Color-Matching Antique & Vintage Tiles
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I showed you our latest project house recently and I can’t wait to share the big reveal after the final finishing touches are put on the house, but first I really wanted to share with you how we color-matched the gorgeous original tile in one of the home’s time capsule bathrooms. It didn’t come out a perfect match, but it was darn close which is pretty great for our first attempt (and with little-to-no advice on achieving this).
Here’s the bathroom as it was when we purchased the house. My rules for this renovation/restoration: we’re restoring those original oak floors and no one touches the blue bathroom.
Okay, so technically it had to be touched. The foundation needed to be leveled and re-engineered and as always, I lost the “save the original windows” argument with my father the Environmental Engineer and Efficiency Enthusiast. Both meant damage to the tiles, as did ripping out (well, catching it as it fell) the shower door. We looked everywhere including an long list of online vendors and nothing matched. The tiles look blue in the home, although it’s one of those tricky colors that changes in different light. The broken pieces I carried around with me for weeks looked green in most lighting. Everything we found looked very green or very blue next to the original tile.
Oh, and we of course updated the commode and plumbing fixtures that weren’t functioning properly.
In frustration, it was suggested that we rip out at least part of the tile to be able to do the repairs, and maybe replace the mud cap on top with easy-to-source white or blue. I was determined to stick with the plan and restore this bathroom.
Then I stated brainstorming how we could make these tiles. I asked at a pottery studio who told me that they had no interest in trying to do a color match, but was happy to guide me to the people that could help. After some research online, I found that Daltile offers “bisque” (unglazed) tiles in basic sizes including the various trim sizes that we needed. I took my little broken tile sample to a ceramics supply store in Austin, Armadillo Clay & Supplies. An employee helped me compare the original tile to the various brands and shades they had and one was an incredibly close match. I bought the glaze, got some instructions from the staff, and off I went to glaze my own tiles – a definite first!
Glazing tiles is actually pretty simple. It sparked some ideas on creating custom tiles in the future as well. You just need a grazable tile, like Daltile’s bisque tiles, glaze, and a paint brush.
The instructions were to apply 3 coats of glaze without getting any not he bottom or lower parts of the sides. The image above shows the tiles with 1, 2 & 3 coats of glaze plus an original tile. In hindsight, I’m wondering if a thicker coating of glaze would have yielded better results. I felt I was putting the glaze on thickly, but perhaps I wasn’t. I was also careful to avoid brush marks by using a nice, fine-bristled brush and careful strokes. I believe that many tile manufacturers spray glaze onto their tiles.
The glaze looks light and dull once dry. This particular shade really only showed a hint of color. Next I took the tiles back to Armadillo to have them fired, which takes about a week depending on what other projects are brought in to be fired and where they are in the cycle.
When I picked on the tiles, they were glossy and colorful. On the left is an original tile and on the right is one of my tiles. You can see that my tile does not seem to have as much glaze (or maybe it’s a variation of how it’s applied or even the brand) as it is a little translucent. I was very happy with the color match. We knew it may nut turn out perfectly and this was by far the best match. Retro bathroom saved.
Depending on the light, the tiles look almost identical to the original.
Here is the final result installed! Had we been able to mix the new tiles in more, I expect the results would have been even better. The spots where there is only a single replacement tile, it is hardly noticeable.
I’m really glad we found this option to matching vintage tiles! In the future, here’s what else I’d like to try:
- Using a thicker coat of glaze
- Mixing new and old tiles to help blend them
What do you think? Is this something you’d try to preserve a gorgeous vintage bathroom like this one?