Text by Sydney Wasserman, AD Clever
We’ve always been in strong support of making your own art—you don’t have to be Monet to fill your walls and shelves with some colorful abstract pieces. So we were thrilled to see Likeminded Objects designer Elise McMahon taking homemade art to the next level . . . on the bathroom floors of her Hudson, New York, home. With basic (read: inexpensive) white and black hexagon tiles, Elise designed an animated line drawing that actually complements the equally creative hand-painted clear shower curtain. Her tile art is reminiscent of the colorful bathroom of famed furniture designer and architect George Nakashima’s New Hope, Pennsylvania, home in the best way possible: It’s unique, lighthearted, and certainly a conversation starter.
But what attracted us most to the floor when we spotted it on Sight Unseen was that (a) it cannot be super hard to do in a small bathroom, and (b) it cannot be super expensive, since standard hex tiles are as budget-friendly as you can get. To confirm all of our suspicions though, we asked Elise herself for the how-to:
What you need
- Sheets of small hex tile (she used something similar to this from Home Depot)
- 1/8" tile spacers
- Thinset mortar
- Thinset trowel
- Grout float that can also be used as a flattening tool
- Buckets for mixing thin set and grout
Step 1: Assess your tiling capabilities
“There are professional tilers for a reason!” Elise says. If this is the end-all-be-all for your bathroom floor, you should probably hire a professional to execute your design. It's hard to be 100 percent consistent if you’re inexperienced. But if you’re open to a little experimenting and possibly imperfection, flip on YouTube and get to work.
Step 2: Assess your floors
“If you don't have a strong base structure, then when you stand on your finished beautiful tile and the floor flexes beneath your feet, that tile could break,” advises Elise. “So fix your floor first!”
Step 3: Acquire tile and spacers
Elise used a black-and-white floral design which comes in 1-square-foot sheets, and cut the black tiles away from the white. “The sheets have a mesh backing material with tiles laid out and adhered evenly on top," Elise explains. "That is what makes penny tiles doable for an amateur; the mesh keeps each tile an eighth of an inch apart from each other, so as long as you can maintain that consistent distance and parallel line, your floor can pass as pro. When you are placing the sheets next to each other, they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, but you have to use little spacer tabs to make sure things line up properly. You may think you can eyeball it, but trust me, it's helpful to have those around.”
Step 4: Lay out your design
“I had decided to focus my drawing in the center entrance of the bathroom with all white tile under the tub, toilet, and sink, so I measured the layout of the room, marked my plywood floor, and did a dry layout of all the tiles,” Elise recalls. She advises focusing on the most prominent wall in the room—the one that is most visible, where you would notice the quality of the tilework—and making sure you can start the straight line of tile there.
Step 5: YouTube “How to apply thinset”
There’s no shame in watch-and-learn. Elise looked up how-to videos for this portion of the job, but also explains the thinset step as such: “The thinset gets applied to the ground like you're spreading thick peanut butter and then is combed out, making stripes like sand in a Japanese rock garden. Try to keep the area evenly spread without mountains or valleys. Cover enough space for a number of tiles to be laid at one time while also not risking premature drying of thinset."
Step 6: Lay that tile!
Start laying the sheets of hex tile little by little. “I did mine in two rows of five or six, all the while using my spacing tabs to keep the eighth-of-an-inch line. After laying each white tile sheet, I replaced the missing black flower section of the tile with white extra pieces. Then pass a flattening tool across your tile to apply light pressure and keep all the tiles smooth and level. Clean any thinset gone astray as you go."
Step 7: The fun part!
“Having tiled my simple white areas, I first laid out my final sheets dry and used a long piece of wire to sketch the intended face shape within the allotted space,” Elise says. “I then took my pile of black tiles and began experimenting with styles of drawing until I was satisfied with the face. I then popped the white pieces out from where the drawing would go, stacked my sheets to the side in an order I could relay them without confusion. I then spread and raked my thin set over that entire area and committed these white tiles to the ground, being careful that the puzzle of this drawing was coming together correctly. Finally, I filled in my draw line with the black tiles to complete the tiling.” You should wait a good 12-24 hours before moving on to let thinset dry.
Step 8: Groutwork
“This material fills in all the gaps between tiles. You can choose different colours like white or gray or something more creative. Finish your room edges with a clean grout line.” Wait another 12-24 hours before walking across your new, totally playful bathroom floor.
Images: Pippa Drummond for Sight Unseen