Along with the many projects we have going here at the new place is some restoration of our fireplace. We hired a mason to do some repointing of the chimney (repairing joints), and to also install counter-flashing (keeps the water out!). We also had him replace the fire bricks on the inside of the fire box so that we could light a fire. At this point since it is an open fire it would be only for ambience and for special occasions but it seemed worth the small amount in materials and labor. When Abe was doing the demolition work on the old fire bricks he cracked a few of the tiles on the hearth. He had already told me that he wanted to repair/fix the broken tiles because it bothered him (perfectionists!). I told him to leave the 100 year old hearth alone and deal with the cracks. Well, often I am right but in this case it was a good thing that Abe tore into the hearth area. Turns out that the reason that the tiles were cracked was because the wood slats that were supporting this area were completely rotted out. Abe removed all of the tile, the bricks underneath those and the remaining wood slats.
This, like all projects in old houses, created a new project. Not only did Abe have to redo the wood support area underneath the hearth area but we had to pick out new tile. The tile was too damaged when he removed it and there wouldn't have been a way to find replacements to the existing tile. This is where it got fun. I don't mean to have expensive taste and I certainly don't gloat when I spend a lot of money on something, actually the opposite. In this case every style of tile we wanted was somehow like the most expensive stuff around (about $35 a sq foot). We visited a local close out dealer (Buyer's Market), Lowes and a local tile vendor Aqui Esta. We had a lot of specifications that we were working with to try and fit the original style and to match the fireplace bricks and the stained fir floor. The original tiles were only a 2x8 size (which is quite unusual) so we had to compromise and decided to go with some sort of rectangular smaller tiles, rather than square. Then there was color: so many options only came in really light colors or faux brick/stone which we didn't like. Also, floor tiles typically only come in large sizes like 12x12 or larger which meant that we had to actually choose wall tiles which aren't typically meant for floor application and might be more fragile.
We checked out a pile of samples and narrowed it down to what we liked but I just couldn't swallow paying between $275 and $330 for tile on a project I wasn't even prepared for but we also had a gaping hole in our floor! On a whim, I decided to stop by our local building salvage store, the ReStore, to look through their tile selection. Lo and behold, there were some 3 1/2 by 6 7/8 tiles that were brick colored and had a fading color scheme (much like the original tiles that were not 100% uniform in color). These lovely things came in a t a whopping 7 cents a tile which was not only in my price range but they met so many of our criteria. We picked out a whole pile and now they just await installation.
photos: Abe working to clean the area and prepare it for a new hearth area