Penny Round Tile

by clé tile | published: Feb 08, 2024

A kitchen wall with a penny round tile backsplash and wall.

Design: grey dove design / photo: david prince

if you’re one of the people who notice tile wherever you go — who thrill over chromatic cafe floors in France, who swoon over bathrooms in mid-century homes, who take the subway in New York just to ogle the mosaic signs — we see you. We are you. And we totally understand why your Insta is filled with pics of your feet and the tile beneath them, rather than sunsets and monuments and plates of food.

If you’re part of that tribe, you no doubt have a place in your heart for the penny round tile. We do, too. Simple and classic, yet surprisingly versatile, penny rounds have been in style for over 100 years, and there’s no end in sight to their reign.

More than a century on, penny rounds are still going strong. Ours come in white and black porcelain, with glossy or matte finishes, as well as five types of honed marble, from pristine white Thassos to richly veined Calacatta Viola. They're a natural choice for pre-war homes, but their clean geometry also makes a perfect pairing with mid-century modern, rustic, industrial or minimalist as well.

A bathroom with an antique sink and a unique penny round patterned floor.

design / photo: kin & kasa home design

Shiny Pennies

At the turn of the century (the 20th, that is), the relatively recent arrival of indoor water closets, coupled with the new science of disease prevention, led to a vogue for bathrooms clad in white tile. Because grime was easy to spot, and easy to clean, white tiled bathrooms were considered the most "hygienic."

For the floor, among the most popular choices of the day was a small round tile made of white ceramic and set in cement mortar. These penny rounds, as they came to be called, created a slip-resistant, water-friendly, durable surface that was easy to clean with a mop and bucket.

Dots with Dash

They also happened to be great-looking, crisp and compelling, on their own or inset and edged with black penny rounds arranged in simple patterns. So it wasn't long before penny rounds made their way to kitchens, butler's pantries and foyers, to the stoops of townhouses and the dining rooms of restaurants.

Points of Interest

In fact, these simple, round tiles offer a world of options for creating custom designs. They come pre-mounted for ease of installation, even on ceilings and softly curved surfaces. Sheets of penny rounds in contrasting colors, or matte and gloss finishes, can be trimmed to create chevron patterns, bold stripes and borders. Or pop off individual tiles and swap in their contrasting cousins to create words, numbers, or intricate patterns that stretch far and wide.

A curving wall with muted blush penny rounds in front of a second wall muted green penny rounds.

Design / photo: kennedy nolan

A round half table covered in penny round tiles.

Design / photo: hassell studio

And let us not forget the power of grout! Set your penny rounds in near-matching grout for a sleek, minimalist look where texture tells the story. Or consider a slightly contrasting grout to offset the shape of our beloved penny rounds. (but note, we do not recommend a very dark grout for white penny rounds as this can play up any defects in the tile.) A well-chosen shade of grout can bring out shades of gray or gold or creamy white in our marble penny rounds, letting you set just the mood you’re after in any space.