When building a house or adding a fireplace, there are lots of decisions to make. The most important decisions are structural or functional like placement of the fireplace (exterior or interior wall) and type of fuel (wood or gas). Many homeowners though, focus on the look of the fireplace, from style and materials to the decorative trim or fireplace mantle, as that's what you'll see everyday.
This homeowner story about a reclaimed fireplace mantle was shared by Trish Holder. She built a green home and decided to share what she learned about green building with others at GreenspirationHome.com. What's perfect is she doesn't pretend restoring the fireplace mantle was easy. Trish and her husband put a lot of hard work into adopting a beautiful old fireplace mantle for their new home, and love the unique touch it adds (and knowing it was thanks to their hard work.
Hope you enjoy Trish's story as much as I did …
Fireplace Mantle From an Architectural Salvage Dealer
Just about any sizeable city in the U.S. has some sort of architectural salvage dealer. In Greensboro, NC, where I live, there’s a really great one downtown that has all sorts of goodies from old newel posts, doors and windows to tin ceiling tiles. It was there that I found one of my favorite interior details for the Greenspiration Home – an old fireplace mantle, no doubt removed from a locally demolished house.
To me, the rescue of architectural elements like this fireplace mantle, and using them to fuse a bit of the old with the new in new homes, is about the only thing that isn’t sad about tearing down a once beautifully detailed home. Let’s face it. Architectural detail is not valued the way it once was. Most homeowners pass on the detail for the square footage – pure space they will work to hurriedly fill with things that have no meaning to them. And builders are happy to oblige.
Ah, but I digress. Back to my mantle…
Fireplace Mantle: Stripping Layers of Old Paint
As I recall, the fireplace mantle was half price, marked down to about $125.00, and it was in good structural shape. It had a layer of light blue paint, which we subsequently discovered masked another layer of white paint, and then another…. But the paint didn’t matter. The fireplace mantle fit the space dimensionally, and once stripped down, would suit our needs just fine.
Now, the only downside to that, of course, was stripping the paint off the fireplace mantle. This turned out to be several weeks of work, off and on, for my husband, Mark, and me in the garage of our previous home. I’m embarrassed to admit how many cans of paint stripper we went through. (Not very green, I know.) Strip….sand….strip.…sand…. It took forever and did a number on our hands, shoulders, and joints – my husband’s more than mine, as he did most of the work. But when it was all done we had something unique, simple, and reclaimed to put into our brand new home. And it was something we’d worked on together.
A reclaimed fireplace mantle is pretty simple to incorporate into a new or existing homes If they are very old at all, however, they probably contain lead paint (learn more about lead paint), which is something to consider. Even if you don’t have small children who will put anything in their mouths, you may one day sell the home to a family who does.
We were going to strip our reclaimed mantle down anyway. We were not sure what we would do after that. Turns out, we did nothing. We left the imperfect wood bare – no topcoat or anything. There was one pretty good ding near the top that I thought we should fill in. The interior designers that worked with me said “No! That’s character!”
They were right. I never notice it as an imperfection – at least not a bad one.
New House With an Old Fireplace Mantle
What I do notice, almost daily, is how lovely this simple fireplace mantle looks against the gold color clay walls, and the NC grown wormy maple floors. Those are also NC sourced brick accents you see in the picture. I remember our brick mason – the owner of the company, actually—laying the line of brick that borders the opening of the fireplace. It is a nice detail that required an extra bit of skill, but also necessary to make the mantle fit correctly against the wall. He was a sweet, polite man. Not like some of the grumpy, crusty contractors who couldn’t manage to put a hold on their foul mouths even when I was on the job site. But I digress again….
I suppose this fireplace mantel, which is the centerpiece of our family room, is sort of an all-inclusive memory. The room has something old, something new, and even something that was previously blue.
Okay, maybe building a home isn’t as sacramental as a marriage. But perhaps if it were, fewer homes would fall into disrepair and get torn down. Come to think of it, if we could get back to thinking of our homes as more of an extension of our family rather than a symbol of our success, maybe fewer marriages would get dismantled as well.
After all, that little ding near the top of the fireplace mantel, which at one time bothered me, is now just a minor imperfection that over time I’ve grown to love.