Saturday, April 11, 2015

Bringing a well preserved antique fireplace back to perfection - part 2

In this follow-up post I was going to show you the carving process from start to finish. Unfortunately I had a devastating hard drive failure and my back-up was mostly corrupted, so I lost some of the layout photos. You can find the process in some past posts - like here -

Layout of image

I did make a short video of carving - it looks as though I'm in fast motion, but it was real time....I guess I was in a hurry to make it a short video!

The finished wax with original shard and enlarged print-outs of the image.

Setting up the frames around the wax for pouring the plaster mould.

Plaster poured and leveled.

Plaster released from the mould.

Touching up a few small bubbles in the plaster.

Wax original and plaster mould.

It was a great first pouring of the plaster. Unhappily, all the photos of pressing the tile, bisque tiles, and glazing are lost. But I am waiting for the completed installation shots from the customer and I'll post those when I am able.

Thanks so much for reading and please contact me directly at if you have any questions, or if you have a tile that you would like reproduced or custom carved.

Visit our webpage at L'esperance Tile Works or at my Etsy shop - have a wonderful day!! 

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bringing a well preserved antique fireplace back to perfection!

We create many fireplaces using our large inventory of moulds that have been created to reproduce antique tiles. New design are being added constantly, due to the many requests we have to help customers bring their antique fireplace back to it's original splendor. Following is a current project that highlights the steps that we take to "make it so".

Inquiries begin with either an e-mail through our website,  L'esperance Tile Works, or a phone conversation requesting information and pricing. If the pattern that needs to be reproduced isn't already in our catalogue, then we'll need a really good photograph with a straight on perspective, or most preferably, an actual tile. Cost ranges from $500.00 - $1200.00 to create a reproduction, depending on the depth of caving and intricacy of the pattern.

The reproduction that I'll highlight in this and the following posts, is a tile originally from the JG Low Art Tile Company, border # X23 on page 4. The fireplace in question needed only a few pieces of the border, but the process is the same whether it's a few pieces, or a full fireplace border.

The fireplace is situated in a bedroom in a condo in Portland, Maine.

All tiles are original from the JGLow Art Tile company, circa 1904.

Amazing how well preserved this gorgeous fireplace is!

You can see a full tour of the house here

The customer sent us some closeup photos of the tiles, along with a small fragment of one of the originals that had broken. The mission was to recreate the tile and match the glaze.

This photo is a clear, straight on view of the border tiles.

Original tile fragment

To match the glaze as closely as possible an original tile is needed. Images sent via e-mail or from the web aren't true enough due to the variations in monitors and camera settings.

Glaze library with some blues

After I receive the original tile I go to my glaze library which has accumulated tests over the last 35 years! I can usually find a very close match from there, however, that is just the starting point. I'll mix 2-3 small batches of the glaze formulas and test them on some decorative and field tiles - usually seconds that are warped or cracked. After confirming that the recipe is still in the range, I'll then mix a batch large enough to glaze the entire order. That batch also gets tested, and altered if need be.

Two of the closest glazes mixed

I'll then send my closest matches to the customer for approval. In this case I had 2 that were very close, but sometimes the tone of the glaze will change when set next to the originals on site. Since the glaze match usually happens while the carving is in process, I'll use another border to show how the glaze will sit on the details. My glaze flows away from the high points and settles darker in the recessed areas - very similar to the glazes I'm attempting to match.

We got and overwhelming approval of glaze "B" - the one on the bottom.

I'll show the carving process in the next post,  so stay tuned!

Thanks so much and please contact me directly at if you have any questions about the process, or if you have a tile you would like reproduced.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

L'esperance Tile Works - 35 years ago in Troy, NY

Since we're celebrating 35 years in business, Don suggested that we play hooky last Saturday and take a drive past some old haunts of the first few years of L'esperance Tile Works in downtown Troy, NY.

Me, Dennis, and Don at Northeast Ceramic Supply

 We had to stop by our ceramic materials supplier, Northeast Ceramic Supply, to pick up supplies for some current projects, so we were headed to Troy anyway. When I started my business 35 years ago, Dennis Smith was an employee of Northeast Ceramics - he's now the owner (for many years!), and has recently located to a great new space on Monroe Street in Troy.

The Canon Building

My very first studio space was located in the Canon Building, in downtown Troy, on the corner of Broadway and Second Street. We were on the third floor, which previously housed law offices, and was a large open space, full of light from the corner windows. Troy didn't have an active arts community way back in 1979 when I was there, but it's changed and grown a lot since then. An amazing farmer's market was in full swing when we visited, and we ran into a number of people we knew. They sang the praises of the energy and artistic activity happening in downtown Troy these days. It made me want to move back!!

#2 Washington Place - my apartment for 5 years

At the same time I started the business, I moved to an apartment on the fourth floor of a beautiful old brownstone on historic Washington Park, about 6 blocks south of my studio space in the Canon Building - a beautiful walk away, rain or shine. It was the old servant's quarters for the building, and had the largest and best lit bathroom I've ever  had - fully tiled with what would become our bread and butter production tile. I didn't know that at the time, because I was using local terra cotta clay for all the tiles I was making, but this bathroom was tiled floor to wainscot with white crackle field, mudbase and mudcap. The 4 flights of walk-up kept me in quite good shape!

My windows on the 4th floor.

Washington Park

Laid out in 1840, the Park is one of only two privately owned urban ornamental parks in the United States. The gates were locked and owning a key was one of the privileges of being a tenant on the park.

Entrance to #2 Washington Place

I always loved the carved details of the building and seeing it again after so many years brought back a surge of great memories.

Cobbled streets of Washing Place

Parking was never a problem, but I remember many times getting stuck in ruts of deep winter snow on this street!

Troy is so full of amazing buildings that are decorated with historically significant ceramic tile, and I'll show a few in my next post.

Please visit my Etsy shop and view some of our lovely decorative tiles here -

L'esperance Tile on Etsy

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