Today penny tiles have hit the design jackpot — likely because they look great in nearly any space, new or old.
Here’s how to use them right.
Kitchen and bathroom backsplashes are two of the most common applications. The benefit is that a backsplash isn’t such a huge commitment in terms of area. Penny tiles can create a subdued, textural installation, like this Waterworks penny tile backsplash in a 1950s-style home.
Most penny tile is machine made and is 5 millimeters (0.198 inch) thick. However, Mercury Mosaics makes all its tile by hand, creating a beefier tile that’s 6 millimeters (0.25 inch) thick. The artisans there start with a big 25-pound block of raw clay, extrude it, hand punch it with cookie cutters and let it dry.
Hand glazing each piece is the next step. After firing, they place each round on a mesh backing by hand. Walker says they’ve become good at spotting small nuances in the spacing between the tile. While they can’t guarantee every space is exactly the same, “we come pretty darn close,” she says. That’s the beauty of things made by hand.
Handmade tile costs more because of its bespoke nature. Penny tile by Mercury Mosaics costs $136 per square foot, but it is made specifically for you, mounted in your preferred color arrangement and in your chosen layout, such as staggered or stack laid.
Penny tile is one of the few tile styles that can be used both on the floor and the wall. Most wall tile isn’t rated for floor use, and the sizes are often inconsistent.
Tiling an entire wall in penny tile creates a uniform, textured appearance without being too busy or spotty. The degree of softness or contrast also depends on the grout color selected. A high-contrast grout (such as black with a white tile and vice versa) will be more graphic than a grout color that matches the background of the tile, as in this contemporary bathroom.
One consideration when installing penny tiles on walls is whether the manufacturer makes a coordinating trim tile. If the tile isn’t installed on the entire wall (corner to corner), the clay edges of the penny tile will show unless a bullnose trim piece or finished pencil liner is installed. A bullnose has a glazed curved, finished edge; a common size is 2 inches by 6 inches. A pencil liner is much thinner, like a pencil. However, not all manufacturers finish the edges of pencil liners, and some manufacturers don’t make trim pieces at all, so be sure to check. This bathroom has a gorgeous translucent chair rail where the penny tile terminates.
Accents such as borders can be easily installed by cutting the sheet to the desired width. This shower wall shows off a penny tile by Ann Sacks that has a glaze on the edge that is darker than the rest of the tile, resulting in a more graphic appearance. The designer continued the use of the tile inside the niche and on the shower floor.
In the early days, penny tiles were popular in both commercial and residential installations, especially as nonslip bathroom flooring.
This installation looks fresh and inviting with penny tiles by Waterworks in grays, whites and yellows. The light gray grout grounds the neutral hues and allows the whites and yellows to pop.
Penny tiles typically require sanded grout, as the grout joint width created on the mesh backing is ⅛ inch or greater. However, it’s a good idea to check with the tile manufacturer.
Penny tile should be cleaned with water and a mild soap. Glass penny tile can be cleaned in the same manner or with a pH-neutral glass cleaner.
With any tile, but especially small mosaics like penny tile, it is recommended to seal the grout after installation to prevent staining. The high percentage of grout versus tile and the geometric nature of the pattern will make any stains appear pronounced.
Columns don’t typically come to mind when one thinks of tile, but penny tile wraps nicely around curved surfaces. The only caveat is whether the seam will match up at the start/end point, and that is a function of the column circumference and the size of the tile and joint on the mesh backing, which all have to be calculated. This column is the star of the kitchen in this Texas industrial- and deco-style home.