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Fireplace Renovation shim John & Kristie

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projects :: Monday, December 31, 2007
Fireplace Renovation
EDMONDS, WA :: I used part of my holiday vacation to finally update our fireplace, a year and a half after moving in. During that time, the edges of our new carpet and laminate flooring remained unfinished where they met with the original brown tile surrounding our bronze fireplace insert, circa 1979. In addition, an alcove adjacent to the fireplace was being underutilized.

I was a little nervous about this project, as I had never worked with fireplaces or tile before, and I didn't want to botch up such an important, central feature in our house. However, I knew most cosmetic home renovations do not require any technical expertise, just patience, planning and attention to detail. Anyone can do them. It turns out I learned everything I ever needed to know from watching years of "This Old House" and "Hometime" on PBS.

The insert doors and firebox were repainted with several coats of high-heat enamel. The existing wall tiles were chiseled out and I scored lines into the floor tiles with a RotoZip to give the mortar more texture to adhere to. We chose a natural stone, travertine, to replace the old porcelain tiles. Since architecture school, I've had a fondness for travertine. It has been used extensively in both ancient and modern architecture, including the Coliseum in Rome, and the Getty Center and the Salk Institute in Southern California.

I wanted the new shelves to be thick to match the mass of the surrounding structural elements and the large volume of the alcove. They are 2.5" x 4' x 2' (HWD) boxes constructed with sheets of birch plywood, faced with a strip of oak, painted with several coats of white and hung with concealed angle brackets to appear floating in the space.

I just barely met the goal of having the project completed by New Year's Eve, allowing us to return from dinner and snuggle up to a blazing fire in our nice, new fireplace for the first couple of hours of 2008.

Happy New Year!

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on Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 7:00 PM

Looks very nice John. You did a terrific job and I like the clean lines of everything. That is one of the projects I need to do in the house, but I have yet to figure out exactly how I want our fireplace to look.

on Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 8:21 PM

Thanks! You'll have to come over and see it sometime!

I think I considered and researched every possible option for fireplace surrounds: colored concrete, stainless steel, solid stone slabs, tempered glass sheets, and cultured stone veneers. It was exhausting. We also contemplated upgrading the insert to gas, but that was going to cost too much. Perhaps later. Gotta finish those baseboards first...


on Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 9:20 AM


although i don't know you, and you don't know me, your fireplace surround looks awesome! great idea using quarters and dimes as spacers! wish i would of thought of that before i bought two bags of spacers.

i found your blog/site while looking for places to go snowshoeing in the seattle area!

on Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 6:52 PM

Nicely done! Impressive work. My idea of home improvement is stomping on the corner of carpet that the cats pulled up in the foyer.

on Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 8:02 PM

Very nice... What a difference it makes... Good to see that someone else spends time studying “This Old House” and “Hometime”. I’ll be doing my first tile work in Februrary when we remodel our bathroom.

on Friday, January 4, 2008 at 10:20 AM

Hi John & Kristie!
What a great change, I love it!

on Friday, January 4, 2008 at 11:25 AM

Brooke, welcome to Seattle!

Cheri, bad kitties! =)

Darren, we have yet to touch our bathrooms. I hope you'll post photos of your project.

Tamara, we look forward to seeing you and Jason again soon.

Thanks everyone!


on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 1:11 PM

Kudos for attempting and then successfully completing the ambitious DIY project! And here I am, too scared to even paint my new little pad. *sigh* I'm going to take an example from your ambition!

on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 1:14 PM

Also, did you mount your flatscreen yourself? Mine has sat on my coffee table since it arrived. I really need to look into getting it on the wall ... and figuring out how to hide the plethora of wires that spring out of it and into the utility shelf where all my stereo/entertainment stuff sits!

on Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 4:10 PM

Hi Julie,

The plasma panel is hung via a mounting kit, secured to the wall by four very large screws centered on a pair of studs framing the fireplace. Our TV weighs about 70 pounds, so I crawled up into the attic to inspect the strength of the framing, just to be sure. Mind you, I'm not a structural engineer, but it seems secure. At the same time, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near it during an earthquake.

If you have any doubts, I'd definitely recommend hiring a professional to hang and wire yours.


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