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A Good Tile Can Be Hard to Find

April 21, 2001|From ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ceramic tiles are a beautiful accent in many old homes. Whether decorative or plain, the richness of this material commonly lends an air of grace and charm to old entranceway floors, baths and fireplaces.

Like everything else in this world, some of these tiles might become damaged over time and need replacement.

In most cases the answer isn't as easy as a trip to the local home center or tile store. The difficulty in finding matches for old hand-painted, -printed or -carved tiles is obvious.

Differences in the way tiles were made years ago make most of today's mass-produced tiles inappropriate replacements for even plain field tiles.

Color variations were common in the glaze of many old tiles. Two glaze variations that were typical of tiles produced 50 years ago are picture framing and crazing or crackle glazing.

Picture framing occurs when the glaze puddles around the edges of the tile, outlining or framing it. The latter situation appears when the glaze doesn't actually fit the body of the tile but shrinks at different rates, causing cracks to occur in its face. Today, the pair would be considered color flaws.

Fortunately, both can be reproduced by some of the custom tile studios catering to this type of work. The first step in this process is sending the studio a good sample piece of the tile you're trying to replace.

A good quality photo can help if you can only send a section of tile instead of an entire undamaged piece.

Tile reproduction is a costly process, the major expense being the research and development for the glaze and clay body. Much trial and error is involved here, and the experts depend on their past experiences to guide them.

Choosing a glaze color is not like choosing a paint color: What you see is not what you get. The unfired state of glaze is nothing like its fired state. Finding the right match of glaze and clay body is a slow process. Expect to pay from $150 to $300 for this work, unless the shop you choose has already developed a matching glaze for a past job and has this information in its files.

Once the color match is developed, the next step is creating the template or mold. Depending on how intricate or carved the tile is, you can pay $100 and up for this work. Matching hand-painted tiles runs from $25 to $100 each. Of course, pricing is not a static figure. Each situation is different.

A less expensive alternative is to re-tile the entire area, whether it's a fireplace, foyer or bath. Some tile companies offer a line of historic designs that will blend in with your old-home decor.

If you're interested in tile history, you might want to contact the Tile Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 1850, Healdsburg, CA 95448. This is a nonprofit, member-supported organization for research and preservation.

It has a network of tile identifiers across the country that is able to establish where a tile came from and what type of tile it is. If you want to learn more about this part of your old house, all they need from you is a good quality photograph of the tile and a stamped, self-addressed return envelope.

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