Posted by conrad
31 August, 2011

Tin Ceiling Tiles: A Brief History

If you’re an old house enthusiast or enjoy reading about historic restorations, you’ve probably seen a lot of articles about the historic tin ceilings found in many older homes, but how much do you know about the factors that contributed to their popularity back in the days when Victorian homes were springing up across the country.

Original tin ceiling tiles -- photo from nps.gov

During the mid 1800s one of the most popular trends in upscale European homes was the use of sculpted plaster ceilings to really set off a room. As the Victorian architectural design became rampant in this country during that time period, builders faced a dilemma — many of them couldn’t afford to have a skilled craftsman spend days creating a sculpted ceiling in their homes and the builders that could weren’t sure they could find purchasers willing to pay the additional cost. The solution they turned to was installing decorative tin ceilings in their new homes.

Initially the tin ceilings were metal sheets, but before long decorative ceiling tiles were used with many displaying the classic designs so popular in European plaster. Homeowners soon discovered the tin ceiling tiles could also be used as an inexpensive cover up for old existing ceilings in need of repair and shopkeepers with a second floor apartment often installed tin ceiling tiles in their shops for their fire resistant properties.

Original tin ceiling tiles go back up -- photo from nps.gov

Original tin ceiling tiles go back up -- photo from nps.gov

All these years later, preservation specialists are painstakingly restoring many of those original decorative tin ceilings — some of which have been since hidden under a layer of sheetrock or acoustical tiles. A good example is Fort Baker in California which was originally constructed in 1905 and is now a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Center — a National Park Service facility. Many of the buildings at the old military base still had their original tin ceiling tiles that required restoration. Workers numbered each tile and removed them for protection from damage as other renovation work took place in the base’s buildings. The tiles were then cleaned and reinstalled just as they were when the buildings were new.

Your old house may not have 100 year old tin ceiling tiles, but you can have the next best thing by installing modern ceiling tiles manufactured to look just like their historic counterparts, but no extensive and expensive cleaning is required. Companies such as Decorative Ceiling Tiles have numerous styles based on the patterns found in old European plaster ceilings — the same designs builders sought to duplicate with the original Victorian tin ceiling tiles all those years ago.

 

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