June 24th, 2010

home improvement

RIP Disco Fireplace--1980something to June 19, 2010

So on Friday, I was all sad and dejected and depressed about the whole house thing falling through. Feeling sorry for myself, moaning and groaning, all that sort of thing. For the loss of something I hadn't even contemplated the month before.

On Saturday, I picked myself up, and after watching part of a soccer game, getting a good breakfast and otherwise putting myself back together, Graham and I went to Southland Hardware for some solvent. Today would be the day to take on the disco fireplace.

Ah, the disco fireplace.

Disco fireplace, Christmas, 2009

This thing* has been the bane of my house since I bought it in 2002. It was the only real thing that I wanted to change about the house. In fact, when I met the previous owners at the closing of my house, they told me that they had intended to take it down when they bought the place in 1998, but never got around to it. It's a block of six mirrors: one on top, one on each side, and three on the front. And it was fairly big. I think the top mirror was 72" x 12", and the mantle was a good 53" tall. I never liked the way it was put together. I could see the edges of the 3/4" plywood underneath it at the opening of the fireplace, and some of the metal stripping was pulling away on some of the corners. It never seemed polished or finished.

I understand that in the 80s, the use of mirrors was a highly popular decorating method, and I'm not adverse to it per se. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the massive mirror above the fireplace will stay where it is, in part because it'll be an even bigger pain in the ass to take down. (And much more expensive to make look good again.) But also because it does help a bit in making the room not feel as narrow as it is. But the aesthetic of the fireplace was just weird. My house is otherwise fairly bright and cheery and not particularly sleek or modern. Lots of windows. White paint in on the walls, lots of windows, crown molding. Even the floors in that room are whitewashed, albeit, sort of funky, because they were laid in a diagonal instead of flush to one of the walls. I think that probably was done at the same time as the disco fireplace. And yet, I love the floors and hated the fireplace.

My reluctance in taking down the disco fireplace was entirely fear based. I had no idea what was underneath those mirrors, and I was slightly terrified that it'd be a several thousand dollar job to find out. The other characteristic of that particular wall is that the Sheetrock covers two windows on either side of the fireplace. Again, I understand why this was done. Those windows are west facing, and this is Houston, Texas. Heat gain is a problem, and blocking off sources of heat isn't a terrible idea. You can still see the windows from the outside. But I had no idea how much the fireplace interacted with the Sheetrock, and if taking down the fireplace meant redoing the entire wall.

Also, I had no idea what was underneath the disco fireplace. I had a general idea that there was brickwork, because obviously, you can see the red bricks sticking out. But was it extensive? Was it deteriorated? Was there another structure other than brick? What was holding up the disco fireplace?

We were to find out.

The first mirror, the left side nearest the front of the house, was ridiculously easy. It just popped right off when I pulled a little. Graham and I were actually rather surprised, and we lulled ourselves into thinking that this wasn't going to be that hard. Underneath, we discovered plywood. It seemed that someone built a plywood box, attached it to the fire place, and stuck mirrors on it.

The next effort was the top mirror, and it didn't take all that long to get off either. More and more of the box was exposed, and we realized that either this was a home job or it had been done by a very inexpensive professional.

The middle mirror in the front was next. And it proved to be quite a challenge. We had some of the solvent, and we started pouring it between the mirror and the frame. I'm not sure if that worked or not, because there were a lot of other efforts involving pulling, screwdrivers, a long kitchen knife that was ultimately sacrificed for this project, and a lot of cursing. But it, too, was eventually taken off. We noted that there were screws that had apparently been drilled into the plywood. We assumed they held on to the fireplace substructure, but they were really, really easy to unscrew.

As we worked on, we noticed that the plywood box was moving. At some point, someone had used caulk to attach the frame to the brick in the front, but the entire right side had fallen out and the left side was pretty loose. The more we manipulated the frame in the effort to get the mirrors off, the more the frame moved. The left front mirror was next, and this was the mirror of frustration. We noticed that the adhesive was different on this one. Obviously, as time went on, the constructor noticed that the crappy adhesive used on the left side and top wasn't all that great. This ended up being the only mirror that cracked, and we had to be a little more careful in getting it off.

The right front was supposed to be our next mirror, but at this point, so much of the frame was exposed, we tried an experiment: lift up the frame and see what happens. We quickly saw that the frame was very loose from its moorings, and a few jabs at remaining caulk with a screwdriver, and that sucker was (relatively) easy to pull out of there. A dramatic pulling and lifting ensued, and we managed to pull the frame off the disco fireplace!

What was underneath was neither terrible nor perfect. It's brick. The unexposed parts were painted white (or maybe the exposed parts were painted red), and it was clear that an extra layer had been mortared on to the top of the original to add height. Mortar juts out on the sides. I suspect that originally, a wooden, crown molding type mantel surrounded the brick.

We need to chisel away the top layer to get back down to the original height. And we need to find a cap for the mantel and perhaps some nice complementary wood for the sides, and a bit of drywall work will need to happen along the edges. And I think it'll look really nice.

Naked fireplace, June 24, 2010

It's really, really strange to walk into my house and not automatically see my reflection in at least four different mirrors at once. But I'm getting used to it. We have three intact mirrors of various sizes now, and I think I may try to get the other two off the frame (it's sitting next to our house until the next heavy trash pickup day). Maybe they'll be used for some other project.

But my disco fireplace is gone. Long live the disco fireplace!

*And the washer/dryer hookup, but that's a different story for a different day.