Today’s renovation projects are far different than the projects of the past because of one distinct factor. Choice. Today there are hundreds of times more choices available than there were just a few decades ago. Previous to that there were only a few choices and construction from a period of time was distinct because of the workmanship and materials used at the time. Often built with local labor and local materials the buildings of Cincinnati are unique and beautiful because of the age and amazing craftsmanship. The people who built these Victorian homes in Columbia-Tusculum and downtown spared no expense. Their attention to detail was exceptional. The exact materials and labor may never be able to be exactly reproduced again. We’re talking about original Rookwood tile or bricks from a yard on the Little Miami. The people who built structures here in the 20’s and 30’s had no doubt that they would stand the test of time. They were worth the attention to detail in stone work and elaborate wood work because they were built to last. I think this aspect should be considered; the frame of mind of the people who built the structures we’ve inherited: that work is not taken lightly, that our work should last the test of time. Especially considering the lack of modern tools that our ornate wood or stone work was constructed with and the extreme amount of labor it took to build anything back then; we should have great respect for our old homes here in Cincinnati and it’s neighborhoods.
The people who built these neighborhoods would have considered quality of materials to be of the utmost importance. This is most evident when proper care is not taken and weather or time rots and wears away the ornate details. The corbels that were once brilliant red on your Victorian era home are rotting and falling away. The box gutters which look and work really well when kept up and painted are leaking and rotting away the soffit below. Even still the core construction of these homes is worth protecting and bringing back to it’s former glory. This is what I would refer to as restoration. In the modern building era where we build a home and only occupy it for a few years before moving elsewhere, and the next owner is half likely to knock it down and build another in it’s place, restoration might not be the route for everyone. It should be stated that many homes that are older than their owners should be given extra consideration before undertaking a remodeling project or simply knocking them down. These homes will be around for generations to come and our history and workmanship should be preserved here in Cincinnati. The next generations deserve it even if we can’t appreciate it entirely today.
Hardwood will never be available or economical the way it was decades ago. Tile from a local quarry will never be available again. This is the main reason today that in restoration there is a tendency to sacrifice quality of materials to attain a look from a certain period. Often times the home owner may not even realize the sacrifice in quality. I believe if you are restoring your home that you should pick whatever period accurate tile suits your taste, however I would like to stress that you just flip that tile over and see where it’s made. We’d like to stick with our mindset from the past of “Quality First” and support countries who strive for the same mindset in the materials they send across the sea. Unfortunately American made tiles are rare to find these days, and with the increase in desire for choices and modern tiles, they are likely to disappear entirely. Emissions regulations and desire for inexpensive yet complex tile patterns is pushing construction to countries with less regulations – on labor and emissions. Tiles that made sense when they were quarried locally and sometimes unglazed like the hexagon or oyster cracker can no longer be produced effectively in modern methods. Today tiles are not hand made, they are produced largely by machines. When you want a different size tile or a matching deco, they are often cut up from larger tiles. This works ok with square tiles, but when you start making hexagons or bulb shapes, the waste factor increases exponentially. This is why your matching decos are often made in a different country than your field tile in recent times. Here is an interesting article showing the Tile trends in the past hundred years.