Today, something a little different…
The Penny Wall Project
Kitchen Reno. Needed a backsplash. A backsplash that would go right up the wall behind the stove and chimney range hood. In other words, this would be a feature wall, so it needed some pizzazz.
That’s it! Tile the wall with pennies!
I didn’t get going on it right away, though. I loved how it looked. It was so cool. But it was SO different, SO unusual, SO…out there. If you Google “penny wall” or “penny floor” right now, you’ll get pages of images, but at the time I was considering doing this project, there were only three penny wall/floor projects posted on the internet. Would it work? Or would it just look corny, or worse, super tacky? Maybe people weren’t doing penny walls because they were impossible to do and looked horrible.
Okay. Mock up time. My 7″ x 10″ sample sat on the counter for several days. It had gone together easily and it looked good. The materials were inexpensive—less than $70 in pennies for the whole wall, after all—so if it had to be redone, we wouldn’t be out of pocket much, just a lot of time. I decided to go for it.
There was no way I could attach the pennies to the wall one at a time—the space was too awkward to work in. So I decided to treat the pennies like mosaic tiles and attach them to mesh in “tile size” sheets before applying the sheets to the wall with mortar.
I happened to have a roll of window screen mesh, so I started with that. To make sure the pennies would fit together seamlessly when the sheets were put together, I printed off templates of penny-sized circle graph paper I custom made and downloaded from HERE. I omitted the last row so the sheets would join with no gaps when alternated across the wall (long row on top next to short row, long row, short row etc.).
Gluing, gluing, gluing…and more gluing…
I taped a piece of template paper to my work surface, taped a slightly larger piece of mesh over top, then used Krazy Glue Gel to glue the pennies to the mesh and paper, placing each penny in one of the circles. By far, this step took the longest. I worked at it over several weeks, usually a few sheets each evening while watching tv, listening to books on CD, or visiting with family.
I used all Canadian pennies, a random mix of shiny and dull, old and new; whatever came out of the bowl next I glued. There’s also a mix of heads and tails. Again, however they came out of the bowl, with the exception that I didn’t glue more than three in a row of one or the other before switching. I don’t know why. It just felt right.
This is a closeup of one of the glued sheets. You can see the black mesh under the pennies and the white template paper under that.
Laying it out…
Once the tile sheets were all glued, I sprayed them with a protective clear coat. I had worked so hard to have a mix of shiny and dull, I didn’t want the grout to scrub the pennies to a uniform glisteny shine.
Then I measured an area on the floor that was exactly the size and shape of the wall I wanted to cover. Since we were in the middle of floor renos as well, I just drew it on the plywood subfloor in pencil. With a regular floor, I would have used painters tape. The dark lines are where the sheets join each other. They’re dark because I ripped off the template paper around the edge of each sheet to butt the sheets close together. The centers are white because the paper is still attached there. I did take the paper off before applying to the wall. That involved a lot of tweezer use—the second most time-consuming part of the project.
Getting it on the wall…
I installed the pennies as though they were mosaic tiles, attaching the penny sheets to the wall with standard tile mortar as the adhesive.
Labeling each sheet (the little bits o’paper in the image below) and making a map where each would go, made it easy to transfer the sheets in the right arrangement on the wall. Here’s what it looked like partially installed. The pie-shaped triangle you see along the top edge of the photo is the map, which I had taped to the cupboard door glass. :^)
Once it was all up, I stood back and was amazed at how uniformly random the coloring was. It was something I worried about as I was gluing, but there were no areas that looked out of place, and you couldn’t see where any of the seams were, even up close. Booyah. Success.
I used black sandless grout and grouted as though I had installed tiles (apparently the sanded stuff would’ve scratched the pennies). It comes in powder form; I mixed it with water in a bucket as per the package instructions. The black sure made for a LOT of sponging, and oh, what a messy thing it was. But eventually it cleaned up really nicely…well worth the extra effort.
When the grout had cured, I sealed the wall by rolling on a topcoat of polyeurathane I had leftover from a hardwood floor refinishing project. This made the surface very easy to clean, which, since it was around and behind the stove, was very important. Here’s the finished wall awaiting the chimney stack.And here’s a closeup view:
Oh, how I *LOVE* this wall. It is a beautiful warm color that catches the light in different ways as you walk around the room or as the light in the room changes. At night under incandescent lights, it practically glows, which makes the kitchen so inviting.
And next time?
LOL…oh, yes, there WILL be a next time. We’ve since sold that house (the penny wall was a big selling feature!), so I’ll definitely make another penny wall at some point.
What would I do differently? I would leave a little room between the pennies to get more drama from the black grout and to make it easier to fit the pennies together (not all pennies are exactly the same size—who knew?—so it took some fiddling at times). I would also choose matte over semi-gloss for the protective coat.Thinking about doing a penny backsplash? Go for it. If you have any questions, drop me a comment or email. Have you already done one? I’d love to see it. Send me a pic!
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