When the Cat’s Away: Fireplace Reno

Mr. Feld travels a lot for business, and occasionally for pleasure. When he’s out of town, I like to play a fun little game where I start a home renovation project that I think I can finish before he gets back, but then it turns out I can’t and we have to live with the consequences for a few months until we spend way more time and money than originally planned to get it finished. It’s a real hoot! Remind me to tell you about the time he went to Vietnam and came back to find our only shower had been demoed and we had to use a hose in the backyard to bathe for two weeks (did I mention it was December?). Ah, good times.

ANYway, last July, my dear husband went to ComiCon in San Diego for four days. Tons of time! Plenty of opportunity to get something little done! I posted a poll on Facebook – should I wallpaper the hallway? Paint the bathroom vanity? Or demo our eyesore of a fireplace, which I’ve hated ever since we moved in? The results were overwhelmingly in favor of the latter. And it’s easy to see why:


This image is from the listing photos from when we bought the house. It went with their decor, I suppose, but that burgundy and black combo just wasn’t working for me. Plus, someone had used abrasive cleaning products on the tile at some point, and they all had nasty scratch marks when the light shone on them. Not pictured: someone had painted the side insets of the mantle the same green color as the walls (and ceiling). Eye roll.

So, thinking it would be as easy as chipping off a few old tiles and replacing with new ones, I got out my trusty hammer and chisel, and set to work. Spoiler alert: it was NOT that easy. Those tiles were set in half an inch of mortar, and they were hanging on for dear life. I spent an hour chiseling, and couldn’t even get one whole tile off. Frustrated, and well past the point of no return, I ran to Home Depot and rented a medium duty demolition hammer. NBD.


Ah, now that is more like it! The demo hammer made short work of those tiles! And the mortar! And the bricks behind them! And… oh shoot. The eighty-five-year-old sandstone bricks were literally falling out of the fireplace (and on to me), and true to tradition, this project suddenly got a lot bigger than I had originally planned (shocker).


One of the benefits of being a Realtor, is that you have a rolodex of pretty much any type of contractor you need, right at your fingertips. I promptly texted my “fireplace guy” and sent him the above photo. I can only imagine the expression on his face, but he politely told me that we would either need to completely rebuild the fireplace from the inside out (for a cool $10,000), or purchase an insert (for around $3,500). In case you’re wondering, Mr. Feld’s expression and response was not quite as polite when he returned from his trip and found this gaping whole in our living room.

After I explained to him that the fireplace had been structurally unsound AND unsafe to have fires in, so really I did us all a giant favor by exposing this latent issue (you’re welcome), then we moved on to the more fun task of shopping for inserts, tile, etc. Shopping with a spouse who actually has opinions can be a lengthy process. Case in point, let me direct your attention to the Christmas tree in the corner of this photo. Remember when I said this started in July? Yeah, now it’s December, and no, this is not a picture of the finished fireplace. This is a photo of the facade that I made because all the warm air from our house was being sucked out of the giant hole in our living room. Oh, and because a squirrel had climbed down the chimney and happily welcomed us home one evening from atop our coat rack.


We also had the mantle painted white in the interim, and it made a huge difference! I am usually loathe to paint any natural wood, but the room really did need to be lightened, and I felt it was a good way to tie in the new crown moulding we added.

Just a week before Christmas, our gas insert was installed and we were able to enjoy a cozy fire to go along with our caroles and cocoa. The insert is a replica of a British coal burner, but we got gas logs instead of the fake coal (which looked a little TOO fake for our taste). We also placed an order for custom made tile from a factory in Ohio who makes every batch to order. Possibly excessive, but Mr. Feld and I finally agreed on a color and when that happens, you don’t let a little thing like price, distance, or a six week turnaround get in your way.


Did I say six weeks? Well, here we are six months later, and the grout is drying as I type this. A ridiculous comedy of misfortunes delayed our custom tile to the point where we gave up and canceled it, and placed an order with Pratt & Larson, based right here in Portland, Oregon. They needed six weeks too, but unlike the first company, they actually delivered on time, and the tile is absolutely gorgeous. Our installer felt so bad for us, he came out on a Saturday to set it all in place. Now, just ten short months after this adventure began, I can finally say the fireplace is DONE!


What a difference a year, a demo hammer, a squirrel infestation, and a whole lot of patience can make!

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