Carpentry Projects
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My Remodeling Tale Begins With A Giant Fireplace

The story of our current family room remodel begins with a giant fireplace.

It was a brick monstrosity.

It measured eight feet high.

Six feet wide.

Two feet deep.

It was so large the firebox held our 36″ TV…

Teddy and fireplace

It was the brick fireplace that ate our family room.

And it was ugly. And not at all in keeping with our 1940 cottage.

Rather, it was a monster that was built as part of an early 1970’s addition.

I don’t know what they were thinking in the 70’s.

I do know what they were smoking and well, let’s just say unfortunate design was the result of that smoking.

So, one day in March 2002, while my husband was safely on the other side of the planet, I got the idea that it would be the perfect time to get rid of that horrible fireplace.

Totally naive and thus overly confident, I was absolutely convinced that one week would be plenty of time to get most of the messy demo done and in its place would be my vision – clear and magnificent.

“Of course,” my husband would say to me, fresh from his Tokyo trip, inspiration from my efforts naturally replacing his jet lag. “Your efforts my dear,” he would continue, “have paved the way for me to see just how wonderful your idea is to replace that unsightly wall of brick with a small, gas insert fireplace. Yes. Where once I doubted, now I am absolutely convinced.”

Or so I thought.

For even armed with brick hammers, sledge hammers and team of enthusiastic helpers…

Teddy and brick hammer


what I thought would be a few days of demo, I quickly learned would be much, much more. So just before Neal boarded his airplane home, I had to fess up. I told him what I had done and what would be awaiting him upon his arrival.

“A 14 hour flight is enough time for him to get used to the idea,” was my thinking.

And of course, he was a good sport about it because, well, my husband is a good guy.

The demo continued for months and as we made our way through the five and six layers of brick I realized I was in way over my head.

And in way below my feet. For we discovered not only did the brick stick four feet into the room, it also went down four feet all the way to the ground.

Yes. I had ahuge hole in my house that went straight to the outside.


In this photo we have already back-filled with demoed brick the hole that led to the outside.

I needed help. I didn’t know what to do.

So I called contractors.

Seven contractors. Over months and months. And not a single one called me back.

And time passed. And I was stuck.

Until my friend stepped in. The friend I first consulted about how to get the project started, many months before. The friend who called me the day after I started to offer his help and I said, confidently, “Thanks, but, I’ve got it under control.” Well, I needed him and he knew it and he politely, once again, as good friends do, offered his help. This time I immediately and most humbly accepted his offer.

After the most tedious demo work I have ever done, we finally got the brick flush to wall as he directed and he then took time off from work and taught us how to install new subfloor over the hole in the floor.

And he taught us how to frame over the huge hole of a firebox.

And together we hung drywall over that framing, forever encasing the remaining brick. Oh how happy I was to longer see brick. And once we got the wall up we were able to install a gas fireplace…


Ignorance is bliss. At times.

Good friends who help you out of messes (literally) are definitely, and always, bliss.

We were tired though. And burned out. So after the fireplace was installed, I laid slate, built a “temporary” fireplace surround out of MDF and some stock trim from Home Depot. I put our bookcases on either side of the surround to create a built-in look. “This will do for a while,” I thought.


That a while lasted 10 years.

Until this summer when that little brick hammer yielding girl three photos back went off to college and in a throes of feathering my almost empty nest I resumed work on the family room and that fireplace. And we are getting french doors, in fact they are being installed as I write this, by a contractor who did call me back.

“Enjoy the process” that friend who helped me a decade ago once told me. I think of those words often. Many years and many lessons later, with a heart steeped in gratitude, I am most definitely enjoying the process.


    • Thanks! I am awaiting to see more. First set of doors in today, tomorrow the next set. Love transformation, it is sometimes a long process, but exciting! Thanks for stopping by! :-)

  1. I can make out from your post how much you are enjoying being the ‘Demolition woman’. I just finished redoing my daughter’s room, so I can imagine the happy space you are in. Happy Remodeling!
    And Happy Diwali wishes to you! May it bring Peace, Prosperity and Light in your lives!! :)

    • Thank you Hema! I do love remodeling, kinda shows doesn’t it! :-) And I enjoy too learning about that which you share. I didn’t know what Diwali was so I looked it up Wikipedia, and it said this, “The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil”, refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings ananda (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.” What a celebration you must be having and how good to remember the inner light that is in all of us and connects us to one another. It seems so often that we forget our oneness and concentrate on our differences instead. I wish you a rejuvenated sense of Inner Light and the peace that comes with that my friend!

      • Wow! Wikipedia and you got it absolutely right. That’s what this festival actually means- to kill the darkness of ignorance, greed, pride, desire, and anger within you so that you can receive God’s light of love, bliss and ananda. But somewhere along the way we forget it’s real meaning and end up focusing on the rituals and that which is unimportant. Thank you my friend for reminding me, so I focus on what’s really important in my life. :)

  2. Ooo, French doors! It’s just one thing after another, isn’t it? No question, it’s about the process. But the results are a damn sight better then the original!

    • “It’s just one thing after another, isn’t it?” Oh good grief Lynn, you have no idea. And tomorrow the contractor is coming back to remove the french doors – 24 feet of doors installed improperly. Yes. But I am hoping this will do it. But, we have been able to see just how beautiful it is to have so many almost continuous feet of glass and it is WONDERFUL, so put up with a reinstall, I gladly will.

  3. Pingback: How To Trim A Fireplace Surround | Life&Ink

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