Friday, February 18, 2011

Floored by Tile Mystery

This one is for those obsessed with Martin House materials.  Others may want to turn back now, before we head into such esoteric territory:

Detail of kitchen floor, showing hexagonal tile
Wandering through "battleground Martin" (aka the Martin House in the midst of Phase 5A) this week, I noticed a few stray, hexagonal white tiles lingering on the kitchen floor, lonely fugitives from the extensive removals that have been completed in the space.  These hex tiles have long been a curiosity - ever since they were seen peeking out from loose corners of the later linoleum.  Even casual inspection of the Fuermann photo of 1907 shows a square, white ceramic tile on portions of the kitchen floor not obscured by mats.  So, surely the hex tile was a later addition. But who installed it?  When?  And why? 

Marjorie Quinlan's Rescue of a Landmark has only this to say about the history of the kitchen floor:  "After repairing the cracked and broken one-inch floor tiles, they laid a floor covered with the same commercial quality linoleum tiles as in the basement" (p. 57). Unfortunately for us today, Quinlan doesn't note whether the tiles that the Tauriellos repaired and covered were square or hexagonal (the hex tiles are 1" across).

Next, I turned to project architect Jamie Robideau.  Jamie had this to say about the tile conundrum:

Clearly, the square white mosaic tile seen in the photo was present in the kitchen when the photo was taken. 

Detail of 1907 Fuermann kitchen photo showing square tile

The hex tile obviously came later but we don’t know when. Pretty sure the cove base was original and reused. The curious thing about the hex tile is that markings were faintly visible which seemed to correspond with the leg locations of the structural glass counter apron; the same counter seen in the Fuermann photo. 

A dynamite start for a murder mystery I would say.

Agreed, Jamie.  If this were a game of Clue, we would only know what room the deed was done in - we don't know by whom, or with what weapon.  



Carl Schmitter said...

Are there other photos of the original tile floor? If not, the theory of square tiles may be flawed.
I know that plenty of retouching was done on most professional photographs. Penciling and painting commonly occurred on the photographic plates, as well. It would be much easier to pencil in a square grid to show texture than it would to draw individual hexagons. Just my thought as an experienced photographic artist.

EJF said...

Dear Carl - Thanks for your comment. No, unfortunately there are no other photos of the kitchen floor - the one Fuermann photo is the only one we have to go on. But the question remains - why would they go to the trouble of retouching to make the tiles square rather than hexagonal?