Last week I had the pleasure of sitting next to Emily Belden at a media preview breakfast for The Art Institute’s newest exhibit (much more on that soon!) and the whole time I couldn’t stop thinking about how familiar she looked. We chatted. She’s in hotel marketing… very cool, but I wouldn’t know her from that. She’s writing her first book… talk about awesome, but not something I’d recognize her from. It wasn’t until we began chatting via email the following day that I was able to put two and two together… she’s the penny floor girl! I’d seen her on the TODAY show, as well as other shows and articles!
Long story short, Emily and her boyfriend, Ryan Lange, gained national attention when they brainstormed and executed the idea to cover their South Loop bedroom floor in almost 60,000 pennies! It took them 128 hours (which I am constantly holding over my fiance as we painstakingly re-tile our tiny powder room) and covered 234 square feet. Despite having seen Emily and Ryan’s DIY masterpiece here, here, and here, I couldn’t wait to ask Emily some questions of my own…
How was the idea for the penny floor born?
Our bedroom floor was originally just cement, but the rest of the condo had been completely renovated by hand with all modern fixtures. So, we were struggling to find a flooring idea that fit the theme and was affordable. During the midst of this, my boyfriend eyed our change jar that was sitting on the kitchen counter and facetiously thought, “Well, we could tile it with coins.”
Who had to convince who to tackle the project?
There really wasn’t much room for convincing, as I came home one day and saw Ryan on his hands and knees in the corner of our bedroom looking like he was gluing money to the floor. Lo and behold…he was gluing money the floor. At that moment, I thought: “Okay, I guess we’re really doing this.”
What decor choices does one make when working off of a penny floor?
In the end, we decided to just use pennies instead of all the nickels, dimes, and quarters that comprised “vacation fund” jar. We generally liked how the pennies looked as a whole. With some being dark and some being shiny, it created this really slick mosaic effect that commercial flooring options can’t. Our first purchase after finishing the floor was a cocoa colored tufted bed from Z Gallerie which gave the room a regal feel. Adjacent to the bed, Ryan built me a desk made out of a rare slab of black walnut. He welded the legs and glossed it with an epoxy. I think it was a combo of this desk and all the lucky pennies that helped me finish a book I was working on and sell it to a publisher just two months later!
What was it like going on the TODAY show?
It was wild. We launched our penny floor blog and a local NBC affiliate picked up the story for a mid-day segment. The next thing we knew, it was syndicated on all NBC channels throughout the US. The site reached 2 million views and crashed. Then, the next day we were getting called by The Today Show to set up a live-remote interview with Matt and Savannah. We were up at 4am for the producers to build the lighting fixtures, run the satellite up the side of our building, and get us mic’d up. It was a lot of set up for a 2 minute segment! Producers made a last minute call to get our dog in the shot, which made Mr. Jarbles, the rescue pit bull, a celebrity.
Any unexpected consequences of daily living with the penny floor?
I recently dropped some change out of my pants pocket when folding laundry and could not for the life of me find where it all landed. It was like searching for contact lenses. Other than that, it’s easy to clean and feels nice on your feet – so no complaints!
If you’re creative enough to dream this up, I would imagine you’ve done some other pretty cool DIY projects around your place. Care to share any of those?
Well, we thought about doing our baseboards in $2 bills (just kidding!). Truth is, after spending 160 hours assembling the penny floor together, we have given DIY a break. Instead, we’ve been working together on some cool digital projects. For instance, Ryan helped design and build my book proposal website (www.ReadThisProposal.com) and I helped him launch Lost Garage (www.LostGarage.com), his custom motorcycle parts and travel gear website. Hey, those product descriptions don’t write themselves!
Have you heard from other people with crazy floor ideas/projects?
We still, to this day, receive emails from people asking for tips on the floor. From whether or not to clean each penny before gluing it, to if you can clean up dog pee easy, to if it’s illegal. Believe it or not, we answer each email in detail. And when the Today Show posted our segment to their Facebook, we even responded to all of the comments/questions (there were over 1,000). I still can’t believe people took such an interest in it, but happy to have made so many connections from it.
What’s the dog think of it?
How can Mr. Jarbles not love the floor that made him famous?! When he gets hot, he lays in there since it’s nice and cool. I secretly also think he likes to hear his nails tapping on it.
How will you feel when you move in the future?
I don’t think we will ever get rid of this place. If we rent it out someday, we will have to put a no-touch clause in the lease regarding that floor. The blood, sweat, and tears involved with it are far too great to cover in carpet!
Any advice for those looking to tackle a penny floor of their own?
First of all: make friends with your banker. You will be seeing him/her frequently! Secondly, make sure you are tackling this project it with someone you love. Ryan and I spent many Friday nights staying in with a bottle of wine and a box of pennies. And, let me tell you, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.