At any rate, Graham and I decided that Labor Day weekend would be fireplace rehab weekend. We bought a chisel from Home Depot the week before, and Graham had a prybar.
So on Saturday morning, we kissed the dogs and sent them to my parents' house, and by noonish we were on our way to rectify the top of the fireplace.
Detail of the fireplace top before it was removed, the top layer of brick and most of the cement / concrete around it was to go.
I think we spent four hours with that stupid cement and brick and wood and concrete mixture. Like everything else about the fireplace, it was partially a half-assed job, partially really well done. I got the first two bricks off the top in no short order, and then spent thirty minutes working on the next one. Sometimes huge chunks of cement would come off without much effort. Then it'd take half an hour to get a chip or two off of the next section. It was infuriating. Additionally, there seemed to be no method to the madness. There was a row of bricks around the perimeter, but the middle section was just haphazard, and because of the sheer amount of cement used, we couldn't see whether we were just chipping at one big hunk of cement or if there was anything else underneath. At one point, I found a piece of marble, about 8"x6"x1", embedded in the cement. WTF??
When we'd taken probably 70 percent of the crap off the top--about four hours into the job--debris started falling into the fireplace itself, from the inside. It seems that the structural integrity of the fireplace had been compromised. I suspect that this was a combination of a 90 year old mortar job for the initial fireplace, the weight of the hunk of brick/cement/concrete from the 1970s era "improvement", and all the chiseling we'd been doing for the previous four hours. We decided to reevaluate our approach, lest this become an even bigger (and more expensive) job than it already was.
There was a hunk cement/brick/concrete left about five inches high. It was mainly in the middle section of the fireplace, and we'd removed most of the brickwork that we didn't think was structural. We started talking about ways of constructing a mantle cap that would accommodate this middle hunk, at one point talking about a sort of step up structure. Then Graham's genius struck, and he figured that if we used a 1 x 6 board as the base of the mantle, all of the cement would be hidden. This would also serve the purpose of hiding the hole in the drywall between the mirror and the top of the fireplace.
Off to Home Depot!
We looked like crap when we arrived at Home Depot. Our hair was covered in dust (as was the rest of the house), I still had safety glasses perched on my hair. Our clothes were stained and ratty looking. We looked exactly like a couple that had to make a mid-project trip to Home Depot.
First stop was lumber. We spent a bit of time comparing the quality of the various six foot 1 x 12 boards. Finally selecting the one that seemed to have the fewest knots in it, we had the top of our mantle. Then, the 1x6 boards. These were a little easier to pick out, since most of the board on the front would be covered with trim. Then, the moulding. It took a little bit of trial and error, but after some hunting, we found the perfect piece. It was five inches wide, giving even more depth to the front of the mantle, and it had curves on both ends. Perfect.
After picking up a can of spray on insulation and a builder's square and some wood screws, we headed to the paint section. It didn't take nearly as long as I thought that it would to select our paint color. We knew we wanted a dark grey, and after 30 seconds of looking, Graham picked up the chip with "Night Shade" and we agreed immediately. A small can of that and a small can of untinted semi-gloss latex, and some brushes, and we were more or less done.
Night Shade, from the Home Depot website.
BTW, Home Depot was charging us a dollar a plastic bag. We didn't mind their encouraging us to use reusable bags, but it would have been nice to know ahead of time, especially for the bag that simply held our cokes.
Back at home, we had two hours of daylight left. A funny exchange happened with one of our neighbors as we were unloading the car. It was obvious we were up to something, what with the lumber and paint, and he asked what was up. We were slightly embarrassed because he makes really nice, really expensive classical guitars by hand. Our woodworking project was much more humble. But after we explained the project, he was very encouraging. His fireplace, it turned out, had to be removed entirely because it was weighing down that side of his house by over a foot. That ours could be rehabilitated was a good sign.
I left Graham on the front porch with the circular saw, a tape measure, and the lumber, and I went inside to prep the fireplace for paint. First, I needed to scrub it down. As I may have mentioned before, there was dust everywhere, and it was a fine, fine dust that was difficult to clean. I then filled as many holes as I could on the back of the fireplace and wall with the spray in insulation. Good stuff. And then I got to painting.
Even though the fireplace had been painted previously at least two times, painting brick can be a right pain in the ass. There are so many crevices and holes and tiny areas that won't accept paint on the first, third or twelfth go through. And at first, we were a little worried because our dark grey was looking more navy blue than dark grey. It's not that we didn't like it, it was that it wasn't what we had picked out. It did darken up considerably as it dried, but there was so much paint on it that it took forever to dry.
At some point during the painting, I called my mom to inform her that she'd be having two over night guests.
I painted and painted and painted, and Graham was done with his project much sooner than I was done with mine. He fitted the new cap on the mantle, and I do have to say it looked quite good. The cap fit perfectly, and it hid lots of sins. Graham started the first few coats of white on the top and front of the mantle. I kept on painting the fireplace.
At some point, I went away for food. Thai for me, Chinese for Graham.
We ate and then resumed painting. Fortunately, I had a bunch of artist brushes that worked much better at getting paint into the crevices and cracks. So after we had the main coat on the whole fireplace, we started working on the holes. I think that took another few hours.
At some point, Graham called it an evening, and we stopped. The mantle cap was in place, and though it needed a few more coats (I ultimately put eight on the front), it was pretty much done. I took a shower. Graham took a shower. We sat in dullness for awhile in front of the TV and then went to bed.
We went to bed an exhausted mess. We both had blisters on our right forefingers at the joint where the hammer was grasped during the chiseling. My right hand ached. I had gotten foam insulation on my hands at some point, which turned them black in places. I had this weird blood blister on the webbing of my left hand. We ached. Graham gave me ibuprofen before I went to sleep.
I think we slept ten hours.
And immediately we were at it again. I started working on the holes in the brick that were more obvious in the light of day, and Graham started working on some paint drips that had manifested on the mantle. Ultimately, I went through all but maybe a half inch of the can of paint. And then we had to clean. The floor was just covered in dust. As was most of the furniture. We washed slipcovers and sofa cushion covers and all of the dogs' toys and the pillows. We wiped down my desk and the dining table and the CDs and the floor. Graham cleaned out the dogs' boxes. I mopped and swept and scrubbed the floor. Graham cleaned the mirror over the fireplace. I redecorated the dining room table and the coffee table. At some point, the mantel was put into place and the stuff that usually goes on top (ashes of beloved pets, candles, some masks) were put back into place. I kept on adding more coats of paint to the front.
By three o'clock or so, we were more or less done. The furniture was back where it belonged, and grit no longer attached itself to bare feet as we walked in the room. The last few loads of laundry were finishing up, and we could sit back and look at our work.
It's really quite lovely. That blue-black-grey is quite stunning, and very shiny. And it contrasts markedly with the gleaming white six inch mantle on top. The mirror doesn't look terrible, coming out behind the mantle. It's an actual focal point to the room instead of something to hide or ignore.
The next phase will probably happen sometime in the next few weeks, when we have time to shop and assemble. We're putting in white Billy bookcases from IKEA on either side of the fireplace, almost even with the edge of the brick. They'll go nearly to the ceiling, and they'll essentially be part of the same focal point. The room will be slightly rearranged after that. I'll get rid of my CD towers and move art to where they used to be. Chairs will be flipped around a bit, and I'll have to figure out what I'll do with the trunk of Christmas ornaments that currently sits where some of the bookshelves will go. The sides of the fireplace still look unfinished: bare brick after about three inches of blue-black-grey paint. Bare wood after two or three inches of gleaming white. But when the bookshelves are in, no one will know.
The fireplace (and, well, the washer/dryer in the second bedroom) was the only thing I didn't like about my house when I moved in. When the mirrors went away (we still have most of them, btw, one day they'll be put in the back yard on the fence, it'll be cool), it looked a little better, but there was still a sense that it was incomplete and not right. Now it feels much, much better. I can't wait for the end product.
We took pictures throughout the process, but we're not posting them until we're done. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.