Help with fireplace surround (which marble or neither)

KevinMPAugust 18, 2013

My hearth has seen better days and is unsafe for me to continue to have fires in (I believe). It is all loose bricks that you could just pick right up, which I cannot believe is safe if an ember gets down in between them. I also want to make it level, which is definitely is not right now. While I'm at it, I think I want to reface the brick surround, too. I've been a bit on the fence because it's sort of nice, but it's a little sloppy. I don't think it's original because most of the places I've seen on my block do not have a surround that looks like this. The masons that built these houses were, in my experience, not sloppy, and whoever did this was. It's not even symmetrically laid out. In any event, my local marble place thinks that I should not use white marble and that the following two options would be best in my house given its age (~1826).

The first type is Rojo Alicante (from Spain). It's a reddish orange with cream and yellowish veining, which although a good match in some sense to the room, seems a little odd to me. But I do like it. There are two samples of this. If I did it, I would go with the redder one, not the peachier one in the photo graph.

The other is Rosa Levanto, which is a classic heavily veined marble from Italy that is a reddish burgundy color with some charcoal color and a slightly off white veining. I think the Rosa Levanto is more in keeping with the time of the house (although ornate for what population these types of houses originally were built for).

(The King of Prussia marble atop the fireplace will go and be repurposed somewhere (it wasn't original anyhow, although the stone is the one most commonly used in homes of this age around here). It's extinct, so there's no finding that in what I need.)

I know most of you know the room already, but I've given you some updated photographs (including with the new chair I posted about a little while ago) to use for your assessment. What do you think? (Neither is an option, and I'm open to recommendations.)

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The one at the top photographs like Portero Nero which is most similar to what is on most of Spruce. There are a bunch of fireplaces in the one building in our (former) complex that are more a greyed sort of Rojo Alicante, like the bottom one (but more grey).

I would probably do black slate. Or black slate on the floor and delft tile on the surround (which could be a problem with proportions).

I think I would consider avoiding marble because the marble fireplaces in the neighborhood are all marble, and the ones with wood mantles usually have brick or tile faces (but slate would work because it's plainer than marble (?))

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 11:06AM
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Thanks, Pal. I thought about slate, but it's a little boring and likely too dark. I'm going to look at tile today at Provenance. I'll let you know what I see there. Re-store has a lot more old tile, but it's more turn of the century.

Regarding the Portero Nero, that's a very similar stone. They have the blacker looking one (Nero Marquina) at the place, too, but it's all black really.

What do you think about the brick? Original?

Here is a link that might be useful: And funny you mention Delft because there are some Delft-style tiles in the area

This post was edited by KevinMP on Sun, Aug 18, 13 at 11:44

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 11:23AM
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I would be concerned about the condition of the flue.
These fireplaces were meant to contain nearly constant, fairly large fires during a good portion of the year.

We burn small intermittent fires in them now and the flues never really heat up, and warm acidic air condenses on the brick and essentially dissolves the mortar and turns the brick into powder on the surface.

Every time we opened the damper right above the firebox in our fireplace, pink powder and bits of brick would fall out. The wall in my attic was an end wall and I could have dug a hole through it with my hand, or maybe a teaspoon, because it was essentally powder.

Maybe you've taken care of this.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 12:08PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Have you decided to get rid of the brick for certain? I like it and think it goes wonderfully with the room. It also seems to fit the house, and is much warmer than any marble, I think. I would get a good brick mason in to fix what you have.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 12:13PM
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I too like the brick in your space and would consider keeping it if you can have things structurally repaired. My second choice would be Delft tiles, but that's because I am in love with them. If you cannot find enough Delft to fit your size parameters Id go with the redder marble.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 1:49PM
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I like the brick too. I don't like any of the tile samples. I would repair the brick or repair/replace with reclaimed brick if yours can't be reused.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 4:13PM
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I like the darker Rojo Alicante.but it seems very similar in tone to your floor. That might not work in the hearth. The Rosa Levanto might work better.

I like the existing brick if you can get it fixed.

Please get the flue checked if you haven't already.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2013 at 4:43PM
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I like all of them! Sorry!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 8:58AM
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One of the things that gets me all twisted around in these types of choices is the historical context.

The most appropriate choice from a decorative standpoint may not be the most appropriate choice from a historical standpoint. The most appropriate one may not be the one that looks better.

But if you are changing it out of necessity, maybe letting the historical trump the decorative is kind of revisionist anyway because it's not really historical, it's a replacement.

See how I can twist it around?

But part of the issue is that in the US there is such little historical fabric. I was talking to a patient from England who said that the house she grew up in was 500 years old But as far as the interiors went, they did not necessarily pick a bathroom tile or fixture based on needing to look "appropriate" in a 500 year old house, because what IS such a thing? Here, we try to preserve each element because of its rarity, but when it comes to having to Replace, what then?

Maybe if you are replacing it with something that was not there to begin with (I doubt there was a marble facing on the firebox on the second floor of a house like this) --maybe you can replace it with whatever you like. (?)

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 9:24AM
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Ding! Good answer Pal! But I do love the look of those old bricks with those old floors.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 9:28AM
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Pal, of course, makes an excellent point.

Can you replace the existing brick with antique brick? That would be my first choice. It not only maintains the historic feel, it works so well with the room. My second is the tile sample in the middle.

Your place is looking wonderful.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 10:37AM
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I'd say brick or Delft tiles (love 'em). Marble seems a bit fancy with the ceiling.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 10:41AM
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Likely keeping the brick surround and having a new hearth made from a honed blue slate that will look nice. I'll post a picture of the sample tonight. I agree that the brick more fits the room, and this way I can keep all of the other elements in tact.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 6:18PM
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