How to replace missing tiles

January 23, 2013

Q. I have three small occasional tables made by hand by my grandfather, probably in the 1950s. Some of the tiles on one table have fallen off and become lost. Where can I get it repaired? The tables are of great sentimental value to me.

Potomac

A. As you might guess, the big challenge isn’t attaching replacement pieces, it’s finding tiles that match. Luckily, there are a few different approaches to try.

You’ll probably want to start by mailing a loose tile or one of the tables to World of Tile in Springfield, N.J. (973-376-7750). Or if you’re up for a trip, you can take the table there. This store, which opened in 1957, specializes in “new old stock” tile from the 1950s through the 1990s. The tiles were made at the time but never installed, so they are authentic and in mint condition. Owner Chippy Scarpelli said there’s a good chance the company has pieces that match those in your tables, but he can’t be sure until he sees a sample and compares colors. Vintage tiles are sold by the piece, and the price varies according to the specific style. In some cases the store has enough vintage pieces for an entire bathroom or kitchen; in other cases, there are just a few pieces left — perfect for customers like you.

If that doesn’t work, Bryan Byrd at American Restoration Tile in Mabelvale, Ark., (501-455-1000) can probably replicate the missing pieces. He’d need the tile measurements, and for a color match, he also would need a loose tile. Or, he suggests, you can take your table to a paint store and find a paint sample with the same shade of white as the background color. Some tiles also have spots of bright gold, but don’t worry about color-matching those; Byrd knows what would have been used. American Restoration Tile specializes in reproducing unglazed porcelain floor tiles from the early 1900s for large jobs — residential on up to commercial and government buildings. For a project like yours where only a few pieces are needed, Byrd said he would probably do the work pro bono.


Reader’s mosaic table is missing some of its tiles. (Reader photo)

A third option is to make the replicas yourself. Cheryl Campbell of Hebell LLC Home and Garden Projects in Greensboro, Md. (410-926-9310), has made small runs of replacement tiles from epoxy putty painted with high-gloss airplane model paint. She bought premixed paint in a close color and added dry artist pigment to get an exact match. She cautions that tiles made from epoxy and paint aren’t suitable hot surfaces (such as fireplace surrounds) or where tiles are matte or encaustic, as some floor tiles are.

Campbell used to work on projects like yours professionally but no longer does, and she didn’t have any pros in the area to recommend. Replicating pieces takes time and an eye for color, she said. “The repair is always well received, but no one wants to pay for it — at least not for the time it takes. We’ve created a populace that compares everything to what it costs for a replacement tile at Lowes.”

I have a small hand-hooked rug that I would like to have cleaned. I am afraid to take it to just any cleaner because it is irreplaceable. It was made by my mother and it is wool. Where can I take it to have it cleaned properly? It has never been used but has just been rolled up all these years. I would like to eventually have it framed, but I would like to have it cleaned first.

Bladensburg

Why risk cleaning if the rug has never been used? Just vacuum it gently, using an upholstery attachment. Or cover the end of the vacuum wand with a piece of plastic window screen or nylon mesh to protect the wool pile.

If the rug is visibly soiled, you might be able to remove the spots by working the bubbles from a product such as Woolite into the pile with a soft brush (such as a baby’s hairbrush), but test this process on the back of the rug first to make sure the colors don’t bleed. Use only the bubbles, not the liquid. Another time-tested home cleaning method is sprinkling the carpet with snow crystals and then quickly brushing them off.

For professional cleaning, look for a company that advertises expertise in dealing with hand-hooked rugs. Capitol Rug Cleaning in Severna Park (443-883-5825) picks up and delivers in Prince George’s County. Although immersion cleaning of hand-hooked rugs is risky because colors can run and the wool pile can keep the burlap backing from drying before mold sets in, Capitol’s owner, Shekeeb Wardak, said he’s never had a problem. He consults with his father, Hamid, who has decades of experience in cleaning rugs, and if Hamid suspects colors in a particular rug might run, Shekeeb works very quickly to minimize its exposure to water. “You can see the color in the water, but it doesn’t show up in the rug,” he said. The company is also set up to extract water and ensure quick drying. Another option is Cunningham’s Rug cleaning in Elkridge (855-784-3672).

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.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in January, such as taking a home inventory.

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