Home Improvement Celeb Talks to Greenspiration Home About His Locally Sourced Tile Project – And Why It Feels Good to Go Local

Photo courtesy of Seneca Tiles

Sometimes the best part (maybe the only fun part) of traveling for work is finding out what you have in common with perfect strangers. I met Jeff Wilson in Orlando this year while attending the International Builders Show. We struck up a brief conversation while kicking the tires of a high efficiency water heater in a green showcase home. (Really. I couldn’tmake this stuff up.)

Anyway, it turns out that Jeff, who has actually appeared on over a hundred episodes on HGTV, is a total green building geek – a real do-it-yourselfer kind of guy! So of course I hit him up to be a guest blogger.

This week, I’m excited to share a little Q&A about Jeff’s recent bathroom tile project using locally sourced tile.

GH: What made you choose this particular tile?

JW: We had been trying to source materials for this project as close to home as possible. We also wanted a deep, rich color, and something unique (we’ve seen about enough tan, grey, taupe!) This tile, sourced from Attica, Ohio, hit all of those marks.

I’d heard that the company had a “seconds-field” of about two acres (sometimes called a “bone yard”) where you could sift through piles of tile that hadn’t quite made it to the showroom. I went thinking I wouldn’t be able to find enough tile for the project, but curious anyway. I didn’t have much time to look around, but I still found plenty of tiles that would work for our project.

Of course, I had to be flexible and use what I could find in abundance, so we ended up with an earthy blue and a green-grey color scheme, which we applied in a checkerboard pattern on the walls. We used a brown quarry tile on the floor.

GH: What makes this particular tile special?

JW: The tile is literally hand-molded by a worker at a table and then sent into a dryer. Then it is moved to a century-old beehive kiln and stacked on racks. Once the kiln is filled with tile, it is heated to nearly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which takes a couple of days. The tile is kept at that temperature a few days and then cooled for another few days before the kiln is unloaded. Next, the glaze is applied and the tile is fired again. The whole process is very labor intensive, with the only automation being a few powered conveyors and a 19th-century-looking “pig” mixer/molder for the quarry tile.

The factory looked like something out of the 1800s, with parts of it made from huge old posts and beams! Very cool.

Photo courtesy of Seneca Tiles

GH: Where are you using the tiles?

JW: We used a brownish, glazed quarry tile on the floor of a new full bath, and 6×12 hand-molded tiles on the wainscoting of the bath. That same tile goes up to the ceiling in the corner neo-angle shower.

The whole bath will is ringed at about 36″ up from the floor with a mosaic listello [tile border] in three complementary colors and some trim details that give it little 3D effect, and then capped with a course of 4×8 rainforest blend.

We also put a bottle window in the shower that’s 6″ wide by 30″ tall – made by cutting and marrying the bottoms of large gin bottles to make “glass block” and alternating them with block made from dark green liqueur bottles. They are installed with glass-block mortar and finished off with the same grout as the rest of the bath area.

GH: How did these locally made, handmade tiles compare in cost to imported tiles?

JW: Handmade tile runs the gamut from a few dollars per square foot to infinity. This tile runs on the more expensive side – $15-$35 per sq. ft., depending on several factors. Since I did the installation myself, I felt justified in spending more on materials.

But we were aiming to build a place where we’ll stay – not a place to flip and sell. We wanted to make the interior spaces unique and personal.

GH: Did you experience any installation difficulties due to the handmade irregularities?

JW: Yes – the tiles are not all clones of one another, which is part of their appeal. That means that installing them takes slightly more patience and requires that you check for level every so often and stand back to get a good look at how the project is looking as a whole. Still, I was able to use spacers on my installation, with minor modifications here and there.

GH: Domestic handmade tiles are often limited in style and color. Was this a problem?

JW: My wife and I were both attracted to the natural, earthy color palette and the warm, hand-made feel of these particular tiles. We’ve worked hard to give the front exterior of our home the very traditional feel of a Cape Cod, but once you come inside, there aren’t any rules. Each room has unique features and hand-made details. We do things that you’d never be able to afford to pay other people to do!

Jeff Wilson is a professional narrator, actor, television host, and spokesperson. He is currently the voice of the Best Practices series of broadband videos on the newly launched www.HTTVPro.com. He lives with his wife and two daughters in a perpetually half-renovated home in a small college town in Ohio. You can check out more of Jeff’s work at www.thegreenedhouseeffect.com and www.jeffwilsonregularguy.com.


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