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Installation Stories: Our Founder's Spanish Mediterranean Style Home

By Kali

Installation Stories: Our Founder's Spanish Mediterranean Style Home

After several months of searching (without much luck) for a new home in San Francisco that suited his family's needs, Fireclay Tile's founder Paul Burns, happened across a 1932 Spanish Mediterranean gem. It wasn't on the market at the time, but as fate would have it, that very home would become his. True to his character of using what is already there to create something beautiful, he chose to pay homage to its original style and maintain its integrity. 

It is an exciting prospect when the founder of a tile company purchases a new home, especially one of this style...the tile possibilities are infinite! Below, we talked to Paul about his experience looking for a home in San Francisco, the renovation process and of course, tile! 

1.) Can you tell me about your search for your new home? 

My wife and I had been living in a 900SF third floor walk up condo for 15 years. We converted the dining room to a bedroom for our now 14 year old daughter and our dog’s bed rested next to the corner of our bed.  There is a lot to be said for a family living in close quarters and sharing the only bathroom...

Because of an inheritance we were blessed with an opportunity to find a larger home for our family. We wanted to stay in San Francisco to be close to all the friends we have here. Unfortunately, the prices in our existing neighborhood had escalated past our financial capabilities. So we looked to the adjacent Inner Sunset neighborhood. Sadly, many others were also thinking the same thing. I read an article that after taking out New York City, the Sunset in San Francisco was the most overbid real estate zip code in 2014. Looking for a new home during this time was definitely not fun. The chances of success were low. We visited many homes for months, put in offers and disappointingly, would lose out. 

One day while driving down a street I saw a yellowish, Spanish Mediterranean stucco house with a tiled roof. It had a closed up kind of sitting there feel, not abandoned or neglected, but waiting. I thought I wish a home like that would come up for sale and hopefully at a price where we could get it.

Image: The outside of the Spanish Mediterranean home. 

Spanish Mediterranean architecture  is my favorite style.  I think it is because I am a third generation Californian. The arches, ceramic tile, dark wood trim and beams seem like such a peaceful home environment.  I had never lived in such a home but definitely had a longing. 

Image: Original entry stairs. It even features a patten Old California #7 that Paul ended up installing in the downstairs bathroom! 

On Friday, September 5th, 2014 the yellowish Spanish style home I had so admired was listed on the market. My wife, daughter and I (along with our real estate agent, Deb Donovan) walked through the home together with the steady stream of neighbors and prospective homebuyers. 

Image: Beautiful, dark wood arches frame the amazing view in the dining room. 

We brought our contractor the following Sunday morning and spent two hours inspecting the physical well being of the 1932 built home.  There were issues with leaks in the roof and walls, termites in the basement, old plumbing and electrical. The sellers provided no inspection reports or allowed prospective buyers to have any written inspection reports on the property.  A seller’s market means that the sellers make the demands and the buyer’s feel lucky if they can meet them.

We just moved in July 2015. After closing on the purchase in October 2014, we spent a few months finalizing plans and getting our permit. Since we were not doing any exterior changes to the home we were able to get an “over the counter” permit.  Our architect, Camille She, was very thorough in considering every possibility and detail in our vision of beautifying our home. We also spent these months researching products, ordering cabinets and fixtures and getting ready for a fast remodel. We finally began work in February.  Even with all this preparation our fast remodel took five months, as the 1932 never touched home had its own demands.

2.) What type of look or aesthetic were you going for?

Our aesthetic was to respect the home. We wanted to re-do it in a way that our changes could have been original. There were many parts of the home that I loved as is. The handpainted beams in the living room and wrought iron work on the stairway were perfect. 

3.) Can you tell me about the kitchen? What did it look like before?  What did you change? 

The kitchen cabinets had been replaced previously and the counters had formica put down over the old tile. The counters were on only one side of the kitchen and a small 20" depth. The fridge faced sideways out in the middle of the kitchen. My favorite detail was the stove in a tiled alcove at one end near the adjacent breakfast room. 

Image: Kitchen BEFORE

We decided to merge the kitchen into the breakfast room and build in a banquette. We moved the door to the dining room six inches to the right and were then able to position the counter-deep refrigerator on the counter side. These changes gave us more room between the counters in our galley kitchen.  

Image: Kitchen AFTER. 

4.) How did you come up with your color scheme and design?

We liked the existing colors of the walls in the breakfast room and chose that as the color for the cabinets. We decided to do painted cabinets because they are timeless and typical of a 1930's kitchen. Natural wood styles change from walnut to oak to whitewashed oak to cherry to bamboo depending on the current trend.  Painted cabinets can always be repainted at a future date if needed.

Image: Tilded counter of kitchen hutch. Custom Madrid

I also loved the idea of a handmade copper sink. I found a 40" two compartment sink at Native Trails which allowed for easy cleaning of the biggest pots and pans.  Even though it is copper, it has the supple feel of worn leather.  

Image: Iron Ore countertops and a 4x4 Gardenia backsplash frame the Native Trails sink. 

5.)  How did you choose the color/patterns? 

I wanted to do handpainted tiles behind the stove. Of the hundreds of possible patterns I narrowed down it down to two.  All the Cuerda Seca tiles are beautiful and I would have been happy with any of them, but the two contenders were San Sebastian and Madrid.  Originally San Sebastian was our first choice but we decided on the Madrid. The alternating corner color selection gives a subtle checkerboard effect.

Tile Shown: Custom Madrid Handpainted Tiles, Gardenia 4x4s and Iron Ore countertops. 

The hardest decision was the counter tops.  We had chosen the decorative tiles for above the stove, kitchen backsplash tile (Gardenia), the oak floors and antique white walls.  At first I thought of putting a slab of Calcutta marble to the right of the stove as a work area that could double as a pastry roll out section and using ceramic tiles to the left of the stove (better to put hot pans on) and on the counter.  Ceramic tiles were most often used in the 1932 period of this home. So in the end I went with handmade tiles in a neutral medium tone grey (Iron Ore). It really grounds the kitchen and I prefer the look to the busyness of the Calcutta marble.

Image: Custom 12"x 25" Iron Ore counter tops with Round Liners as a finishing touch. 

The tiles are 12"x 25" so there are not many grout joints and it provides a good working surface; you can literally put the hottest pan down anywhere. I used epoxy grout and one small kit was more than enough to grout the 40SF of counter space.

6). And what about the two bathrooms? What did you choose to do? 

Both bathrooms had worn tile and needed fixing up. The existing tile in the upstairs bath was black, burgundy and green--which  was a little too strong for us. However, the worst part about both bathrooms was that the existing showers were cavelike. 

Image: Upstairs bathroom BEFORE. 

We wanted a timeless look for the upstairs bathroom. In the upstairs bath, changing the interior wall of the shower to wainscott height and adding a glass panes above, as well as 4" of extra width to the shower was also needed.  This meant that the worn original tile had to be replaced. I love the green to blue variation of Fireclay Tile's Sea Foam crackle glaze. All the tile used in the remodel was made with high recycled content clay. Normally, our Sea Foam glaze is produced on a white clay, but the factory produced the same glaze using Engobe on our recycled clay body. This version of the glaze is a little bluer than how it fires on the white clay. We wanted the beauty of the colors to stand out and aimed to create a calm feeling of simplicity, so we chose to not use any handpainted decorative tiles.

Tile Shown: The upstairs bathroom AFTER. It features Sea Foam engobe on Recycled Clay in 2x6 with Priene moldings. Flooring is Star and Cross in Daisy

Image: Shower detail; Sea Foam, Mica and Frost, all in 3x3

The floors are a matte white glaze (Daisy) and there is a warmth to both the color and old spanish pattern of Star and Cross. Our Mini Star and Cross was also used in the shower pan floor. Both showers have linear tiled in drains, so there is no central drain to disrupt the patterns. We used a similar tile molding to the original as a cap to the wainscoat and tiled up to the bottoms of the windows as the original installation from 1932. 

Tile Shown: Star and Cross and Mini Star and Cross for the shower floor, both in Daisy. Sea Foam in 2x6

Image: Sea Foam in 2x6 are framed beautifully with Priene, one of our Architectural Moldings. 

The downstairs bath was tiny, with only a small window opening out to a light shaft between the neighboring homes. By making the shower 12" wider, it allowed us to expand the glass and make the bathroom appear much larger, lighter and more open. 

Image: Downstairs bathroom BEFORE

Image: Downstairs bathroom AFTER. Tile Shown: Sky Blue in 3x6 Subway, Old California 7 in Cool Motif, 3" and 4" hexes in Calcite

My daughter loves blue and picked a translucent glaze, Sky Blue for the walls. We tiled the floor in a solid white matte glaze, Calcite and chose hexagons for the shape. We used 4" hexagons for the main floor and 3" hexagons for the shower floor for a better slope and more grout for non-slipping. We liked the idea of a white floor as it reflects light and makes the small room seem larger. We did a handpainted Cuerda Seca Old Califonia #7 decorative tile as a baseboard in predominantly shades of blue. The pattern is the same as one of the existing original pattern tiles on the front entry steps. 

Tile Shown: Sky Blue in 3x6 Subway, Old California 7 in Cool Motif, 3" and 4" hexes in Calcite

7.) How did the installation process go?  Did you face any challenges?  Did you work with a tile installer or contractor? 

We were really lucky as most of our patterns laid out full tile or close to full tile. Planning and layout is the most important part of a tile installation. My contractor Guzzetta Construction laid out a good portion of all areas in the hallway and then drew or snapped lines as guides on the walls and floors before mixing up any thin set and placing the first tile. I love the way the tile installations came out. We used white epoxy grout on the floors so hopefully they will be easy to take care of for the next 80+ years.

Are you interested in any of the colors and patterns used in this home? Order samples online! Need some help? Simply call, chat, or fill out our Design Assistance Form and one of our talented Design Consultants will get back to you shortly.