How to Install Tile in a Herringbone Pattern

Sarabeth Asaff

A herringbone pattern is one of the oldest tile and brick designs still in use today. Seen in floors, outdoor brick patios and kitchen backsplashes, the pattern is made up of rectangular shaped tiles, or subway tiles.

While the tiles themselves are adhered to the substrate like other tiles, a herringbone pattern is started in the corner of an installation, rather than in the center like most tile patterns are. This allows the tiles to move at a diagonal across the room in the traditional "zipper" appearance.

  1. Lay out several rectangular tiles in the corner of the room where you will begin your installation to practice the pattern and determine cuts. Lay the first tile in the corner, pressed lengthwise against the adjoining wall. Lay the second tile so its short side lies against the long side of the first, and the long side is against the adjoining wall.

  2. Mark the next tile in half horizontally with a grease pencil, and cut the tile in half with a tile wet saw. Place each half tile against the wall next to the ends of the first two tiles laid. Lay the next two tiles next to the half tiles so the short ends of the tiles are against the wall, and the tiles extend past the half tiles into the room.

  3. Begin to lay the interior tiles coming into the room by placing a tile next to the first tile laid and its adjoining half tile, so it lies lengthwise against them moving into the room. The next tile should be laid with its short end butting up against the last tile laid, and its long side extending up the tiles against the opposite wall. This is the beginning of the herringbone pattern; you will continue the exact same pattern to the opposite corner of the room, laying the corner tiles last.

  4. Pick up the tiles in the same order you placed them down and number them on the backside with a grease pencil. Spread mortar into the corner with a trowel, combing it until the mortar is an equal depth. Press the tiles into the mortar in the same pattern you first laid them out, following the numbers you wrote. Press a grout spacer between each tile to keep the pattern perfectly square and even as you move into the room.

  5. Spread a small amount of mortar at a time as you move into the room. Continue to cut every third tile around the perimeter in half on the wet saw to complete the pattern. As you approach the opposite corner of the room, reverse the pattern you laid them in; the two corner tiles will be laid last. Remove the grout spacers after approximately one hour.

  6. Let the mortar dry for 24 to 48 hours, and grout the herringbone pattern. Use a rubber float to push the grout into the joints of the pattern, and scrape the tops of the tile with the float's edge to remove the excess grout. Wait 10 minutes, and clean the excess grout off the herringbone installation with a damp grout sponge.