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The Unassuming History of Tin Ceilings

April 2021


Popular since the 1880s, tin ceiling tiles have always been a mark of luxury. However, their beginnings were far from extravagant. In fact, their humble history might come as a surprise to you. Take a step back in time with us to discover the history of tin ceilings.

Early Tin Ceilings History

Tin ceiling tiles are an American innovation. They sprang up as a more affordable and more durable option to intricate plasterwork that was popular on European ceilings in the late 1800s. They made high-class decor available to a wider audience rather than just the wealthy.

Pressed tin ornamentation became a big part of American architecture from the 1880s to 1930s. First attempts in the 1870s used thin iron sheets. The first designs were pressed with large hammers fitted with two interlocking dies. Major artists were commissioned to design elaborate patterns that took shape when several tiles were positioned together.

Manufacturers switched to tin and then to light gauge (tin-can thickness) steel sheet metal in the 1880s and the finished product was painted white to give the appearance of plaster. It was popular decor both inside and out for churches, government buildings, classy shops, and mansions.

Between 1890 and 1930, at the height of tin ceiling popularity, about 45 companies located along major railroad routes made tin ceiling tiles that could easily be shipped direct to contractors. The ceiling tiles were more than cosmetic. They were durable, lightweight, and fireproof. They lasted longer than plaster and were easier to clean. Their popularity spanned the gap from the wealthy to middle class and from one century to the next.

Tin ceilings history takes a turn starting in the mid to late 1930s when the ramp up to World War II demanded that steel go to other purposes. They quickly fell out of style as the world was engulfed in war.

In the 1980s, a full century from their entry into design, tin ceilings experienced a resurgence. After the modern designs of the mid-century, designers returned to Victorian aesthetics—and with that came tin tiles.

They were a common sight in celebrity residences and were featured in upscale interior design and architecture magazines but were affordable enough for anyone. They became available in multiple designs and colors--inspired by both Victorian style and modern geometrics.

Tin Tiles Today

In an era where restoration to the original look is so popular, tin ceilings are still enjoying a place at the top of designer’s lists. Some companies use original press molds to create products and many have the ability to make patterns based on samples collected from turn of the century buildings. In any case, they restore the original look that is so well loved today. Take a look at this 2021 restoration of a historic school house; or this gorgeous 1923 craftsman restoration to see a few projects where tin tiles added to the renovation’s vintage aesthetic.

Preservation Crossing Apartment Building, Hattiesburg, MS

Common Room, Ceiling Pattern #38 in Bright White Satin

Modern technology has only enhanced tin tiles and they are more durable and elegant than ever. Today, powder-coated finishes ensure a more permanent finish free from rust and wear and tear.

Tin has become a popular staple for more than just ceilings. You’ll find it everywhere from kitchen backsplashes to bars, and feature walls to kitchen islands. It’s wide spread through commercial and residential spaces in any type of design style. Browse our photo galleries for design inspiration.

American Tin Ceilings History

The American Tin Ceiling Company came on the scene in 2002, but has been producing authentic replications of late 1800s Victorian tiles ever since.

Kathy Corbet Interiors

Residential Project, Ceiling Pattern #6 in Silver Brushed Bronze

We manage the entire manufacturing process right here in the U.S. This includes acquiring metal, mold making, stamping, finishing, and shipping. We provide excellent customer service and quality while keeping costs as low as possible.

We currently produce over 40 patterns in 50+ colors and continue to innovate. Stay tuned for new patterns and colors coming your way soon.

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