My favorite imperfect tile

A couple of years ago our house flooded and we had to rebuild everything — right down to the bathroom tile.

Our tile-setter was a frenetic Russian named Alex. At first I had mixed feelings about him: He could be charming one second, with his lilting Slavic-English, but moments later he would fly into a rage over some small setback.

The guy was an artist, though, and I soon saw his tantrums as a reflection of his work ethic. So I wasn’t entirely surprised to find him almost in tears one evening, when I came to see the newly-completed bathroom floor.

“I don’t know how this happens,” he said, pointing to a spot near the toilet. I followed the trajectory of his dusty finger to a single errant tile.

Tile 1030365 BLOG

Alex was distraught. “Don’t worry about it,” I said, trying to calm him. I wasn’t sure I’d know how to console a weeping Russian.

The crooked tile bugged me for a while, when we first moved back into the house. More than once I wondered how hard it would be to chip away the grout and pry the offender out.

But then it started to kind of grow on me: Rather than seeing it as a flaw, I started thinking of the tilted little tile as a sign a human had been there, and as proof that our house was hand-made. In time it became almost endearing, one of the dozen tiny imperfections that make our house truly unique.

I hardly ever notice the tile anymore. But when I do notice it, I think of Alex … and of the thousands of other bits of tile he lined up perfectly.


    • … and also more interesting, don’t you think? Very kind of you to stop by. I’ve been loving your blog posts, too, but I’m not able to leave comments for some reason. Sigh.

  1. I’ve seen things like this before! A mischevious (sp.) spirit visited. Usually a result of changing the orientation of rows from the original tile pattern.

    • Is there really such a thing as “mischievous tile spirits”? That would explain a lot! 😉 Thank you for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment.

  2. Many years ago, when I was still working for a living – in the IT department of a university – a new migrant to Australia was assigned to my group for work experience as a computer programmer. He also was Russian, and his name – believe it or not – was Alex, and his work ethic was indomitable. But what I remember most fondly about him was the day be came to me and said, with that characteristic Russian gravitas: “A program must not only work perfectly; it should also be beautiful” and I realised what I had not previously considered – that I profoundly agreed with him. I tried very hard, but ultimately without success, to convince my department to employ him on a permanent basis. But in the end, that did not matter, for he found a job elsewhere and went from strength to strength, writing programs that were both functional and beautiful. And we are still friends.

    • What a wonderful story! It’s a pity your firm didn’t have the good sense to hire Alex — sounds like he had some good lessons to teach. But I’m glad YOU hung onto his friendship. And I’m especially glad you took the time to write, Keith. Thank you for this lovely comment.

  3. We need to be more forbearing with the imperfections of others and ourselves. Having a little “misplaced tile” indeed is a sugn of humanity. Thank you for the lovely story and for showing kindness to the tiler in his upset. That is a good example!

  4. Loved your story.Perfectionism can be a tough. As a singer, I can sing an entire concert that people loved, but what sticks with me are the little moments where I wish the pitch had been better, or I could have sung this line differently-faster, slower, etc…..But I learned recently that in Japanese philosophy they have a different view. A piece of pottery with a crack or imperfection is valuable; they’ll even gild it after fixing the break….

    • Thank you for telling me about the wonderful practice of gilding the crack in a piece of pottery! When you think about it, it’s our little flaws that make us unique — what a wonderful philosophy to actually *celebrate* that. Thank you for your kind and thought-provoking comment!

  5. That is endearing isn’t it? A happy little accident. Which in life, are some of the sweetest moments. We’ve just bought a home in the city after moving from the country. We were lucky to have a very nice guy do some painting for us before we moved in. Zen, is Polish and very meticulous. He did such a spit-spot job of our whole main floor and partially upper floor in just one weekend. We were so grateful for his expertise, it would have taken me months and I’m sure I’d still be cleaning paint off the cabinets, LOL. This fellows are few and far between. Your Russian must have been cut of the same cloth. I can’t imagine laying so many small tiles so perfectly.

    • What a wonderful story about Zen, the Polish painter! I can completely empathize with your gratefulness for his expertise … as you say, such skilled and meticulous fellows are few and far between! Maybe that’s why it’s extra-wonderful when you can help support one of ’em. Anyway, congrats on your new home! I hope it will be the seat of much joy and happy moments for many years to come.

  6. I so love that one imperfect tile, it almost looks perfect! Someone once told me that Persian rugs have tiny imperfections in one place to remind us that nothing should ever be perfect. I love your style though, those tiles are gorgeous!

    • Your saying that you like my style is the ultimate compliment, Rochelle, because you have *extraordinary* style. Thank you! And thanks too for that little anecdote about the Persian rugs … I’d never heard that before, but it makes wonderful sense. Today, let us celebrate imperfection! 🙂 xo

  7. I love this post, as well as the comments. I’ve probably told you this story before, but when I lived in Alaska and took a beading class from a very old Tlingit woman,she admonished us to ALWAYS put one errant bead in every work that would be easily findable, like a yellow one in a black background, something like that. She said if we didn’t, and our works came too close to perfection (not likely anyway in my case, but I digress), the gods would be angry with us.

    • “… when I lived in Alaska and took a beading class from a very old Tlingit woman …” Only YOU could write a sentence like that, Pam. How wonderful — and what wonderful advice, to deliberately pepper our lives with just a hint of imperfection. Thank you for stopping by, dear pal.

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