View Full Version : chasing tile. A tale of woe and preserverance. Sorry, long

Michael Weber
08-01-2016, 10:56 PM
We wanted to keep the old tile backsplash in our kitchen which meant finding matching tile to extend it for the kitchen remodel. Not an easy task as it turns out. None of the local tile distributors or near by big city tile distributors were any help. After weeks of online research I discovered the tiles were produced by a Lisbon Portugal company called Sant Anna. These tiles were hand made and hand painted by them several decades ago. I tried contacting them only to discover later that after hundreds of years making tiles in their Lisbon factory location they were only recently evicted by the property owner who wanted to tear down the building and build a modern hotel:mad: Just my luck.

All this time I had been searching eBay. Some Sant Anna tiles showed up occasionally but were different designs and insanely expensive. I don't think any ever sold as they would just got relisted over and over. I mean how many people are looking for one or a few old but not antique or valuable Portuguese tiles at 20 bucks each plus shipping? Finally 4 of the floral pattern I needed popped up at a reasonable price and I got them just in case, thinking I might be able to get more later. But, what I really needed were lots of the plainer field tiles with stylized tulips in the corners. Being hand made they vary a bit is size, 5 3/8 to 5 1/2 inches but I needed about 20 square feet or 80 tiles.

Contacting a few online custom tile makers lead no where so went to a well regarded local potter who consults to potters internationally. Got a surprisingly low quote of 20 dollars a square foot (in advance) but he would not guarantee he could match exactly the background color. Boy was he correct about that. Not only not matching but the too dark off white, background glaze was full of streaks after firing. Surface texture was totally wrong. About half the tiles were warped beyond being useful. Some with compound curves in multiple directions. Absolute trash and they all ended up in the dumpster after I got them home and put a few up to see how they would actually look. I would have been embarrassed to present such an end product to a customer. We did reach an adjusted price but still, I can't believe what he was willing to pass off. The corner decorations were terrible as well, way too light and most just badly rendered. Pure amateur work. In fairness to the mans expertise he likely handed the job off to an assistant but still......

By now, I'm looking at ceramic kilns, reading books on making tiles and investigating different glazes thinking its time to start a new hobby. Then almost miraculously a large amount of plain off white Sant Anna blank tiles of the correct size pop up on eBay at 1 dollar each. I contact the seller and get a few to confirm the background color is close if not perfect, then buy the 80 I need. So now all I need do is get a kiln to refire after putting on the corner embellishments of the necessary glaze. Still, a sizeable investment in equipment but much better than learning to work all the clay and piddling away time trying to match background glaze and texture.

So, while looking at ceramic glazes I run across something called ceramic paint. It claims to fire to a durable finish in a home oven at 300 degrees. Not true high fired glaze durability but seems pretty good as it will withstand light scrubbing. It's water based and can be brushed or sprayed with an air brush.. It only comes in 45ml bottles in a limited color range. I buy a bottle of the darkest blue, a bottle of the recommended thinner and a $25 air brush from Harbor Freight and give it a try. After baking, durability is pretty good. The paint can be sanded off but water, cleaner, scrub brushes and cloths don't affect it.

The blue is too light so I research how to darken blue. Add orange (complementary color) the research says. Order a bottle of the only orange available and all it does is turn the blue a muddy gray. Search further and it recommends as a final option to add black. Order, wait and try. It's pretty close so I make stencils and learn to operate and use the airbrush a little better. After getting a blue mustache I decide there is enough overspray to warrant wearing my paint respirator. I painted then baked in lots of twenty over a few days which is about all the two oven racks would hold. I'm pretty happy with the results. It's not perfect but matches close enough for my wife and myself. Casual observers might never notice.

Some months after emailing Sant Anna I did receive a reply from them. This was about the time I was ready to start a new hobby. Evidently they found a new location and continue to make hand made tiles. However, even they said that they could no guarantee to match such an old background glaze. That alone was enough to convince me to abandon that without getting a price or shipping quotes. After about a year of effort, learning, and spending money for various supplies and disasters we arrived at the point shown in the pictures. I figure even with the adjusted price to the potter I have well over a thousand dollars invested in these 80 tiles. Pretty expensive tiles but at least no new hobby to finance.

No idea why the pictures are upside down but you get the idea. Lighting of the pictures is different. They are actually closer in appearance then the pictures indicate.
Original tiles
Home brewed tiles. Not yet grouted which is something else I'll have to match. The four floral tiles are the ones I found on eBay for $5 each plus shipping. You can see the background match is pretty close, just slightly darker than the reproductions.

Wayne Lomman
08-01-2016, 11:26 PM
Michael, that was an exercise in perseverance! You ended up with a good result though. Cheers

Dan Friedrichs
08-02-2016, 12:18 AM
Cool story! I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to figure out why you'd glued a pitcher to your ceiling, though.

Frederick Skelly
08-02-2016, 6:20 AM
My God, what an ordeal! You must really love that pattern.
The match looks good, so your efforts paid off. Good for you!

Michael Weber
08-02-2016, 10:40 PM
Thank you for taking the time to read my tale. I don't have much to post about my projects but this had been at times a frustrating experience and just had to talk about it. More than once my wife wanted to kick me for not settling for something I wasn't happy with. At one point she called it a compulsion but she's a good sport and gods knows long suffering. Because I'm worried about the abrasiveness of the grout, I just purchased a metal dessert decorator that looks a lot like an enclosed caulk gun. The plan is to use a narrow nozzle to "pipe" the grout into the spaces between tiles instead of forcing it into the gaps using a rubber float. Hopefully that will also make grout cleanup limited enough I don't have to wipe down the entire tile repeatedly with the abrasive residue. Better safe than sorry. I'll find out tomorrow
Dan, I live in a topsy turvy world.
Fred, yes we really liked the tile because it's old and a pretty unique backsplash.
Wayne, thanks. If I had known what was ahead I wouldn't have started.
from now on, my mantra is "gut it all"

Sean Troy
08-02-2016, 10:53 PM
Try http://www.daltile.com/ They have helped me in the past find old tile. Worth a shot.

Mel Fulks
08-02-2016, 11:08 PM
Years ago we wanted delft tiles to face fireplace, all available tiles were a size that would not work. Called a local ceramic studio and found a lady to make them. She did a wonderful job cheaper than we could buy the wrong size real thing.

Chris Padilla
08-03-2016, 12:12 AM
Great story and amazing perserverance, Michael!

I went ahead and flipped your pics for you. Sometimes posting from phones can cause issues with pic orientation.

Mel Fulks
08-03-2016, 10:29 AM
Michael, I neglected in earlier post to say "fine job". For something with pretty modest origin and use the tiles are surprisingly expensive. When I needed them in 1977 they were about $7.00 each,that was more expensive than good marble. We bought our locally made tiles for about $5.00 each.

Michael Weber
08-03-2016, 6:44 PM
Chris, thanks for flipping my pictures I downloaded from my iPad.
Sean, I actually emailed that company. They did refer me to another source that was in Florida.
Mel, $5.00 each is exactly what I paid for the ones made by the local potter. Just didn't work out well. Originally I thought these were Delft tiles from Holland. It was only after several weeks I discovered they were actually Portuguese