Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Getting to the Hearth of the Matter

We progressed quite a bit since returning from our inspiring D.C. trip.

I tackled the 3rd wall which was a mishmash of leaky aluminum windows, different moldings and that rough wall paint style that I hated.

Pic above was taken not too long after we moved in.
By now, restoring the moldings has become a pretty automatic process involving safely removing the old paint, sanding, repairing and finally staining to match the dark wood throughout the house.  I was able to pull out some of the wainscot to I could add insulation to the exterior facing wall.

The two windows posed a little bit of a challenge.  Brand new, custom ordered dual pane windows would have cost hundreds of dollars.  So I took a drive and hit the usual salvage places and would you believe I found one, never-used double hung vinyl window that was EXACTLY the size I needed?  It was in great shape and still had the labels on it and I bought it for $65! I installed it in just a few hours and felt that luck was with me.  After a few more days of searching, I knuckled under and purchased a brand new small window from HD for $125 but it took over 2 weeks to be delivered! And would you believe it WASN'T EXACTLY the size I asked? Let me see, is it better to check the salvage yards for an exact window you could install that day, for a fraction of the cost, or go retail and pay more and wait longer for something not exactly right?   I've always been a big advocate of using salvage materials but this experience pushes me into the salvage camp even more.

So with the new windows in, I carefully pulled molding from another part of the house to build matching trim around the windows.   Andrea sponge paints to match the other walls and I once again add the Tung Oil as a sheen.
We've really grown to enjoy the look and ease of wood shutters so I added some to the lower part of the big window to provide privacy yet allow light in.

I had been thinking a lot about fireplaces.  For generations, a fireplace was where families huddled together to stay warm and even cook.  Fireplace mantels became a major focal point of design since people wanted something else to look at besides the calm, flickering fire.  Although modern forced-air allows heat to efficiently enter any room, it did take away the need for people to come together in one room.  After giving it some thought, we felt it would be cheaper and just as efficient to put a new gas fireplace in the middle of the old house.  We spend most of our time here anyway and I like the idea of a central heated area to eat meals, entertain etc..  Also, the flames on these new gas heaters look astonishingly like the real thing and is much safer and cleaner than wood burning.

So we began to update our bland wall heater, which came with the house, to a more efficient new direct-vent gas fireplace.  I found a good company on Ebay after reading the horrible Yelp reviews on all the Bay Area fireplace companies.   The company I used is called 'Embers Fireplaces' located in Central California and their products were affordable and great as was the customer service.  I highly recommend them.

After a bit of research on fireplaces, I settled on first installing a small brick hearth made of antique bricks found in our yard and other places.  I harvested a 'Carnegie' brick from the patio outside and matched it with bricks that had a wide range of colors.

Following framing and installation of the firebox and vent, I did more research on fireplace mantels and found that most of the pictures showed mantels that were usually all one color-white.  The Victorian style mantels were audacious and extremely expensive and I wasn't sure if it would work in the small main room.  So after some thought, decided to build a custom wrap-around mantel using salvage pieces and some brand new Poplar wood boards.  I learned that ordering specialty Victorian tiles would take several days and I was eager to finish so I found about 30 stone tiles, with a lot of character, at salvage for $6.

When I put it all together, we liked the two-tone look of the dark wood against the greenish-poplar and decided to work with it.  The corbels and legs came from a custom kitchen cabinet and the artwork from my sister. I guess I had to build a fireplace to fit the art! 

I spent an extra $125 for the faux brick look inside the firebox and it was well worth it.  It looks great and much better than leaving it all black.  Like a rockstar, Andrea is called in to bring music to the wall with her sponge technique.

I put in the shelving and coated the stone and brick with a water-based gloss substance, that is used on tile, to give it that "wet look" and viola!, a new efficient gas fireplace with custom mantel.


And Now

And I final triptych pic the captures the mental-visual process.


  1. Looks nice!! But that red looked good as well. I'm lucky enough to live in a house 500 years old so the fireplace was there all ready, we just had to take some of the bricks out that people put in to be smaller.

  2. This is amazing work. I am astounded you could do all of this on your own. Your room looks so cozy and appealing. I'm blown away!

  3. Rainiepie,

    It's hard to imagine the challenges of rehabbing a 500 year old house, but I imagine it would involve a lot of brick and stone masonry experience.

    Yes, I do love the brick look and these new gas fireplaces do a pretty good job mimicking their look.

    Hi Dorothy!

    Thanks for the nice comment. It does feel cozier in the front part of the house now. I'm hoping we can do a soiree sometime and invite people over for a little party. You are certainly on the list!

    How is your hard work on the house going?