Progress on tomettes

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 09:49

Living room looking towards sofa nook

I’ve continued restoring the original tomettes, traditional southern French terracotta tiles I discovered (and uncovered) in December. As a reminder, this is what the living room looked like before, while this photo shows the tile adhesive I had to remove.

The photo above, tomettes now clean, shows how the sofa nook looks now, and here’s the other half of the living room. Last Sunday I decided to test my theory about a heavy-duty cleaner (décapant in French) that I had used before and that didn’t work so well. Instead of diluting it as recommended, I added only half the amount of water prescribed, making it more concentrated. This worked nicely, and I was able to scrape off tile adhesive residue very quickly. About two-thirds of the living room still needed adhesive scoured off — I finished it all that same day!

What most surprises me is that the floor is in such good shape. The apartment building dates from 1953, so the tomettes are 56 years old, and yet only one of them has serious damage. The rest were so well cared-for that even after being tiled over, then having that tile removed, and being scoured, scraped and treated with a chemical cleaner, they still shine! My apartment has only had two owners before me, with the previous owners having bought four years ago and putting in the tile when they arrived, so it would seem that the original owner truly cared for the terracotta floor.

Some thin spots of residue still need to be scrubbed off with a regular scouring pad, but that should go quickly. After that, all that remains is to seal and wax the floor. Easier said than done since with the furniture, I’ll only be able to do half at a time. And will need to keep kitties from exploring the floor while it’s worked on. They behaved surprisingly well with the ammonia-based cleaner, never once touching it — I’m assuming because it smelled bad.

Work in progress

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 17:54

Uncovering the living room

This is how I’m spending my Christmas and New Year’s holiday! All of this is the result of “just” three hours of work today. I’m glad that these went much quicker — I should be able to finish a good part of the living room by the end of next week. These are the tools and protection I’m using. Always use face protection when removing tile; I can’t insist enough. No matter how careful you are, the tiles break in unpredictable ways and pieces go flying everywhere. My eye protection and face mask have been hit by flying pieces of tile very often. Along those lines, if you have a pet, either don’t let them near the work area at all, or stop working when they’re nearby. Kanoko rests on his cat tree perch to oversee my work, so he’s been fine. I only worked for three hours because that’s all my arms and legs could take. It’s best to kneel (I used a folded-up blanket as a knee pad), which takes its toll, and it’s tiring to pound and lift all the time.

The thick gray line just above Kanoko’s head is not due to broken tile — that’s originally where the living room wall was. The previous owners took it out and put it further back to create the sofa nook. This is both good and bad: the good part is the tomettes aren’t broken; the bad part is there are no tomettes along that line at all!

While I consider tomettes to be a treasure because of their beauty and soft, silky feel, they are also a treasure in the material sense of the word: since tomettes are no longer made, you can only find vintage ones, and hexagonal tomettes cost from 50 to 70 euros per square meter. My living room and bedroom are 35 square meters in all, multiplied by 60 euros makes for 2,100 euros, or about 3,000 US dollars at the current exchange rate (I use’s currency converter). In comparison, decent-quality modern tiles cost about 20 euros per square meter, or one third of the tomettes’ worth. In short, for 3-4 weeks of tile removal work, I’ll be tripling the value of my floors! (Why did the previous owners tile over these tomettes? Well, since they are “vintage”, there are some French people who don’t like them. I’m assuming that’s what happened, since the previous owners were a young French couple.)

Buried treasure

Posted in Cats, Home improvement, Journal, La France, Nice at 20:45

Bedroom with parquet removed

This afternoon Kanoko was swatting around a broken piece of ceramic. It was dark red and reminded me very much of traditional Provençal terra cotta tiles, called tomettes. My curiosity was piqued — every so often, you’ll hear a story of someone buying an apartment, pulling up the old floor and discovering tomettes beneath. It even happened to my former landlords, whose floor was gorgeous. Since the parquet in my bedroom was badly laid and I thought I needed to replace it due to the water damage from the adjacent bathroom, I pulled on a corner that was already sticking out.

This is what I found. I jumped; I squealed with joy; I bounded into the kitchen to put on eye protection and returned to the bedroom to pull out as much parquet as I could. It hadn’t been glued, merely laid onto a protective sheet covering the floor. The tomettes are in perfect condition. There’s only one exception: the previous owners broke some tomettes to run… a TV cable. Ugh. (By any chance, do any readers have a few tomettes laying around that I could use to repair this? They’re hard to find. Mine are 11.5cm from point to point; 10cm from side to side.)

Pulling up the parquet brought something else into evidence: the tile elsewhere in my apartment is on top of yet more tomettes!!! Tomorrow I’m going to pull up tile in an out-of-the way corner of my living room to see what’s been done and if it’s recoverable — I certainly hope so. I’m delighted since I had in fact dreamt of redoing my bedroom floor in tomettes, but had to set aside the idea since they’re very expensive. Then today I find that it was already done 60 years ago!