Thursday, August 7, 2008

You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why.

I called it the Santa Claus Comes to Town fireplace.

When we bought the house in 2002, the fireplace looked like this -

- actually, when we bought it, it didn't have that Ikea cabinet in front of it. I wish I had an unencumbered picture. They must be on film, in storage. Anyway, we just kept that cabinet there to keep the dirt in and the cat out. Ugh. Can you believe we lived with THAT as our living room for 5 years?

I cannot grasp why anyone would paint a brick fireplace bright red with white grout lines. And in super gloss, no less. If the choices had been anything else, it would have been better. If it had been glossy Moss Green paint or eggshell Battleship Gray paint, it would have been better. If it had been bright red, but matte, it would have been better. But nothing, nothing could have been worse than the combination we were given.

For years, I agonized over our options. Should I just paint over the brick? If so, what color should I choose? Should I use a matte finish or a semi-gloss?

Should we strip the paint off and expose the natural brick? We tried this with a single brick and revealed an ugly, unappealing old brick. But, I rationalized, it would be authentic - what would have been here when the house was first built.

Then I thought, should we tile over the brick? This was my preferred option, but the most expensive (of course).

Finally, when we were ready to tackle the fireplace, the decision was made for us. As we had never used the fireplace before and as we had no reason to believe it didn't need some work, K arranged for an inspection. Yep, it needed some work, alright.

The inspector sent a beam of light up the flue. Then, K and the inspector observed the results from the attic. It was like George H.W.'s Thousand Points of Light. Light burst from all the gaps and cracks in the mortar. And there was worse. Standing on the rooftop, the inspector poked at the chimney with his finger. The chimney wobbled. It actually swayed!

With the help of Mr. U and Mr. Blue, the fireplace was gone by the end of the month.

Mr. U

And that's how the old fireplace became this -

- and how we ended up with a new gas fireplace, which today, looks like this:

Keep in mind that the tile still needs to be applied and the mantel still needs to be made (from a redwood beam taken from the house).

We didn't know what to do with the stack of several hundred bricks. K had an idea to pave the side of the house or the driveway with it - when he was done with everything else. Yeah, right. Like I need a huge stack of bricks to navigate around until he gets "done with everything else." Besides, they needed cleaning - all the mortar and the paint. Another huge task in itself.

K thought (briefly) about just pitching them. In a landfill? But we decided to list them on Craigslist. Who knew there was such a demand for old bricks? There were several inquiries but the winner was a woman who promised to give them a good home in her 1902 Victorian in Pasadena. She was thrilled to find bricks that matched the age of her home for her restoration.

I'm writing this now, because I'm really grateful that last week's quake didn't happen 10 months ago when we still had a tower of delicately balanced bricks sitting in our dining room.

And speaking of Pasadena . . . our mahogany pocket doors came from a Craftsman in Pasadena. Hmm. Maybe Pasadena is a vortex of restoration?

Or maybe it's just Santa, bringing all the good girls and boys what they really need.


Amalie said...

The insistence on painting the grout lies bright white is the part I really don't understand. It just looks so fake. A bungalow down the street from us has a lovely fireplace with built-ins around it, and yet they've screwed it up by painting the brick and adding in the grout lines. It would look more natural just painted one, FLAT color.

I was also irritated that the fireplace in our house was painted brick red (no special grout lines, or ultra glossy sheen, thank goodness), until it started peeling and I saw that the original fireplace was smooth blond brick. Maybe that paint was a good idea in our case...I have to keep holding myself back from peeling it all off to see!

Why S? said...

Yes, Amalie, the white grout is really the clincher. They must be very literal-minded. I also suspect those people have no idea that not all whites are the same, not all reds the same, etc. They just see the word and figure it's good enough.

Green Fairy said...

Wow, that was one ugly fireplace. And now you'll have me singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" for the rest of the evening.

Why S? said...

It was either that, or "Chim, Chim, Chereee".

NV said...

I'm laughing at your descriptor because it's EXACTLY what I thought of when I saw it. (My aunt and uncle had one when I was a kid, only it was cardboard and out only at Christmas!)

Glad you could pass the bricks along. A walkway or patio would have been my suggestion (of course).