as yours but we’ll do our best. The kid wanted a “Parisian Flair” incorp[orated wherever possible in the space, this design imo speaks to that. I’m using Greek Thassos white marble penny rounds with Spanish “Nero Marquina” border & accents for the “Flowers”. The Field tile in the shower surround is earmarked to be 3″ x 6″ Thassos “Honed” subway type tile. Any suggestions on the color grout? Again, you guys gave me inspiration and I hope to pull it off, its for my girl nd I know she will love your design, thank you. :))

  3. Katie Van Lue says:

    This couldn’t be more stunning! I am looking to do flooring just the same for my powder room. And it just so happens that my powder room is the same square footage as yours. Can you share how many boxes of the white penny tile needed for your space and how many of the black? Thank you!

  4. Marianne says:

    Incredible ! I love it 😍

  5. Deb says:

    LOVE IT! The pattern you came up with is so fun, but still classic. Can’t wait to see it all come together!

  6. Caitlin Rose Low says:

    I love it!! Although, admittedly, I stared at this for such a long time and felt perplexed. And then I figured out it was the thick black line of tile in the doorway. It makes absolute sense in order to center the pattern in the bathroom, but there is zero chance if I were doing this, that I could have figured out that solution. I would have probably given up and not done the border at all. This is absolutely why you are great at what you do. I imagine you thought about it for awhile, though it seems effortless!! I’m excited to see it all come together!

  7. Angela Gibson says:

    I adore how this turned out! So talk to me about cleaning… I’ve always avoided penny rounds because the grout maintenance seems out of control, but this has me rethinking my life choices!

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Like everything else you do…. Absolutely beautiful! Can’t wait to see what you do with the rest of the room and house and so excited that you will have one room finished!

  9. Ryli says:

    What a special pattern you created! Love the idea of creating a “unique to you” design with these tiles. Thank you for the step-by-step process and method for installation, it’s so helpful. Saving this for a future DIY.

  10. Laura C says:

    This looks great – love the pattern you invented. One thing I found really helpful when laying penny tile was to use a flat piece of scrap wood (a little larger than one sheet of tile is ideal) to push down on the tile and get it all evenly embedded in the mortar.

  11. Roslyn says:

    This floor is amazing! I paid a professional to penny tile my bathroom and you can clearly see the grid outline of the sheets. I HATE IT, but he is standing by the work. Some of the sheets are pushed so close to another there is barely any grout between tiles and others are further apart you can see big fat grout lines. Was there anything you did to get yours so perfectly spaced each time?

    • Julia says:

      We have a MUCH smaller floor, so that definitely worked in our favor. But I kept squinting to make sure everything looked uniform throughout the process. I have heard penny tiles are notorious for that, though!

    • Laura C says:

      That’s a bad tile job. You’re supposed to stagger the sheets to minimize this, and you have to pay really close attention to spacing to make sure everything is even. I felt like my eyes were going nuts when I did a large bathroom floor in penny tile, but the attention to detail paid off.

  12. I love how this turned out, the penny tile looks like it has been there forever and always!

  13. Carriereen says:

    So cute, and so glad that you are getting back to your DIY roots. I felt so disconnected once you did your kitchen at the last house.

  14. Colleen N says:

    Love the pattern. I got so sick of our old linoleum floors that I ripped them out. Now stuck at the hardie backer step. How did you cut around the toilet opening? Or do rounded cuts?

  15. Jenny B says:

    Hi! So cute! It looks like the pieces on the side aren’t full tiles, but you said you didn’t have to cut any – how did that work? Thx!

  16. Kate says:

    What a charming little bathroom!! And a fun nook to do something creative + likely a surprise when you walk in!! Love it – taking notes for the house we’re HOPEFULLY going to buy here soon…

  17. Callie Barber says:

    I love it! It turned out so beautiful. Is the pennytile glossy?

  18. Meg says:

    What did you all use to separate the tile from the main flooring? I remember you mentioned it in your stories but it expired before I could go back for the info.
    Also, cannot wait to try this in our half bath!

  19. Heidi Harris says:

    Hope to do this in our main bath of our new build!

  20. Brenda says:

    Love it!!

  21. Wendy says:

    Looks amazing! I want to do some now!😄

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We believe we should all love where we live.

We’re a couple of homebodies, working to uncover the home our home wants to be. And we’re so happy to have you here. 

HI! We're Chris + Julia

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