NEW USE FOR AN OLD TILE
by Trish Muyco-Tobin
Art deco lines are the focal point of the vitrolite archway that joins the old kitchen with the new and extends to the study with its garden view.
Rob Boyle of Ladue is a self-described history buff. So when the time came for the retired radioman/sound contractor to redo his kitchen and add onto his home, he turned to a relic from the past: vitrolite.
Used extensively throughout the Art Deco era, Vitrolite graced the facades of movie theaters, diners and other establishments, as well as the interiors of homes built in the 1920s and 30s. "Vitrolite is pigmented plate glass that became popular as a finish for kitchens, baths, storefronts and other industrial uses," says Tim Dunn, president of Vitrolite Specialist, Inc. Dunn specializes in restoring and installing Vitrolite, and claims to have the largest collection of the glass (15 tons!) in the world. "They stopped making it in the early 1950s," he says. "I salvage it all over the country and buy caches of it when I can."
Dunn says a number of St. Louis homes still contain Vitrolite, especially in the Carondelet Park and University City areas, where most homes were built between 1935 and 1935. "It was the finish for kitchens and baths at the time," he says. "It was as popular as marble and granite are these days." Dunn says vitrolite is as easy to maintain as today's popular finishes, needing only glass cleaner and a soft cloth to clean. Its 3/4 inch surface also makes it almost impossible to break.
While he wouldn't call it a resurgence, Dunn says vitrolite is generating some interest. "There are people who appreciate its aesthetic look–the clean, polished, Art Deco style that vitrolite brings–people like Rob Boyle. Rob had an existing vitrolite kitchen, and he wanted the addition to look like the vitrolite had always been there."
A soapdish marks the wall where the old sink was located and the original kitchen ended.
Boyle's home was built in 1929, the same year as the Fox Theatre. His original kitchen and three bathrooms had vitrolite, and when the time came for a redo, Boyle says he wanted to save it all. "The folks from Norbert Markway Construction told me I was the first one who asked to save it," he says. "I was a little surprised because they do so many homes, but they said that people usually have the vitrolite hauled away."
While Boyle's kitchen received a new look, it's the old elements that make it shine. Of special note is the archway that connects the old kitchen to the new addition–the vitrolite panel used to make it came from the old Jefferson Hotel downtown. "Its history makes it unique and maintains the Old World feeling of the house," says Boyle proudly.