By Ana Lena Melka
The following is the fifth in a series of guest blog posts submitted by members of the Historic Seattle community. The views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Historic Seattle.
In October 2004, after months of negotiations, we finally closed on the 1914 mansion that my husband had fallen in love with earlier that year. After more than a year of house hunting across the Puget Sound region, we happened to walk past what looked like a haunted house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and my husband said, “Now, if that house was for sale, I’d sell my soul to buy it!” A day or two later he discovered that it was for sale, which is where our journey (obsession?) began!
We made an appointment to see the house and immediately realized it would need a tremendous amount of work, not just on the outside, but also on the inside. At least it had a good roof! There would be electrical work, plumbing, windows, tile, plaster wall repair, new heating, floors to refinish, even stolen fixtures to recover over the next year and a half. One of the few things that we just could not find was tile to replace the broken ones on the front porch. Our master tile craftsman suggested we tear it all up and salvage what we could. He would then install a different tile in the middle, and use the old tile to do a border. But we didn’t even know what kind of tile it was! We consulted experts who insisted it was slate – it delaminated on cleave lines the way slate does. We even had a man stop by who said he could get us slate to match – just a complete stranger who happened see us working – so we hung onto that hope for a couple of years!
So many other things were going on that we just shelved that project, while keeping our eyes and ears open to the possibility of finding the right material. One of the rabbit holes I went down was making the rounds of all the tile stores in the greater Seattle area, taking my little pieces of tile with me in hopes someone would have a matching product, or even just tell me what material they were made of. Historic Seattle hosted a tile lecture at Rejuvenation and of course I signed up with the hope of finding the answers to the tile question.
In 2014, we thought we finally had a match: quarry tile, made in Spokane. Sadly, it was not to be, as the manufacturer did not do custom matches and their samples were not a match for our tiles. At that point we began to think that doing the carpet tile inlay was our only option.
We had subscribed to Old House Journal through the years and at the end of 2015 I reached out to Patricia Poorer about help with identifying our tile. She wrote back to say they were “pretty sure” it was slate, so I contacted Sheldon Slate. No match again!
Another year went by and while reading Old House Journal I came across an article about Willapa Bay Tile in Ocean Park, Washington. I contacted the owner, Reneé O’Connor, to see if she would be able to make us some matching tiles. She wrote back with some exciting information: Tile Heritage in California was the place we had been looking for all these years!
Introductions were made online and we sent them samples. At last, a definitive answer! What we had was indeed manufactured tile, not slate. Best of all, they identified a vendor able to do a custom match: American Restoration Tile in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Bryan Byrd at American Restoration Tile assured me that they could match the size and color of our tile and gave us a proposal. We were so excited to move forward after all this time when another obstacle appeared. Sadly, Mr. Byrd passed away. Fortunately for us, his family had decided to keep the company operating – so we sent larger samples for color matching.
But, of course, it still wasn’t smooth sailing! Our master tiler had retired, and the craftsman we had found to replace him was not available to do the installation when the custom tile arrived. So, I just took the boxes to the basement unopened until he was available. Rookie mistake!
May 15, 2018—the day was finally here for tile to be laid. Opening the boxes revealed a bunch of broken tiles! So much time had gone by, it was too late to file a claim with the shipper. But the wonderful people at Tile Heritage were so gracious, they sent replacements and we were able to get the job done. Well, almost done – we had to wait for the additional tile to be manufactured and shipped. The tiler installed all he could, and when the new batch came he finished the job and grouted the whole area to match. Looking at our porch now, it’s hard to remember how it looked for all those years. But that’s what pictures are for!
Ana Lena Melka, originally from Mexico, has made the greater Seattle area her home since 1973. She considers herself a local non-native species! She and her husband, Mark Mayhle, bought the Shafer Baillie Mansion in 2004 and opened it as a bed and breakfast in 2006 after restoring and updating it. Mark is a Seattle native who was born at Swedish Hospital and would rather live here than any other place!