For centuries, decorative tiles have transformed the mundane elements of a house—namely floors and walls—into works of functional art. This Old House reader Rosi Zingales is a master at this type of disguise. In her submission to our online Salvage Challenge, she demonstrated how to turn a blah brick fireplace into a showpiece by decorating the hearth with swirls of vintage blue, white, and black tiles. The mosaic recalls the waves at the beach near her 1970s ranch house in Hampton Bays, New York.

When I e-mailed Rosi to tell her how much I loved her work and to see if she'd lend a hand with my salvaged tile project, she was happy to oblige. "But if you like what I did inside the house, you should see the outside," said Rosi, who forwarded me another shot of her handiwork. This one was of her home's concrete foundation, the front of which is completely covered in colorful tiles.

Though Rosi's style is more atomic than antique—she prefers tiles from the 1950s to the late-19th-century ones that I favor—I knew she'd be able to teach me a few tricks. Plus, it's always more fun to work in twos. So follow along step by step to see how we blended Rosi's creativity and tiling know-how with my salvage-sleuthing abilities.
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    Tools List

    • wet saw
      Wet tile saw
    • grout sponge
      Tile grout sponge
    • plastic spacers for tile
      Plastic spreader
    • margin trowel
      Small trowel or old batter spatula
    • rubbing stone
    • latex gloves
      Latex gloves
    • safety glasses
      Safety glasses

    Shopping List

    1. Salvaged tiles: $3 to $65, depending on size, detail, and rarity; Recycling the Past

    2. Vintage metal table base: find these on eBay and at flea markets for about $15

    3. Tile spacers: use 1/8-inch thick Masonite board (sold at your local lumber yard) or purchase 1/8- and 1/4-inch tile spacers (at hardware stores) 4. Weldbond polyvinyl glue, $3.50 at Ace Hardware

    5. Henry 314 Multipurpose Ceramic Tile Adhesive (small container)