ST. LOUIS HOME MAGAZINE, December 1992
For Hank Griffith, owner of Mithra Art Glass and self-styled "glass freak," the opaque glass called Vitrolite is a "great material," special for its color and thickness. He prizes his ever-growing collection of salvaged scraps, and hope to incorporate them someday into pieces of art. Yolanda Bolda, a student of interior design, considers her Vitrolite-lined twenties-eara bathroom to be nothing short of an Art Deco masterpiece." But Grace Caporal was not as charmed when she first saw her Vitrolite kitchen in the 1926 house she bought 12 years ago: "It kind of looked like an operation room," she recalls.
As Griffith, Bolda, and Caporal know, Vitrolite, that opaque glass tile common in fine St. Louis kitchens and baths built or remodeled in the twenties and Thirties, is no longer made. The material, which also faced smart storefronts and lined gleaming movie palace lobbies all over St. Louis, Provided spotless soda shop counters and hygienic lavatory walls, and even decorated the Empire State Building lobby. The glaziers who installed it here and around the United States have long ago retired, taking their knowledge and techniques with them. But two St. Louis craftsmen still restore and replace the distinctive glass tile with their own salvaged stock, keeping intact a look that perfectly expressed the tastes of an earlier era.
Don Caviecy and Tim Dunn work separately and together, referring business to each other, and helping each other out on the jobs. Dunn admits he learned most of his techniques from Caviecy: "Don was the 'Vitrolite Man" for 30 years," he says enthusiastically of the man he now calls a "surrogate father." Dunn is working in a black-and-white Vitrolite-surfaced bathroom in University City: "The secret is to get it flush," he explains, employing a suction cup used by tile-setters to maneuver a piece just so--its reflective surface would betray a less-than-perfect alignment with its neighbors. He has already pried off each piece, repaired the plaster walls, and heated a bucket of tar-black mastic glue. He now applies the mastic, floats each tile out from the wall with glazing compound, then caulks.
Cracked pieces will be matched with and replaced by pieces from Dunn's 3,000-4,000 salvaged Vitrolite tiles. (Contractors call him regularly to remove salvageable tile. And Dunn keeps an eye out for opportunities. Once he remodeled a bathroom for free to get the Vitrolite as salvage; and he cleaned out the basement for a widow to get her late husband's stock of Vitrolite; the man had been the owner of an art glass company).