Sunday, March 11, 2007


The fireplace in our living room, when we bought the house, was one of the most fabulous large fireplaces you’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it was a shambles. The fireplace was inoperable.
The firebox had been taken out and the plumbing from the upstairs bathroom flowed down, directly from the chimney. Every time someone flushed the toilet upstairs, the drain behind the mantle burped and gulped, finishing with a resounding clang of the pipes.

To say the least, we were disappointed with the dead spot in the room, which like it or not was the focal point of the space.

We asked a friend and a friend of his to rip off the mantle from the wall, refinish the wall flat, and bought a new fireplace and mantle to be placed in front of the wall, which might at least be filled with either candles or a gas fireplace.

It took two weeks before they actually came. Then it took them another two weeks just to finish the wall, which eventually took another two weeks before a fresh coat of plaster was finally applied.

Each weekend, we unpacked the station wagon, complete with kids and dogs, only to drop our bags and jaws in the living room, eminently disappointed once again that the job was not complete.

And each time, there were more plaster dust and dollops of dried plaster splattered on the floor. The room was slowly overtaken by the white powder which the boys and animals then tracked all over the house. When the new wall was finished it looked smooth and great.

One weekend, the fireplace was delivered. I assembled this first-line project. I followed the instructions packed in the crate. It came out beautifully. It took me a half day, and turned out to be an elegant large white fireplace with a black metal firebox. Dominique and I had visions of it anchoring the large cranberry-colored living room trimmed in glossy white. Long nights spent wrapped in blankets by the fire or hoisting up wine glasses toasting a large and cheerful crowd of friends and family danced through our heads. I called our friend, saying that the mantle was ready to be attached to the wall, and assume its baronial place.

The entire next two weeks, I looked forward to seeing the fireplace set against the wall. As we unpacked the station wagon yet again, I raced to the heart of the house like one of my little boys. I was so excited, like I was about to open the long-awaited Christmas present of my dreams.
My jaw dropped again.

To say the floors of our house are warped is an understatement. They roll this way and that like the putting greens at the Bob Hope Desert Classic. The floor nearest the fireplace was no exception. The floor on one side of the fireplace was one and a half inches lower than it was on the other. Our friends had not made up for this. Here was my fabulous new fireplace on a twenty-five degree angle. I stood there, tilting my head, looking at my fireplace in silence. I felt like I was on the deck of the Titanic, it slanted to one side so much.

I decided to finish the job myself. With screw drivers, hammer, and a level. I attacked the fireplace. First, I detached it from the wall. Then I used a pack of shims, slowly inserting one after the other, and then looking each time at the level I placed on top of the mantle. It was like a giant Jenga puzzle. But finally, the level came out even - and my fireplace was now - level. Using some small braces, I secured it into place and then covered the bottom with large quarter-dowels where the floor meets the baseboard.

And now it was time to paint. A friend, Lori, helped me by doing the ceiling for me. And then I went to work. I put a half case of caulk up by the cornice work, and then primed the entire room. And then I started with the red. The first coat made a huge difference, but anyone who has ever painted with red knows that red takes more than two coats no question.

Then I had to do the trim work. I stayed up at the house two nights, and I slacked big time. One of our neighbors asked me two Sunday nights in a row if I wanted to come over and watch the Giants on his big screen TV, but I told him I had to paint. What did I actually do? I can’t even tell you. I got sidetracked.

But the second Sunday, with the game on the radio again, I focused and got it all done.
The next time we came up was the day before Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, the boys opened their presents from Santa, and we shared mimosas in front of our lit fireplace.


Blogger ValleyWise said...

This is an awesome project - thanks for being so open about your renovations. We'd love to talk to you about highlighting your progress on our site - please contact us!

9:30 PM  

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