Moving into our town’s historic district takes patience. This need for patience is not due to a lack of homes because there are plenty. Rather, it is because so many of the properties have been the victim of what I can only describe as thoughtless remodels. During my house search I walked through dozens of homes and often just shook my head and wondered what the former owners could possibly have been thinking. “This poor home,” I would say to myself, “it must be embarrassed to look like this.”
It was love though from the very first moment I walked into the house that would become ours and thought unless I saw something absolutely horrible, this was the house we would buy. As we walked from room to room nothing let me down. Then I walked into the family room, an addition done in the 1970’s and there it was – 30 feet of glass looking out to the backyard.
“I’m home,” I said when I saw that wall of windows.
So when I turned and spotted the seven-foot wide by eight-foot high massive brick fireplace – a structure so out of character and scale to the rest of this 1940 cottage, because everything else had been thoughtfully and carefully maintained, because the house had, as they say, “good bones” I knew I could do something with that brick monstrosity.
Well, plans have to wait sometimes. My time was busy raising the kids and money, well there was always something more pressing, more higher up the priority list than remodeling the fireplace. So we lived with it. And now, 14 years later, its time has come.
After doing the demo, and the framing, and tiling, it was time to build the surround. The fun stuff! And even though I always knew what I didn’t want – brick – I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted until I saw this image in an old issue of Better Homes and Gardens…
I loved everything about it: the fireplace, the wall treatment above, the flanking bookcases and the windows. It was what my space could be. So with the picture in hand, I set to work to create the kind of fireplace that had occupied my imagination for more than a decade.
It was a rather straightforward job. The design of the inspiration photo’s fireplace was very simple. And since I began the work right around my birthday, I got a new tool! Oh my gosh, I LOVE my new compound miter saw. It made the work SO much easier…
First I installed the three 1x12s that made up the facing…
For the wood around the surround I found this material at Home Depot. It’s a primed finger joint pine board and what attracted me to is was how smooth the finish was. There were no knots and I really liked that because even with primer and a good paint job, over time those knots have a nasty way of reappearing.
For this step I trimmed the boards to the right lengths and attached them to the wood frame with my nail gun. And, except for a little trim where the boards meet, I was done.
Or so I thought.
Even though I had before me the beginnings of the likeness to the photo, I found myself shaking my head no.
It wasn’t right.
In my space, for the size and scale of the fireplace, it wasn’t enough. It was flat. The little trim that would cover the junction of the boards would not be enough. It needed more dimension. Knowing this is how the design process works – build what I wanted to discover it just isn’t “it” – I was not deterred.
And so because I have found myself in this head scratching place before I knew exactly what to do next.
Yep, I went to Pinterest and began scouring photos of fireplaces and found this…
Inspiration photo #2.
It had the same feel as my first inspiration photo and the same trim treatment above the fireplace but it also had the additional layer of trim that I felt my fireplace needed. So back to Home Depot I went and purchased 1x3s boards of same material as the 1x12s and with my handy miter saw got to work adding rails and stiles.
Do you like the little paper shim holding the trim in place while I was setting it exactly where I want prior to nailing it permanently in place?
A whole lot of leveling went on to get all the trim straight. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to attach your boards temporarily (shims or minimally set nails) until you know the trim is placed exactly where you want it. And remember, not only do you have to make sure it’s level to the piece of trim next to it but the trim also needs to be level to the trim on the other side of firebox as well.
This requires patience.
And even with patience trust me I pulled off the trim multiple times until I had it set just right and even now (this is one of the little discussed DIY consequences) because I did the work I know where those little problems pieces are that no one else can see and even though I did my best, sometimes, when I am sitting on the couch months later, supposed to be watching tv, in my mind I am moving a piece of trim just a smidgen up or down.
That said, be patient, take your time to do it right, but also, accept that when the sawdust settles there will be little quirks in your work and that is OKAY, those quirks make it yours.
You can also see to the left of the fireplace in the photo above my pile of trim samples. The final design has crown molding, a medium-sized trim where the wood and tile meet and a base trim. To help make these trim choices, I went to Home Depot and cut 12″ samples of any trim I thought I might want to use. I needed to bring them home, hold them up to the fireplace and see their scale and how they interacted as a grouping of three. It took some trial and error but I think the final choices worked well with the simple shaker style design.
Finally, I would be remiss to overlook perhaps the most important ingredient to any project and that is making sure you have fun while working.
This step cannot be emphasized enough.
In whatever you are doing, if you enjoy yourself during the process, that enjoyment will show in the finished product.
I like to pop a movie in while I work, it’s company, and well, I prefer company that makes me laugh…
Here is the fireplace with the completed trim. I liked it so much better with the added dimension.
A close up of the shaker style trim treatment…
Look at those mitered corners! I think they might make my hero Tommy Silva from This Old House proud. It was his video I watched to help refresh my miter cutting skills…
Next it was time for the finishing touch – paint. It is said the key to a good paint job is the prep. I agree. And it is with this project I began to really enjoy the sanding process. I used to see it as a necessary evil but there is loveliness to the tactile experience of sanding.
And it is relaxing.
As I sand I just block out the world and just go into it. One hand holds the sander while the other hand glides over the surface of the wood, using touch rather than sight to determine when the right amount of smoothness has been obtained.
Following the zen work of sanding I primed the plywood mantel (the rest of the trim came preprimed, another bonus) and I caulked and painted. I used the same can of Benjamin Moore Advance paint I was using for my kitchen cabinet refacing project. A basic white with a touch of yellow to warm it up.
Enthused from the progress I made with the finished surround, I began prepping for the bookcases. Being a visual girl, to help see the space the shelves would take I used scrap trim to represent the top of the bookcases and some drywall pieces to check the scale of 16″ high solid facing that would make the bottom of each bookcase.
My fireplace had wings.
I also went a little crazy with some sample paint. You kinda can’t miss that in this photo…
Yeah, just a little crazy.
I promised my husband I would incorporate his favorite color, green, into the space. And well, since I seldom do things the easy way, I don’t paint just a little patch of test color. NO sir. I paint a whole wall. This I don’t recommend doing because when you change your mind about the color, like I did (back to of all colors, the original yellow) you have just given yourself a whole lot of unnecessary work.
With the fireplace done, next up, you guessed it, the bookcases are coming! The bookcases are coming!