What would you do with this fireplace?

alisonJune 18, 2009

Fingers crossed, I take possession of a lovely 1909 brick 3 story next week -- my first house. (First time I've even lived in a house in 25 years, but that's another story!)

I've very lucky in that the previous owner did a tremendous amount of work the bring this old lady back to life. Not just the basics like plumbing, wiring, roof, but also a lot of the niceties, like refinishing the built-in Craftsman-style dining room cabinets.

Some things, she just didn't get to; like this fireplace, which is one of the first things you see when you walk in the front room.

Altho' I won't realistically be able to do anything right away, I want to start mulling over ideas now, so I can keep my eyes peeled for opportunities.

Here's what I've got:

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I could be wrong. But it looks like a poorly built afterthought that likely doesn't meet current Codes re: opening and depth and hearth thickness. Not to mention flue size and materials.

Before even using it, have a local chimney sweep/chimney expert take a look. That it may have been used by the previous owner is no guarantee that it's safe.

A friend of mine was using his 1932 era fireplace one weekend when he noticed smoke coming out all around the fancy wood facing going up to the ceiling. His wall was on fire. As the firemen explained to him, these fires were common. The fireplaces were designed for one-hour decorative fires, not for a latter generation of woodburning enthusiasts.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 6:32PM
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Oh, this is a just a decorative fireplace now. And I have no intention of trying to get it working; it's sealed and that's fine with me.

It does look odd and out of place in what is otherwise a rather elegantly proportioned place. The brick aand the mortar look the same age and style as other brickwork, but I can't imagine they had this huge chunk of brick right in the front room.

My sister sent me several pictures of the fireplaces in similar renovated rooms. We're planning to make a habit of scooping out a great salvagge place near her, and I have some lovely Rookwood tiles I discovered in the attic of an apartment building long ago.

Not sure what to do with that stack of brick up to the ceiling, tho! Plaster? Drywall?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 6:58PM
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Wow- that is a large wall of brick! I don't know anything about fireplaces during that time, but it might be fun for you to try to do some research on it. If you knew what it was used for, it might open up some ideas on what you'd like to do with it. Off the top of my head, a surround from a salvage place (which you mentioned) would probably be fantastic. With that there, the brick might be nice- good luck! Congrats on your purchase- enjoy your new home, it sounds really wonderful.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 9:15PM
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Before you cover it up (which I wouldn't do), make a mixture of 50/50 boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits. Wipe that over all the brick. The true colors of the brick will pop out. If you do that, you'll be making a final decision from a different viewpoint.

Is the hearth longer on the right side than the left? Of is the flooring creating the impression that the hearth wraps around on the right side?

I'd look into getting a mantle that can sit on the face of the brick.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 5:44AM
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The hearth certainly does appear to be offset. I know that the stacks in my house do have the fireboxes offset, to accomodate additional fireplaces in the same stack on other levels. One does not sit directly above the other.

The bricks look all 'wrong' for a fireplace in a home of this vintage. I really think it's been worked on at a much later date. Given this is a three story house, I'm guessing it's an urban home? Townhouse or rowhouse even?

In that era, you would have found manufactured gas to be common in cities and it makes me wonder if the tiny firebox isn't because this has been a gas grate or coal grate. If the back of the firebox curves toward the room, I'd strongly suspicion it. My folks have a thirties era home, and their living room fireplace has a small opening like that, and it's all finished off in tile. It was a working gas grate and even though it has chimney access for flue gasses, it was never meant to be used with wood or coal. A fireplace like this would be perfect for gas logs.

I suspect it was finished off as a plaster wall above an ornate and heavy wooden mantel at one time. Most town houses of that era were. Brickwork clear to the ceiling isn't typical and looks out of place.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 11:35AM
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Are you sure it's a real fireplace? I lived in a rental once that was about this era or a little later. It had a huge, exposed brick F/P (I don't think it went to the ceiling though) much like this one & even the mantle was brick. It was for decoration only - a complete fake - & didn't have a flue; it was so heavy the builder had put supports in the basement to hold it up. Why he didn't just build a chimney & be done with it has always been a mystery.

If the roof is easily accessible/navigable, check out your chimney tops to make sure there are the same number of flues as there are fireplaces.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 12:26PM
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Were it my house, it would go.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2009 at 12:35PM
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Could a mantel be added to your fireplace? Below is my floor to ceiling fireplace, however, my ceiling looks much lower than yours.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2009 at 12:34AM
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Thanks all for the feedback! This house is going to be a big adventure, and I'm sure I'll be posting often. (Long time reader of this forum, but I've never had much to contribute before!)
It may or may not have been gas originally. I rather suspect it was; it was a urban house even back in 1900, and that was common. There are two chimneys in the building and looks like two flues apiece -- but this is the only visible fireplace. (The other rooms simply have a chimney brest long since plastered over.)

I didn't recall that the hearth was off-set, but that's part of the reason I took so many pictures. Everytime I go in I've discovered some new cool detail I didn't see before.

Good advice on checking to see what the brick really looks like, lido; I'll defintiely see what I can find.

What you're describing calliope is what I was picturing; nice ornate wood mantel and smooth plaster covering the brick up to the 9/12' ceiling. It certainly seems more appropriate for the room. Given the care the PO took restoring this place, I wonder if that was what was there originally, but it was so damaged by the time she got the house that she took it back to the brick to restore it, but ran out of time.

There's a ton of research to do, and plenty of time to do it -- thanks all for the input!

(Irish curls -- that's a really pretty fireplace. Is that a painting over the mantel or inset tiles?)

    Bookmark   June 21, 2009 at 11:31PM
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