Fireplace-ish!

study1

There’s this room in the front of our house on the main floor that I’ve always been a little baffled by. There are only four main rooms on the first floor (kitchen, dining room, living room…and this room), and I’ve taken to just calling it the “front room.” Sometimes it’s the “parlor” (fancy!) and sometimes it’s the “den,” but the truth is, I haven’t been sure what to do with it. Our house really isn’t that big (about 2300 sq. feet, which feels huge for us, but we’re used to living in little apartments), so it feels sort of stupid to have a whole room for which I haven’t been able to decide on a dedicated function.

For the past several months I’ve been using it as a very poorly located workshop and staging area for working on other spaces in the house, but since it’s adjacent to the dining room, also lacks a ceiling, and needs new electrical to be finished up, it makes sense to renovate the two rooms more or less simultaneously. Which means I’ve had to start thinking more seriously about what to do with it.

Here’s what I don’t want:

1. A main floor bedroom. No need, and I think it would be weird.

2. A den/TV room. There’a a whole other living room just across the hall (you can look at the floor plan here, which might help this make more sense…) which is enormous and going to be incredible someday. I know it’s often customary to have a more formal living room and then a less formal hang-out space with a TV and whatnot, but I don’t really believe in formal living rooms. That living room is going to be the best room in the house, and I want it to get used. As for the TV, I don’t really think I want one on the main floor at all. There’s a room upstairs that I think will make a really nice, cozy TV room, and I like that idea much more.

So what does that leave? Well. Let me tell you.

A study. That’s what we’re calling it. We have a ton of books that need a home (right now they’re pretty much shoved anywhere they’ll fit). We’ve both been transitioning to working much less from Brooklyn and much more from Kingston (yay!), but now Max really wants/needs a place to work that isn’t our bed. I envision this study having a desk, a chair or two, bookshelves, a nice rug…a place that doesn’t feel too formal and off-limits for a main-floor room (people should still feel free to mill about in it during parties and whatnot) but still functions as place we can get stuff done. I’m obviously partial to my little compact upstairs office, but I think this will be pretty great when we want to be working or hanging out together.

stud3

cornerradiator

That said, the furniture layout thing was still just…confusing me. Part of the challenge of the room is that it has three large windows, a radiator, two doors, and a funny little closet, but there’s no real focal point. It’s like there should be an architectural element to anchor the room around that isn’t there.

study-2

I might feel that way because there should be an architectural element that’s missing.

Originally, this wall sported some kind of fireplace. At some point, I think in the fairly recent past (50 years or so…), whatever was here was removed. You can tell because of the missing piece of baseboard, and the spot where the floor was very artlessly patched in with the wrong type of wood where I’m guessing there was some kind of stone hearth.

My normal inclination with stuff like this is to just let it be what it is and work with what we have, but then my friend John mentioned that he had an old mantel sitting in his basement that he’d taken out during the renovation of his insanely gorgeous house. And that I could have it. For free.

mantel

Oh. Well. That changes things, now doesn’t it?

A word about my friend John: he’s sort of the best. I love him to pieces. He’s welcomed us to Kingston with open arms, and made our first year here so great. He’s a veteran renovator and terrific to bounce ideas off of and nerd out over old house stuff, knows everything, and is just so kind. Everyone loves John. We’re so lucky to have him in our lives. He’s spent about 6 years renovating an incredible 1720s stone house around the corner from us (originally it was a tavern, and before he bought it, it was a doctor’s office!—you can see his Sneak Peek on Design*Sponge here!), and he has impeccable taste and is just so frustratingly clever. The more time I spend in his house, the more I appreciate all the little details and smart solutions that just make so amazing (and, in turn, make me feel like a totally inadequate garbage person). It’s endlessly inspiring. I think I want to do a series of posts about all the little things that make John’s house so special…so keep an eye out for that! Maybe that sounds boring but I swear it will blow your mind.

ANYWAY. Then I became obsessed with the idea of adding a fireplace back to this room. It just doesn’t feel right without it! It should be there, and it’s not there, and it makes the room feel weird and ungrounded. A fireplace is what this room needs to be whole again. I feel it in my bones. It’s going to be purely ornamental, and that’s totally OK. We’re hoping we can make the other fireplace in the living room wood-burning someday, but this one can just be for looks and candles and pretty for the sake of pretty. Who cares.

The mantel also comes with a really cool and very heavy cast-iron insert/cover thing that is still in his basement, but coming here soon. So stoked.

demo1

When I got it home, I immediately started tearing into the wall that it’s going on, just to see what was back there. I had this idea that maybe there would be an original firebox lurking in the wall, and I needed to know. This whole area was patched in with sheetrock, and underneath it old sheet metal had been nailed into the studs. Weird.

demo2

Once I exposed the edges of the sheet metal, I started peeling it back…

demo3

Between two studs, there was essentially a column of bricks skim-coated with plaster or joint compound or something. I noticed that the bricks look more like the “garbage bricks” that are inside all of our exterior walls rather than chimney bricks, so I eased one out and hoped that the whole chimney wouldn’t come crashing down.

demo4

Behind those bricks where the actual chimney! Huh! There’s a vent hole, which is weird because there’s a whole separate vent hole near the ceiling. I guess this one was replaced with the other one? Or all of this effort to seal it off so well was because this chimney used to vent the ancient boiler, and carbon monoxide poisoning is not cool. I don’t know. Anyway. No firebox. No biggie.

fireplace1

One thing I didn’t anticipate is that this mantel is HUGE. It’s quite a bit longer than whatever was here originally. My inclination is to center this new mantel on the wall rather than offset it to the side, as the original one was (which centers it in the room, but only if the fireplace fits the original dimensions, which this one doesn’t). Sure, I could cobble something together myself that might look passably good and fit more with the original dimensions, but I love that this one has a story and a past and that it’s free and was given with love. I don’t think trying to modify the proportions is a good idea. And even though it didn’t work for John’s house (he thinks it was fabricated and added in the 1920s, so far from period appropriate for him…he had a new mantelpiece custom-built that looks much better), I think it’s kind of perfect for ours! I think it complements the original woodwork really nicely and will just fit right in.

venthole

wallbow

Unfortunately, the wall that it’s going on is sort of a disaster. I’m all about preserving as much of the original plaster as possible, but this wall is already a weird mix of newer drywall patches and bad plaster repairs and a whole lot of joint compound and it’s just looks really bad. There are enormous cracks that have clearly undergone unsuccessful repairs over the years…it’s just a mess. I think I’m going to just bite the bullet and take it all down and start over with new drywall. Just this wall. Normally with drywall you just tape and mud the seams, but my plan with the wall and the ceilings is to do that and then skim-coat the entire thing with joint compound (and maybe experiment with mixing in some plaster of paris for a harder surface…something an old-school renovator told me he’s done with success in the past), so I think it’ll look really authentic when it’s all said and done. Part of what makes plaster so appealing is the texture of the imperfections, so I don’t want three perfectly-imperfect plaster walls and one that looks brand new, you know? I think it’s possible.

Anyway, I’m really excited about this faux-fireplace development! I have to decide on the exact placement (centered on the wall, I think, will look the best…), and then cut out some flooring and replace with a stone hearth and patch in surrounding flooring so it all looks seamless. I’m leaning toward honed marble (hopefully I can find a remnant piece without spending too much money…), but there are so many options! Soapstone? Slate? Bluestone? Hmmmmmm….

It’s going to be good. So very good.


84 Comments

  1. I love the idea of a study. We’re working on making our “formal” living room more like a study (it has built-in bookcases already, and a fireplace, but I’m on the lookout for the perfect desk) precisely because we aren’t using it as much as we’d like to in its current form. Looking forward to seeing what you do in here – that mantel is gorgeous!

  2. Cool! This will look great with a mantel. Um, you’re making me nervous though opening up the sealed part. God knows if there’s asbestos, creosote, lead, a chimney, an active chimney, whatever in there. You don’t have to unseal the chimney/firebox/duct to install a mantel. And if you were hoping to uncover a wood burning fireplace in there, you DEFINITELY need a mason and chimney expert to line the whole thing to make it safe before using (which costs about $3,000, depending on the situation). That hole looks like it was for a stove — not for cooking, but for heating the room.

    • You’re absolutely right. I should probably talk about safety a bit more—I wouldn’t do any of this work without a high-quility respirator on and our HEPA air purifier running. I’ll admit that opening it up was more about curiosity than anything else…if there was a fire box, it might help explain why this wall has settled so much between both floors, but obviously I didn’t find that. And trust me, I know all about chimney lining and masons! As mentioned, this is all getting sealed back up and this mantel is purely ornamental——this will never be an active chimney——the visible parts in the attic would clearly need a lot of structural work/rebuilding…it’s just never going to happen, at least while I live here!

  3. I love your sense of adventure. Why the heck not tear into that wallpaper and peel back layers of wall. It always gets worse before it gets better, right? Your little office is proof of that. Totally worth it!

  4. I think there may have been a wood burning stove there. Maybe… Our house was built in 1900 and we have the same weird closet thing (my guess was that it used to be a spot for a small amount of wood, matches, etc). All our fireplaces are closed off at the moment but when we pull back the wall paper we have similar sized holes. Ours have a terra cotta-type piece that joins the chimney hole to a wood-burning stove. You house is older than ours so who knows but it looks similar.

    • Yes, I think you’re exactly right! The little closet is the perfect space for wood, and the vent hole is a good indication that this was built for a stove for heating purposes. Our house is probably about 1830 or 1840, so the original heat source would have definitely been stoves.

    • Yep, Sommer is likely right, some sort of stove. We have a back chimney that’s been cut off at the top but still exists through the first and second floor and it also has 2 holes, one low and one high. I think it’s weird you have the floor patch area but wouldn’t be surprised if there was a hearth that the stove sat on.

      We’re going to hopefully re-line our second chimney (dining room) at some point in the future. I’m both looking forward to it and dreading it at the same time.

  5. I’m with Cate and Sommer. I think you had a wood-burning stove in there. I don’t think wood-burning stoves use two vent holes, but I’m not an expert on that. The high vent hole makes total sense with a stove, though.

  6. Have you considered calling this room the Library?

  7. a book room sounds heavenly. thomas jefferson had a modest in space but jam-packed with books one at monticello. the light in your room reminds me of it. heaven.

    http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/library-book-room

  8. man, i really hate these posts, because I am so impatient to see what it looks like all finished! I’m sure you are MUCH more impatient than I am about it, but still–i’m missing that instant gratification over here :) At any rate, I’m very excited to see how it all comes together! I’m excited for like, five years from now when all the super hard stuff is done (ceilings, electric, etc) and you can give a house tour where we all salivate over your moldings and plaster and floors, etc. although watching you learn how to renovate has been awesome and inspiring :)

    • OOh a house tour! I’d even travel to the states for that! :) The empire state building? The George Washington Monument? Nope! Daniel’s Home Tour? You betcha :)

  9. I had a friend who got a free mantel like you and had no firebox. He put a piece of wood painted with chalkboard paint behind the mantel and drew a fire in chalk. It was a temporary fix but fun and cute. He had his fireplace!

    • Sounds cute!

      I mentioned it in the post, but this mantel also comes with a cool cast-iron cover and grill thing in the front, which I hope to use. Throw a few candles in and it’s a fireplace! :)

      • Oh! Maybe the mantel you inherited was originally designed to be a surround for a glorified heat register. Our house was full of them. They’re basically fancy heat vents for the furnace, and they always/usually have an elaborate cast-iron cage covering the fireplace opening.

      • Maybe! I’ll have to ask John exactly what it is. I only saw it once and very quickly and I barely remember what it looks like, let alone what it would have been for! Since it came out of his house, I’m assuming he’ll have some info.

  10. Love the score of a free mantel- really accentuates your existing doors’ design. Also what a great hidden element to find…. goes to show you how a little curiosity goes a long way!!

    Thanks for sharing- I love to follow your process and see it all unfold,
    Jenna

  11. That will be the perfect use for that room. In the living room, you will use the two rooms joined as one, correct, to make that fabulous room you already see in your head? I kinda see it too. ;) And I’m with you, I made the mistake of putting a TV in the living room and it seems like the first thing people do when they come over is turn the darn thing on and leave it on…loud…I hate it. I took to hiding the remote!

    P.S. what happend with your pantry quick reno? dang electrician?

    • Pretty much. Plus some other developments I need to blog about–basically pressure is on to get the dining room and this room done in the next few months! Yikes!

  12. We have an “extra” living room in our house, too – it’s too central to be a bedroom (our master suite opens off of it, and the kitchen, and the living room, and the deck) and we, like you, don’t believe in formal living rooms, so the TV lives in the living room. We made it a library – desk, lots of bookshelves, a big, comfortable couch a leather armchair. It also has the back of the living room fireplace in it, and we’ve just covered it with bookshelves. It’s probably the most-used room in the house.

  13. I love it, and I too think you should (well, could) call this room the library – it looks like you have room to line the only unbroken wall with bookshelves which would look amazing. Then you and Max could lounge nonchalantly with your elbows on the mantel while wearing velvet smoking jackets and sipping from snifters of brandy.

  14. Even if that mantel was built in the 20’s it seems to fit the age and style of your house. The two vents most likely represent two different parlor stoves having been installed at different times that had different venting requirements (and your closet is usually called a chimney cupboard). If I were you I’d really look into using blueboard rather than drywall. I’ve found it far easier to get a nice finish with veneer plaster than taping and mudding – and there’s NO SANDING!!! Since it won’t be butting to any moldings I’d just apply it over the existing wall, the solid backing and nice plaster finish will making it quite invisible.

    • I think you’re right! (and great to know about the chimney cupboard!)

      My hesitation with blue board is that my skim-coating skills are REALLY elementary, so I don’t trust myself to do a true plaster veneer. I wish I could, but I just don’t think it’s in my skill set! We really don’t have the cash to hire it out, either, so I just don’t think it’s an option. I have high hopes for the joint compound + plaster of paris skim coat, though, so I’m going to give it a shot elsewhere first and see how it comes out. We’ll all find out together! :)

  15. LIBRARY! With a fireplace (working or not) and shelves and lots of books. All very happy. And then you can serve drinks on your library table when you have a big party. Your home is so pretty.

  16. Dan in the study with a jackhammer, Max in the living room with a paintbrush and Nora in the vestibule with a nail gun! You should have your own Clue! This is going to be splendid! Maybe wit a sofa bed in case you have a major party at the house, like your wedding! It is hard though to find a goodlooking sofa bed! Can’t wait to see it done!

    • I don’t think this room will have space for a desk and a sofa, but I do think we’ll either do a super cushy sofa or sofa bed in the upstairs TV room for extra guests!

  17. Dan,
    your house is almost the exact same age as the house that belonged to my great-great grandparents. As a growing young gay boy, I explored that house from top to bottom. There were three parlors in the house. To the left of the center hall was the “Library”, to the right the “Living room” (the largest) and behind the Library was the “Long Room”. Behind the living room as the dining room and beyond that the kitchen, pantry, tool and milk rooms. Your front parlor is analogous to the library in my g-g-grandparents house. It had been redecorated abut 1900 and had a beautiful fireplace and elegant wallpaper (Anaglypta below the chair rail). There was a big oak bookcase and a elegant golden oak desk/bookcase combo. Near the fireplace was the giant overstuffed Victorian leather chair The Library’s smaller size made it warmer in the harsh Maine winters, and it was a great place to sit and talk, or read a book, or work at the desk. i loved it.
    I hope you find a great use for your room. I would use it for a study/library space and a place to visit with friends.
    Also, the same house had a couple of Mantels that sat on the wall behind a kerosene or wood stove. This was very common in Maine in older houses.

    I glory in your adventure.
    Cal

  18. Definitely a freestanding stove location, probably modified at some point for a newer stove. Our 1885 Second Empire Victorian had these in every room – with wood mantels. Those cast iron inserts are often called “Summer Fronts” – they mimic the covers put on more ornate, working fireplaces in the summer when the fireplaces aren’t in use. You can see one of ours in the before shots here: http://www.thirdstoryies.com/2013/02/11/lucky-thirteen-a-love-story-and-a-master-bedroom/

    So a wood mantel is perfectly appropriate there. There are lots of replica freestanding stoves (and some cool modern ones too) that might be fun to put back at some point. There is also a Windsor fireplace insert that you might be able to use in the other room if you have more space in the wall. I’ve seen it installed in houses around us with similar mantels – here’s the link to that: http://www.gascoals.com/GASFires/GasFireplaces/WINDSOR.aspx

    • Wow, you’ve done such a beautiful job on your house! The trashcan garbage chute!! Amazing.

      And thank you for telling me about the “Summer Fronts”! I love learning the terminology for this stuff. I’ve never lived in an old house before, so all of this is new to me and very much learn as I go. Thank you!

  19. Another great room idea, and one that should be very gratifying to work on! I think you are right to center the mantel and put in a stone hearth, but I would urge you to consider the possibility of a gas fire in that room. There’s nothing better than a wood-burning fire, but when you come home on a cold night, or want to hang out in your study on a rainy afternoon, or when the power goes out suddenly, being able to have instant flames and warmth is really good. As you have a gas line, it shouldn’t be difficult to hook up, and you could snake a metal vent pipe up that old chimney hole. Wood stove shops carry a large variety of gas inserts, so you might see one that you would like with that fireplace. Think about it . . .

    Also, have you considered a partners’ desk (big & sturdy, drawers on both sides?) I don’t whether it would fit in that room, but I saw one in a local (Northeastern PA) junk store this weekend: mid 1800s, big, rope-edged, twisty-legged, with huge paw feet, that I would buy in a minute if I lived in a nineteenth century house like yours–with a study!

    • I will think about the gas thing! We had gas fireplaces in the house I grew up in (built in the 90s, though), and they really were nice. Fire at the push of a button! If the install of the vent wouldn’t be a nightmare, I might go for it…

      I think for the desk, we’ll just have to find something when we find it! I don’t really want it to take up too much space, but I envision my eames lounge living in this room and definitely would like to go kind of old/primitive for the contrast. Gives me a good excuse to be thrifting, I guess… :)

  20. 1. The sheet metal behind the wallpaper would make sense if there was a wood stove at one time because it would have helped to deflect into the room.
    2. SOAPSTONE HEARTH!!!!!! Just please, do a soapstone hearth!
    3. My house has all plaster walls and I exclusively use plaster of paris for all patching. It’s wonderful to work with and you can manipulate it so easily. It’s a total bitch to sand down though, unlike joint compound so just be careful about building up too much product.

  21. When you mentioned you needed a purpose for this room, I immediately thought of a library. Lots of age appropriate floor to ceiling book shelves with a free standing library table with a globe.
    The library table could have a long velvet like cover, or not. This room could be your very own Cabinet of Curiosities. The fireplace will be a perfect touch. Why don’t you put in a “Candace Olson” type fireplace? Either gas or some kind of alcohol stuff coming through rocks. She seems to hang them like pictures on the wall. Two big leather chairs and a very old Persian rug that is almost in tatters, or sisal. Old smoky looking oil paintings that are starting to crumble. People will gravitate there when you have a party. It makes sense to install the fireplace properly. Did you check with your Town clerk’s office for original plans of the house? And perhaps submissions to alter the house? Good luck. We are waiting for more news of your Mass Destruction.

  22. You can always take a page from Game of Thrones and refer to the room as the “solar”.

  23. I vote fireplace centered on the wall and soapstone hearth. Soapstone is pretty much perfect.

  24. Honestly, I’m not obsessed or representing the gas-fireplace industry–just have them on my mind because I’d like to put a gas insert in our dining room fireplace while keeping the living room one wood-burning. There are some very realistic gas fires these days, and they give out a lot of heat, too. But we live in the mountains where there are no gas lines, and finding a place for a propane tank could be a problem.

    During college I lived in a High Victorian house with no central heat. Instead, there was an old-fashioned gas fire in every other room, some with arched marble mantels, and even a little one in the bathroom! I always found them very cozy, too.

    Good luck to you, Daniel. I love your blog.

  25. When you said the room already had three windows, three doors and a radiator, I really wasn’t expecting you to add a fireplace to a free wall space! Won’t bookshelves be a challenge?

    • I don’t think so! There are still two large walls for that. One of which might get occupied by a piano, which I don’t love, but it came with the house and there’s nowhere else to put it, and I think it’s staying. One large wall of shelves will hold a bunch of books, though, and I think we’ll probably put more shelving elsewhere in the house (like in the TV room, perhaps) for spillover.

  26. Can’t wait to see what you dream up. I’m in the library/gas fireplace camp! Whatever you decide it’s sure to be lovely.

  27. After looking at the floor plan – that long wall on the right is begging for book shelves.

  28. Funny how things come about when you least expected it, a free mantle in this case, and a summer front for it as well, nice.

    I would agree that in this case, centering the whole thing on that bit of wall may be the best thing going due to its size for the space you have.

    I think in due time you’ll have the room figured out and be well on your way to achieving it, ceiling/electrical notwithstanding.

    I like where this is going, but if it were me, I’d keep period details, but then furnish it all mod modern if it were me. :-)

    • That’s no so far off from what we’re probably doing! I want the house to feel nicely restored, but I definitely don’t want the decor to feel “period.” It won’t be all mod as I like to mix in antiques and stuff, but I think the overall impression will feel modern and a bit minimal.

      • Oh, I know that. That is what I’d likely done, though in the proper space. In this case, leave the details as you are doing them, but mix in period, and modern pieces, but do it in a more modern aesthetic, kind of like your Brooklyn apartment, so to speak.

  29. S’okay ~ ~ since you say the wall around the small closet in the “den/library” needs to be redone anyway…. here’s my [unsolicited] thought: (1) rip out all that wall down to the lath or studs or whatever is appropriate all the way across from the teeny closet to the wall with the single window, (that would just make it easier/faster to add whatever framing is needed and drywall for the following); (2) close up the closet opening in the dining room side of the closet between the dining room & the library; (3) retain the closet between the two rooms but switch the door to the library side, reusing the same door; (4) ditch the tiny closet space is to the left of the old/ancient brick work and turn that nook/space into a built-in bookshelf.

    To each his own but it seems like it would be useful to have a closet in the den/library and furniture placement in the dining room would be easier without having to allow for that closet door to open. (And you would still have the other ‘triangular’ closet in the room. (Although in a perfect world you would restore what must have been another window in that wall.)

    One last thought although I have no particular opinion: Is there any consideration for adding a door from the foyer in to the library? If someone might use that room as their business office at some point, it might be nice for clients or business colleagues to be able to enter said office without walking through the house first.

    • Oh, Val—you’re always trying to move my walls and doors around! I’m onto you! :)

      I really like the way things are set up now, honestly, and I’d rather stay in keeping with the original architecture of the house than start moving things around and removing original details and whatnot. The closet in the dining room will really come in handy for extra linens and dishes and whatnot, and the tiny closet (which a few commenters have pointed out is actually called a chimney cupboard!) is one of my favorite little details in the house! It’s so cute.

      And yes, the triangular closet in the dining room is temporary—there will be a window where that doorway is someday to match the others, which I’m sure is what was there originally. The side porch will likely be eliminated completely. Too big of a project for this year, but someday…

      Oh! And there is a door from the foyer into the library. It’s not shown on the top floor plan on the tour post because it was blocked when we bought the house, but it has since been opened back up (which is reflected in the post-demo floor plan at the bottom of the tour post). That’s the door in the 2nd image in this post. :)

      • Get it – – if you’re eventually going to demo the ‘triangle’ closet and restore the window to the bay window in then it would be nice to have someplace to store stuff in the dining room. And I truly do understand not destroying the original details of the house. AND, yes, now I’ve scrolled to the First Floor:Post-Demo plan I see the door from the foyer does exist – to my ‘relief’ – plan doesn’t ‘balance’ without it.

        But – hey – the shelves instead of creepy-little-closet idea still has life, doesn’t it? ;-)

  30. Library! With bookcases to match the other woodwork (and you could learn casework/cabinet building)
    And a soapstone or bluestone slab for a hearth. Your house is going to be so beautiful.
    We need a pantry and first floor bath update…….

    • I know! Pantry is completely stalled due to the unfinished electrical, unfortunately. The bathroom is gutted…I need to do a post; it’s just not very exciting! Here are some studs…and some more studs…haha

  31. A library/study? I’ve always wanted a library personally, preferably Belle’s from Beauty and the Beast. Ahhh pipe dreams.

  32. Sounds like you have enough rooms for a game of Clue. Maybe you could incorporate the less lethal weapons, in the future, as accessories, i.e. a piece of lead pipe (galvanized to be PC), a hank of rope, etc.

  33. One of my all-time favorite home bloggers joining forces with one of my all-time favorite DesignSponge house tour owners? This post is such a treat! I can’t wait to see how you pull your library together. I’ve always wanted a dedicated book space. Keep the posts coming! And, by all means, do a series on the gorgeous stone house, too!!!!!

    • I think you’ll love them! John’s house is SO COOL, beyond just being super beautiful. I’m so happy he’s letting me write about it. :)

  34. I’m no expert (in fact I may be younger than you but, details) but I’ve seen similar situations and think I may have an idea of how the room was originally setup. Often times a single chimney had multiple fireplaces attached to it. Looking at your pictures, I would hesitate to guess that there is a firebox on the opposite side in the dining room. There would have been a full mantle in between those two doors. On the other side would have been a simpler heater that would have vented in the upper hole in the wall. This would have allowed both rooms to use the chimney while not allowing smoke to come billowing back out into the rooms. Just my two cents! Good luck!

  35. Hi Daniel….love your blog..love your style…let’s face it..I love it all….obsessively catching up on the blog at work for the past week….

    would love to have a “spare” room to make into a library/study…so you go for it..can’t wait to see the finished product…and I agree to center the mantel and you should investigate the gas fireplace option…one cold winter night you will be so glad you did….candles just don’t throw the heat.

  36. If you want the surround narrower I would remove a section from the upper middle and then have it biscuited back together. After filling, sanding and painting you should not see the joint.

  37. I’m so excited for you two! Whenever I think about old homes in New York (especially in the cold winters) I always imagine the homeowners bundled up tightly sipping coco on the couch in front of the fireplace watching the snow fall. Even though this won’t be a working fireplace, the mantle will be so much fun to decorate!

  38. I started following the blog again a few months ago–I remember posts from your first tiny apartment! Please indulge me, I have two observations to share:

    I don’t know if anyone has ever mentioned this, or if you have already had this thought, but looking at the first floor plan (from the perspective of 20+ years as an architect and knowledge of vernacular architecture) I would assume that there are two “parlors” likely because the Living Room (3 on the Post-Demo plan) is an addition. It may be an early addition, but houses were typically added to in this manner–from a rectangular shape to a T-shape. I also think that the wall between the Kitchen and the Dining Room is likely the old exterior wall. I say this because a two-room house was not uncommon in 1895. The chimney probably served two wood stoves (no fire box as you discovered), one in each room. That means that likely the current Dining Room would have been the Kitchen at some point. Then, eventually, a “modern” kitchen and bathroom was added–you have uncovered other old exterior walls in your work on the Laundry Room to support this theory of multiple additions.

    What have you thought about doing to the floor at the new mantle? I am asking because I see that it is patched where likely the old wood stove sat. You mentioned centering the mantle on the remaining wall but I would propose that placing the mantle flush (or near flush) with the corner, at the original location, would save you the headache of fixing the wood floor patch. Yes, the mantle will not be centered on the room but it’s not off by much–8 or 12 inches? No one will notice. The patched floor area could be removed and expanded to the width of the mantle and then the soapstone hearth someone else mentioned could be installed…less work for you! Beautiful hearth in place of bad wood floor patch! Win-win!

    Thank you for this great blog–I look forward to every post!!

    • Thank you for this, Cynthia! I think you’re right on pretty much all counts. I think the house was likely built in the 1830s or 40s (it’s post-and-beam construction, which to my understanding wouldn’t have been done post 1850-ish), and if the large living room isn’t 100% original, I do think it was probably added sometime shortly thereafter…and same with the kitchen, although I think that came even a bit later (the cornice on that section of the house doesn’t match the “main house” and the living room/porch extension). I think all of the additions are still pre-1900, based on the brick nogging in all of the walls, which to my knowledge also fell out of fashion around 1900. The bathroom/laundry room addition came next, with the advent of indoor plumbing, and then the “side porch,” which was later enclosed. Even the side porch has brick nogging, I recently discovered, though, which still makes it pretty old.

      It’s funny—after I wrote this post I demo’d the wall and put the new mantel in both positions, and centering it more in the room (rather than on the wall..so in the corner, as you’re suggesting) definitely feels better. So yes—that’s the plan! Take advantage of the existing bad patch job and just cut out a bit more of the good flooring at the other end to get the right width for a hearth. Still trying to figure out the whole stone thing…I’m just worried about cost at this point. It’s not a small piece! I might end up doing some kind of placeholder for now so the room can be more or less done, and then someday replace with marble or something fancy like that.

  39. http://www.valorfireplaces.com/

    I had a sealed gas fireplace installed in my home (1924 apartment bldg) and I love it. The model I got has a fan that is almost silent that helps circulate the heat. Some of them are just radiant-heat only design which works too but the fan feature is a nice-to-have.
    It is awesome to just turn the fireplace on with a remote control. I used to have an open gas log fireplace but it was incredibly inefficient and didn’t provide as much heat.

  40. Friend and I found one on the curb one night while walking, went right to the house to get my truck and picked it up and now he has it on a similar wall to yours in his home where a fireplace or stove once was. He has now added a freestanding gas stove that looks period appropriate in front of it in the inset area, looks great. He added trim and tile where he needed to finish it on the wall! Fun memories!

  41. I once had a friend who once left a note on my door when she tried to come over and I was away.
    the note said
    “NO PARENTS
    NO RULES
    NO PROBLEMS”

    I think about her motto when I read your blog. You wanna know whats behind this wall? FUCK IT. lets make a hole.

    You have to make chaos sometimes to make beauty. Your journey is so fun to observe. Cheers.

  42. Daniel, I think if you’re going to go to all the trouble of putting in a fireplace, then you should make it a working fireplace. Whether you use it or not, that’s another matter, but it seems like a lot of work just to have a superficial focal point. Since there really was a working stove right there in this spot, why not reinstate it? You want to make the other fireplace a working one anyway, so then you would have two fireplaces and two reception rooms – all that will add value to your property.

    I completely agree with you on using all the space you have, and not keeping certain rooms for special occasions (thereby ‘wasting’ the space) so using the main sitting room on a daily basis is the right thing to do.

    What I don’t understand though is you wanting to make a TV room upstairs????!!!!! I consider that a very bad idea. Bedrooms upstairs (peace and quiet) and reception and work spaces downstairs. I think you will be wasting the space just making the den a workspace – you’ll have enough room for desks and a couch for watching TV when you really want to. I think a TV upstairs in the middle room will forever designate that to be a walk-through. And then there will be all the toing and froing with drinks and cups of coffee, etc.

    How much TV do you watch anyway? Obviously not too much judging by the amount of work you do in the house! I think the best way to keep the TV low-key is keep it in the den, and keep that upstairs room as a bedroom.

    I live in a very small flat (400 sq ft) and everything is in one room with separate kitchen and bathroom. I now have a flat screen TV that conveniently fits down the side of the Couch, therefore becoming ‘invisible’ (because I can’t stand the thing ‘staring’ at me the whole time when I’m at home). When I do want to watch TV, I just get a chair from the kitchen, prop the TV on it, and plop myself on the couch. When finished, it goes back where it was, and ‘disappears’ again.

    • We might have *some* kind of working fireplace situation someday, but this chimney has gone through a lot over the years, and I think to do anything (even gas) we’d have to line it…and that’s just a big expense we can’t take on right now! But maybe. It would be nice.

      Sorry you don’t like the TV upstairs idea, haha! There’s actually a room upstairs that doesn’t function very well as a bedroom, as you have to walk through it to get to another future-bedroom…and we really don’t need that many bedrooms. There’s really nowhere to even put a TV in the library downstairs, unless you consider above the mantel, but I really don’t like that in old houses and there isn’t any electrical on this wall for a number of reasons…anyway. I promise it’ll be nice! Although obviously you’re entitled to dislike my choices, haha.

      And to answer your question…I LOVE TV. And I’d much rather watch it in a cozy spot upstairs before bed.

      • Okay, Daniel. As long as you NEVER have a TV on the wall opposite your bed, I’ll accept your TV room upstairs.

        Honestly, the compromises I’m prepared to make . . .

  43. Library it is then! When building your bookshelves, consider cupboards underneath the shelves. In our library (well my husband’s really since it is his refuge when I’m busy demolishing the rest of the house ) the cupboards provide a hiding place for all the ugly paperwork ‘clutter’ one tends to accumulate; old photographs, bills, warranties, appliance manuals, etc., etc., etc.
    The fireplace surround looks as though it were made for your house!

  44. This is spectacularly off topic, but: I was wondering if/when you were still planning on doing a history dump post on what you’ve discovered so far about your house–when it was built, renovated, broken up, old pictures, family timelines, etc. I love the little tidbits you’ve dropped here and there about the depression renovation and subsequent 70s madness and can’t wait to find out what else you’ve discovered!

    Huge fan, enormously inspired, and grossly into large adjectives,
    k

    • I wish I had all the stuff you’re mentioning! I want to try to do some more digging (I haven’t even been to the kingston Library yet to see if they have anything…) before I do a post like that, but hopefully I’ll get around to it soon! I’ve also just started talking to our neighbors across the street who bought their house in 1958(!) so they’ve actually lived in their house during the time that every owner in the last century lived here! I want to get them talking about the house and anything they remember about it and the owners…they must know some stuff. :)

      • It sounds like there are plots afoot! I will keep various fingers crossed for you; hopefully you’ll be able to compile a very impressive collection of house facts / trivia / memories…and then share it with us, of course! We’re such demanding monsters. :)

        Until then, I wish you a successful hunt on the electrician front!

  45. As soon as you were describing the room I thought library! (Which is a kind of study. :). But you need a comfy leather chair with a side table with a good light for reading !

  46. So exciting watching the pictures of the demolition: wall, sheet metal, bricks … I was seriously hoping for a small box of gold pieces.

    • Me too! I keep thinking I’ll find money or diamonds or something, but so far just newspaper and petrified mice…

  47. Yes! A study, those are always great. It is really great to have a room that is just used for relaxing and being television free. Especially one with tons of natural light! Also, such strange wall paper!

  48. I loved the DS Sneak Peek of John’s house and wished that I could see more, so I’m really excited about your proposed series of posts. I’m also irrationally in love with the print on the walls in this room (which I think you’ve mentioned is paint, not wallpaper). It’s SO not “me,” but for some reason I’m really drawn to it. Lucky for you it’s not wallpaper, otherwise I’d beg you to send a salvaged piece to a stranger across the country :) Anyways, congrats on the fireplace acquisition. I think it will be lovely even if you don’t have the means/desire to do a working insert at this time. I’m assuming that it won’t be impossible to do that later on, even if it is a bit of work to remove and reinstall the hearth.

  49. I keep thinking about your parlor and keep thinking the room wants a fairly small desk, but standing free in the room, not against a wall. Something in weight and proportion like an 18th century desk, you know, spindly legs and thickish top with drawers. Just large enough for a sheet of paper and an inkwell, alternatively a laptop and a penholder. I think it should face the street, so one would sit with the back to the fireplace.

    Do you already have an idea for the shelving? Most times my favorite is USM Haller, if it weren’t for the fact, that it’s just so very, very expensive. Maybe the lowest level of the shelves, whatever they will be, could have doors to hide a printer and such office supplies, that aren’t pretty to look at.

    Or will you try to have something “period”? In the 19th century they would probably would have had one bookcase, maybe two in total, with glas doors to protect the few and valuable books such a household possessed, with locks, so the children would not look up dirty words in the encyclopedia…

    • I agree about the desk! The orientation I’ll just have to feel out when things are more done…

      I think we’re going super cheap and modern for the shelving. Mayyyybeee someday it could be easily replaced with something nicer or more custom or whatever, but the materials cost alone (not to mention the time investment) sort of makes anything other than cheap/quick/easy not an option right now! I think it’ll look good, though. :)

  50. I am your fan :)
    Thanks for your blog and sharing your experience, greetings from Poland :)

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