Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Puzzle

Imagine that you are trying to put together an old, incomplete puzzle. Also imagine that in the box there is really a few different puzzles mixed together and all of them are incomplete. Even though there are not enough pieces to finish one puzzle, there are enough to fill the space that one of the puzzles was supposed to occupy. Your job is to fit all of the pieces together so that they actually look like they were meant to go together.

This is sort of what I’ve been doing for the past few nights with the collection of salvage and new tiles that I bought to redo the fireplace hearths. It may sound like it is going to be an odd, jumbled mix of tiles, and I guess it will. In reality though, that pretty much describes what the original hearth tiles looked like in 1896. Most were damaged beyond repair, but what was left was made up of more than a half dozen different shapes and colors of tile.

There were 2-inch square, 4-inch square, triangle, 1X6 and 2X6 tiles. Some were incised with designs, others had portraits, and some were smooth. The colors covered the spectrum. The two fireplace hearths were easily made up of the most eclectic mix of tiles I’ve ever seen. It was almost like the tile installer used what ever was left over for the last 6 or 7 jobs, but it really worked. Even though they were beat to crap and with large sections missing, I just loved them. I would give my eye teeth if the hearths were still intact.

Sadly, they are not. So, I must do the next best thing, or at least the next best thing that I am capable of, given my budget and skill-set. Six or seven years ago, shortly after my ceiling fixture buying frenzy came to a close, I started scouring Ebay for deals on vintage tile. Here’s what I ended up with.

This is a 1.5X6 fireplace tile. This is salvage and originally from a surround. I have many whole tiles, but also a lot of half pieces from where they did a running bond up both sides of the firebox. I have another set in blue for the other hearth.

This is what I mean by a “running bond”. You’ll notice there is a whole tile, then 2 half, and then a whole. Like you would lay bricks.

A 6X6 tile. Also salvage. I bought 6 of them. I have different 6X6 for the other hearth.

A 1X8 tile. These are new, but I think this design would have been very popular with the Aesthetics movement. There are enough of these so I can use them on both hearths.

A 3X3 tile. These are salvage and I bought 2 of them. These may end up going on the other hearth.

A 3X8 tile. These are salvage and I think they are English. I have enough of these for both hearths.

So, now the trick is to fill the space with what I have. Below are the 3 different designs I’ve come up with. In all of these pictures, the tiles are set on the old, uneven mortar bed. I’ll smooth that out. Also, I will need to trim many of the tiles to fit. Just use your imagination a bit.

This was the first design. The two big problems here are that the tiles with the frogs and dragon fly’s does not go up the sides, and the green 1.5X6 tiles only have one row at the top. The design is not really balanced.

This design has a similar problem. I added in another 6X6 tile in hopes of gaining more of the 1.5X6 to use other places, but it still wasn’t enough for another row. I am very limited in the number of whole 1.5X6 tiles.

This is where I ended up. I have complete boarders of both the English and the dragon fly tile on the outside, and I have two rows of the 1.5X6 green tile above and below the 6X6 tile. The only problem here is that on the outside of the 6X6 row there are only half pieces of the 1.5X6 tiles. I don’t get a nice running bond, but I think it might be good enough.

I’ll continue to stare at it for the next few days and see how little this design bothers me.


Anonymous said...

yeah, number three, you're correct as usual!!!! meanwhile, what a great score on the tiles!!!! gorgeous and the mix is lush.

Diane Irvine Armitage said...

The tiles are gorgeous and the design you came up with is great! Number 3 is the winner :-) Great salvage work on your part!

Unknown said...

I don't know anything about laying tile and very little about what would be period appropriate, but I like the last one the best.

kathy said...

I understand your problem and agree that number 3 is the best solution, but I really dislike the bluish/grayish tiles with all that green. They really stick out as un-matching, imho.

Rebecca said...

Wow, great work!

Re: the blue/gray: I have to say that I agree with kathy's comments. They contrast enough that I'd want them to be tied in really well, running all the way around the inside edge of the border tile--not just on three sides.

Unknown said...

They're all right, number 3 is the best, but ... the grey tiles somehow stick out (at least in the pics). Do you have enough tiles for a mix between 1 and 3? The English border outside all the way 'round, then the grey all the way 'round, and then the green layout in the middle?

Greg said...

I think the contrast of the blueish tiles is greater in the pictures than in real life. Even so, I will admit they are not my first choice. I would have rather had enough green tiles to fill the entire center, but that is not a reality.

I looked at green boarder tiles (new), but couldn't find anything I liked. I do have enough of the blue tiles to complete the boarder on the back, but there is not enough room. As it is, it is going to be very tight.

Having said all of that, now that it has been sitting there for a few days, the pattern has grown on me.

Unknown said...

Excellent job on the house. Congratulations.

Believe it our not we need one of those 1.5X6 green tiles for our fireplace.

We aren't sure if it was missing when we bought the house or if we accidentally threw it away with the 50 garbage bags of old wallpaper.

Can you tell me where you bought the tiles?

Thanks for your trouble.

John Reilly

Marilyn Petch said...

Greg - Hi - My name is Marilyn Petch, Thomas Petch's great-granddaughter, Phillip Petch's granddaughter, (Richard Petch's daughter, Deborah Petch's sister) I have an early photo of the Petch house probably taken shortly after it was built. My husband scanned it, photoshopped it, and created a jpeg for you that I would like to email you. please email me at to let me know where to send it.

Best, Marilyn Petch

Greg said...


Aghh! A picture! I've been looking for one for ever. Yes, please email me a copy.

I sent you an email, but it bounced back because I got the address wrong. I sent it again, so hopefully you will get it. You can also just email me at PetchHouse At Windsweptsoftware Dot Com

Greg said...


I bought them on eBay. I don't have any whole tiles left, but I do have some partials. I can send you 2 halves that you might be able to use.