Interior Design / Contemporary Stone & Tile Design Magazine

Replicating historic tile work

June 26, 2012
/ Print / Reprints /
/ Text Size+

Built in Romanesque style 100 years ago, the Monroe Building is a staple among Chicago’s historic architectural landmarks. As is the case with many older structures, the historic building, which houses the Pritzker Military Library, holds a storied past. But a recent restoration has returned the building’s interior to pristine condition, and involved replicating the original Rookwood tile that had been installed in 1911.

A team of artists at Rookwood Pottery Co. of Cincinnati, OH, “worked meticulously to replace the tiles originally handcrafted by their long-ago counterparts in 1911,” according to the company. They dedicated years to studying original construction documents, early photographs, and chemistry and historic material retrieved from the site. Their efforts did not go unnoticed, as the company recently received a “Special Recognition” in the first Coverings Installation & Design Competition.

“When I first looked at what was needed to be done, it didn’t appear all that complicated,” said Jon Williams, Ceramist at Rookwood, adding that he and his wife have been in the tile business for 30 years. “But because it was all made and fired in 1911 and installed in 1912, the material used was totally different. When looking at samples of tile that were already installed, I saw four different clay bodies.”

Williams explained that one of the main differences between the original tile and tile produced today lies in the production process. “We are firing in an electric kiln now,” he said. “Everything is very consistent. We needed to mimic the variation that was in the original tile, and we were not certain what they were firing with at the time.

“They got a lot of variation due to different temperatures in the kiln,” Williams went on to say. “The one part closer to the burner would look one way, and the one farther away would look a different way. [In the end], we had to come up with three different blacks, three different taupes and two different beige/pink colors. There was a green/black, blue/black and rich black.”

Another issue that had to be considered was slip resistance. “Back in 1912, if someone slipped on wet tile, it was not a big deal,” said Williams. “The liability issue wasn’t there. They used lead in their glazes so the tile was a little softer, and it would get wear patterns. The issue was that we had to develop a base glaze that would meet today’s standards. We had to send it off to the Tile Council of North America (TCNA) to be tested for abrasion — that also restricted what we could do with color.”

In addition to the floor tile, Rookwood also replicated the original wall tile. “The tile on the walls was pink/beige and crackled,” explained Williams. “When we made the tile, we not only had to match the color, but we also had to make it look old and dirty as well. We had to reformulate a clay body that causes the glaze to be slightly absorbent to hold on to crackle lines.”

According to Williams, at some point during the building’s history, terrazzo was put over the original tile floor on the lower level, and the floors on the upstairs had been carpeted over. “A lot of tile was not salvageable because of glue/mastic on the tile,” he said.

Williams explained that Rookwood has been working on the restoration of the Monroe Building for roughly two years. “One interesting fact to me is that it only took a year to build the building,” he said. “We can’t figure out how they did it. They didn’t have tile saws — almost all the pieces on the downstairs were all put together when the clay was wet and then glazed and fired. I think they had such a different labor force. They sure had incredible draftsmen that could lay out on paper and good craftsmanship.”  


Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Stone World 

Recent Articles by Jennifer Adams

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

October 2014 Stone World Stone Products Online Gallery

Check out the latest products from stone companies.

Stone World Magazine

Stone World January 2015 cover

2015 January

Check out the January 2015 issue of Stone World, which features its annual Stone World Fabricator Market Forecast

Table Of Contents Subscribe

Contemporary Stone & Tile Design Magazine

CSTD Winter 2015 cover

2015 Winter

This issue of Contemporary Stone & Tile Design features the Tile of Spain design awards. Also highlighted in this edition is the Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition — sponsored by Confindustria Ceramica (the Italian Association of Ceramics) and the Italian Trade Commission

Table Of Contents Subscribe


Are you aware of the new stone standard – ANSI/NSC 373 Sustainability Assessment for Natural Dimension Stone?
View Results Poll Archive

The Stone World Store

How to Polish & Restore Marble Flooring

This video will show you step-by-step how to resurface and polish marble flooring from grinding and removing lippage and scratches to achieving a highly reflective polish.

More Products

Stone Industry Education

Stone Industry Education

From marketing and much more!  We provide natural stone professionals with stone knowledge and education they can count on, as well as great networking opportunities. Click here to go to Stone Industry Education.


facebook logo Twitter  YouTubeGoogle+

Stone Guide 2014

2014 Stone World Stone Guide

The directory for Stone, Equipment and Supplies - the single information resource readers turn to.