Friday, October 26, 2012

In search of fireplace tiles

Many of the intact fireplaces I have seen have some mottled 1.5x6 tiles, sometimes called quarter tiles. The ones from L'Esperence were kind of expensive so I thought I'd do a search to see if I could find some less likely to give Mr. W a heart attack.
One of the first  sites that came up was a design blogger. My heart literally sank when I read the caption of the original mottled tiled surround as the "before" photo. She fancies herself as someone who is making an "improvement" to the original.  She picked very modern shaped marble tiles. While marble was used in bathroom applications around this time period, they wouldn't be found on the hearth, not in the shapes she picked.  This type of remuddling makes me sick to my stomach. It's part of the reason why I can't bear to watch remodeling shows on HGTV.
Lost tile "before" photo:

This wasn't the only lost fireplace surround I found in my searching. This one they not only tore out the mantlepiece, but they also painted over the original mottled tiles and iron surround. I don't know why enemies of preservation buy old houses in the first place. Buy new construction for eff sake if you want something modern, bland, and painted bright white!
Lost mantle and painted over tile "before" photo:

Not all my searching turned up horror though. I found a blog and a website in which old home owners are dedicated to returning their homes to their former glory.
This from Ronald Reagan's boyhoodhome is an interesting spin on the mottled tiles.
This layout for the surround features deco tiles in the corners only, which might be a good way to keep down the costs. This is from the 1892 Traphagen House in Deluth, MN
 Detail of that deco tile.

I also found a tile setter in the UK with many fine examples of vintage tile installations.
From what I can gather, Victorian tile configurations around a coal grate were usually sets of 6x6 tiles on the surround or 1.5x6 field tiles on the surround and that often continued onto the hearth. The dimensions of our surround in order to accommodate the new Victorian style gas insert will leave me with a 4" gap around the perimeter, so (8) 4x4 tiles on each leg and (5) 4x4 tiles filling it along the top. Just because I adore picking out tile so much, I'd rather do decorative 4x4 tiles for the surround and then mottled 2x6 field tiles for the hearth, maybe with a border, budget allowing.
I was able to find a cast metal surround that is designed to go with the President insert, but at $798, it is approximate in cost to rough calculations I've made of 4x4 tiles from L'Esperence. I wanted to call them to see if they have a local rep so I can check out their glass samples, but couldn't find a phone number on their website. In a back issue of OHI I found an article featuring Pratt & Larson's "Victorian" glazed tiles. I called to confirm they still carry them and that I could check out samples. The advantage to P&L is that the tiles are locally made which is not only economical (save on shipping costs) but also green in that no fuel is being used to truck them here. A win-win I'd say.
The sales lady gave me a ton of samples here are some of the best ones. I'm hoping to pull out some of the red and cream marbling in the surround.

I think this one might be the best option,  but maybe it is too close to the floor color.

Then since I had so many samples I laid them out in the checkerboard pattern that I have seen on some of the hearths with deco tiles mixed with plain field tiles. I think it is a touch too busy for me.

I think what I want to do is keep with the brick set quarter tiles on the hearth maybe with a border. He is a detail of an old hearth tile installation that I think I would want to reproduce (although I know that will eat up a lot of tile.)

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