There is one common denominator in every DIY project I have ever done and that is the project has always been inspired by an idea, that comes to me in the form of an image that I can see in my imagination. This idea comes as a flash, sometimes when I am looking at the specific space and sometimes not. But what is consistent about these flashes is the image is clear and is consistent with my design sense and I am fed with the desire to make that image real. Unfortunately these flashes of inspirational images have yet to come to me with step by step directions. How to bring what I see in my head to life, well that has been the challenge, and the delight, of my DIY experience.
The first such image I saw was in 2000 when I was house hunting and walked into the home that we eventually purchased. Still standing in the front entry, I saw the living room and the windows nestled between two bookcases and I knew instantly there needed to be a window seat. So, once settled in the house, I built that window seat even though I had never before built anything substantial. And that first experience of being fueled with an image of what could be and figuring out how to build it, hooked me on the process. My window seat established my basic remodeling process: get an idea, study the space, read about how to it, wander around Home Depot researching materials, and then jump off the dock and into the water. I have yet to drown doing this. I have needed the occasional rescuing by life preserver, but I have yet to go completely under. And along the way I learned that building is really just constructing boxes and the shape and size of these boxes are dictated by the space of the specific project being done. These are the little boxes that made up the big box that became the window seat. Fueled with this knowledge, I now had the ability to break down a task that seems complicated and overwhelming into something far more simple and basic. This insight makes the idea of building something a “I can do that” experience. When it came time to build my fireplace surround, even though I had the general idea of what I wanted and knew the How of building it, what I needed was the What. What specifically did I want the fireplace to look like? Ah, this is when I go searching for my inspiration photo. Thank you Pinterest, Google Images and print magazines. I found my inspiration in a back issue of Better Homes and Gardens. The moment I saw it I knew I had it. I had found the photo of the fireplace that would guide my design decisions. The photo so much mirrored my space and my style. Now with the inspiration photo in hand, it was time to grab the tape measure, get some numbers, put pencil to paper and start drawing. Because I wanted the surround to fit a very specific part of the wall, the part that stood proud from the rest of the wall exactly like in my inspiration image, the first set of numbers I needed was the height and width of my space. I had to work with this figure. There would be no budging. My numbers were 93″ high by 79″ wide. Although my inspiration photo used subway tile, which I liked very much, I had already purchased 11 3/4″ square slate tiles which brings up the point that an inspiration photo is just that – inspiration – a jumping off point, not something that is always replicated exactly. And that’s okay. That’s the beauty of DIY – making something uniquely yours, uniquely personal to you and your space. So, factoring in my space constraints, the tile and the trim, I came up with my preliminary sketch. I had a place to start. Not only did I draw on paper, I also used a white marking pencil and drew on the floor where I would be working to help me visualize where the framing, cement board and tile needed to be. This helped me measure so everything ended up right where it needed to be. And that is a good thing. Also, before I began with the framing, I needed to do some prep work and install a piece of plywood to get a section of the floor flush to the rest of the floor. I measured the area and with a circular saw and piece of scrap plywood I cut out a patch and simply screwed it into the floor. Now the three different floor surfaces were level to one another. With the floor prepped, I began the framing. As the fireplace surround would be ultimately holding cement board, large slate tiles, multiple layers of trim and our 47″ TV I used 2×4’s for needed strength. I attached four vertical boards and one horizontal board into the wall studs wherever I could. Then I attached 4 2x4s directly into the floor. These boards were cut 1 1/2″ shorter than the finished depth to allow for the thickness of the vertical 2×4 that would be attached to their front edge. Also in this step I allowed another 1″ for the thickness of the cement board and the slate. So when the vertical framing members would be installed they will be 1″ behind the front of the firebox.
The drawings taking shape. Once the basic outline of the frame was in, I laid a horizontal board across the top of the firebox and installed short boards to increase the stability, rigidness and to form the shelf that would eventually become the mantel. I used metal plates as fasteners. (It is important to note that the design of my firebox allowed me to install wood directly on it. Check the particulars of your firebox prior to designing your frame.) When building the frame I cut the wood 1″ shy of the front of the firebox – 1/2″ for cement board and another 1/2″ for the tile. This one inch would allow (if all went well) the tile to be flush to the firebox on all three sides.
Finally, before I could finish the framing I needed to sketch out the cuts to be made in the two pieces of cement board I would be attaching to the front of the frame. Cement board is the surface I would be adhering the slate tile to and I needed to make sure I had vertical and horizontal boards in the right places so the cement board could be attached. That is why I have two verticals running only inches apart in the front center of the surround. It wasn’t symmetry I was after. :-)
One final check for level (notice I tacked up my inspiration photo for quick reference and motivation) and I was done making my box. I had before me a solid, secure and level (thank you carpentry gods!) fireplace frame just begging to become the surround of my dreams. Next step: Installing cement board and the slate tile. p.s. When I found this sheet of paper in my notes I laughed as it reminded me to mention that for me, construction is a fluid process. I always have scratch paper handy because I’m constantly checking my thought process, making updates, jotting down measurements and doing math.