Jun 05 2011

A Deadly Toxic Souvenier

My mother is selling my childhood home. I knew the one souvenir I wanted to keep. The only problem was, it could kill me.

Sadly, the time has come for my mother to sell the house she lived in for over 50 years – the home I grew up in. Despite my affection for it, I must admit there’s nothing really distinctive about the place, with one notable exception.

The playroom in the basement was covered with mottled red vinyl tiles. In the center of the room, the monotony was broken by the figure of a horse head – or perhaps a chess knight. Frankly, I never thought it was particularly attractive. I remember thinking throughout my childhood, “why is there a picture of a horse head on the floor?” But it made a convenient home base in a variety of games. And now that I would be losing the house forever, I discovered I had a fondness for it.

The deadly, toxic tiles, sealed for safety.

No one buying the house would want the tiles in the basement. We had suffered flooding several times, and many of the tiles had become unglued. Some were broken or made cracking sounds when you stepped on them. All the tiles had to go. Saving the horse head was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

So how is this a deadly, toxic souvenir that could kill me? Did I mention the tiles were asbestos? And broken?

OK, I know. You’re a little disappointed. After I built up the suspense with “deadly”, “toxic” and “kill”, you expected something a little more scary than asbestos tiles. The fact that some of them were broken adds a little to the thrill. But none of them were crumbling, so there really wasn’t much danger.

Still, we needed a contractor licensed for asbestos to remove the tiles. I asked him to save the horse and he did, although the horse’s mane broke in two (that was the first thing that went wrong).
[portfolio_slideshow include=”168,169,170,171,167″ autoplay=”true” pagerpos=”disabled” navpos=disabled timeout=1250 align=right] I bought a piece of ¾” plywood and glued the tiles onto it. They probably hadn’t been cleaned or polished in 50 years, so I bought floor cleaner and polish and did several cleanings followed by several applications of polish.

I had done a poor job of gluing some of the tiles, so I used a heat gun to remove them and re-glue them. Alas, I used the heat gun for too long in a few spots, and the vinyl melted and bubbled a little. That was the second thing that went wrong. (Maybe they also released asbestos into the air, so don’t give up hope: I still might die from this.)

The final result, hanging on my wall. It's sealed with wood on the back and glass on the front, so it can't kill any more people.

Finally, I took it to Michael’s and figured out a custom framing job with them. It ended up costing $253 (!).

The end result is not great art. The broken mane and bubbled vinyl are easily visible, as is the wear and tear of active children running, jumping, and stomping on it (it adds character, right?). But it has a place of honor on my wall and in my memories. Hopefully, it didn’t leave anything in my lungs.



  1. admin

    It would have been neat if you also had a picture of the tiles while it was still on the floor.

  2. admin

    Alas, it’s too late now. The tiles are long gone.

  3. admin

    Great project. Chance you will not die from doing this project are slim to none, and slim probably left town. Meaning you will get to enjoy your eclectic artwork for quite awhile yet

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