Lusting after vintage subway tile
While reporting on Lory Johansson’s kitchen designs for “The September Issue” director R.J. Cutler, I became smitten with the vintage glazed subway tile she used as the backsplash above the cooktop. Similar to the color green in old Majolica pottery, the tiles lend a timeless character to the otherwise industrial-edged kitchen.
Johansson sourced the gorgeous tile from Olde Good Things in downtown Los Angeles, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse filled with architectural salvage, lighting, hardware and more. “I shop there a lot,” she says. “In fact, I happened to be looking for vintage light fixtures for R.J. and there were the green tiles, just stacked on the floor. They are so beautiful, and it was a bit of a miracle that I found them.”No kidding. I called Barbara Macrae, the Olde Good Things sales manager based at the company’s 80,000-square-foot flagship warehouse in Scranton, Pa., to ask: How hard is it to find vintage subway tile?
“We have a waiting list for it -- that’s how hard it is,” Macrae says. “We get a lot of calls and e-mail requests from around the country, and you’d be surprised how we often we can put people together with the merchandise.” She confirmed that the oversize green-glazed tiles featured in our recent Home story were salvaged from an electrical transfer station in Manhattan a few years ago. Colored vintage tile is uncommon, but white subway tile rescued from old apartment buildings is easier to come by and sells quickly, Macrae says. (More photos after the jump.)
The Scranton warehouse has a small quantity of old 3-by-6-inch white subway tile for $3.50 a tile, Macrae says. “We have enough to cover a couple hundred square feet, plus some bullnose and corner pieces. It has that spidery, crackled glazing that has aged, which is how you know it’s authentic.”
When I mentioned my tile fascination to Johansson, she told me I wasn’t the only person who lusted after that vintage green backsplash. Jonathan Chinn, a producer who worked with Cutler on several reality series including the Emmy-winning “American High,” wanted the tiles, too.
“We used the 4-by-6 inch size and they are very similar in feel because the glaze pools on the edges of the tile and is a little mottled and translucent,” Johansson says. “For Jonathan’s kitchen, we chose a deep teal blue glaze and got close to the same look he admired at R.J.’s.”
The Watercolors tile at right is square, but it has the same look and finish as the 4-by-6 version used in Chinn's kitchen. That larger format retails for about $32 per square foot and has a six-week lead time on orders, according to Mission Tile West.
Cutler kitchen photo credits: Ringo H.W. Chiu Fireplace photo credit: Pratt & Larson