How to copy an old photo in a convex frame


Is there a way to re-grout this floor with a darker color? (Reader photo)

Question: Several relatives have asked for copies of a picture of my great-grandmother, which is in an oval frame with convex glass. The photograph is a family heirloom, circa 1900. The problem is that the picture has taken the shape of the glass, so it would be damaged if it were pressed flat. Are there any professionals who could reproduce the photo without damaging it?

— Dumfries

Answer: You’re smart to worry about whether flattening the picture would damage it, says Ingrid Rose, a conservator in Washington who works on photographs and other paper items (202-364-0599; miltonrose9@gmail.com). “Definitely no flattening,” she said. “It would break apart.”

Rose suggested two companies that can duplicate the picture without removing it from the frame: Ritz Camera in Bethesda (www.ritzcameraandimage.com; 301-652-5646) and Dodge-Chrome in Silver Spring (www.dodgechrome.com; 877-363-4325). Dodge-Chrome also has studios in McLean and Washington’s Palisades neighborhood.

Ritz estimated the cost of copying a curved, framed photograph that’s about 12 inches wide and 18 inches tall at $50 to $100. Dodge-Chrome estimated $100. Both companies would want to look at the piece before making a firm estimate, though. To overcome glare from the glass, the picture might need to be scanned from several angles and then digitally stitched back together.

When a curved photograph does need to be removed from a frame, for example if the glass breaks, Rose recommends having a specialist known as a “conservation framer” do the work. Pictures like yours were made by molding the photograph while damp against a mound of ground wood fibers. “That tends to be very, very brittle,” she said. Trying to lift the picture by an edge would almost certainly tear it.

A conservation framer would treat the picture and the mound as one piece. New framing would include a slight space between the glass and the picture, a 100 percent cotton rag board spacer and back mat, an archival backing board and a dust cover. Wood pulp contains lignin, which can release acidic ions when humidity is high. To keep the acidity from damaging a photograph, conservation framers sometimes add buffered tissue paper behind the wood pulp, Rose said. This kind of tissue is alkaline, so it attracts the acidic ions, keeping them away from the picture.

Question: Our kitchen and hallway flooring is ceramic tile, apparently installed within the past 10 years. Either from poor installation or overzealous scrubbing on my part (or both), the grout has worn down to below the level of the tiles, to the point that some tiles rock when stood on, and the kitchen chairs catch on the edges when we move them around. The grout is also a fairly light color, which has stained in places, so that each time the floor is washed, some areas clean up, but the stained areas look highlighted. I can’t imagine replacing the floor. Is there a way to re-grout with a darker color?

— Fairfax

Answer: The tiles could be wobbling because too little adhesive was used or because it dried out before those tiles were pressed into place. In that case, you might be able to reglue the loose pieces successfully, using thinset adhesive. But it’s more likely that the tiles came loose because the subfloor is too flexible. If that’s the case, the repairs would be “like putting on a Band-Aid,” said Frank Brennan, owner of FBT Tile & Marble in Woodbridge (703-580-6618; www.fbttileandmarble.com).

If you decide to try regluing the pieces, FBT charges $25 a piece, or you can do it yourself. You’d need to scrape out enough of the grout around each piece to extract the tile intact and then clean the tile and the subfloor. Options for grout removal range from a scraper with carbide grit, about $10, to a Fein Multimaster or similar oscillating tool (several hundred dollars for the tool plus $25-$60 per blade, depending on grit type).

Try to match the grout color but don’t expect a perfect match if the existing grout is stained and aged. To get an even color, Brennan recommends applying an expoxy-based stain over the entire floor’s grout. The stain costs $50 a bottle, enough for about 500 square feet. If his crew does the work, it’s $125 an hour, with about four hours’ work needed for 500 square feet.

As to removing all of the grout and applying new grout, that’s possible, too. “But it’s a pain in the butt,” warns Sheila Ward, who handles sales at Dominion Floors in Arlington (703-536-4116; www.dominionfloors.com). “My installers refuse to do it.”

Starting over might be easier – and it’s definitely the surest solution if the floor is flexing. Some ballpark numbers: FBT charges $600 to remove existing tile for a “large area,” which means something around 300 square feet. Installing a thin mat to stiffen the floor and installing new tile would cost about $15 a square foot. Dominion Floors charges $4.50 a square foot to remove existing floor tile and $7.50 a square foot to install new tile. Tiles themselves start about $3 a square foot.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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