Our Fireplace Excavation

Fireplace renovationIn previous blogs about my empty apartment-makeover, you’ve seen the pretty fireplace but until now, I’ve been hiding its ugly twin from you. It’s a cookie-cutter cherry marble fireplace that has been boarded over with faux marble, and it’s been looming in our master bedroom since the former homeowner left. We knew it was probably covered for a reason, but we had to find out for ourselves. When our handyman Vince was over fixing up a few things, we asked him to add, “dismantling the fireplace” to the list. Vince pried the face off, and he phoned us immediately, “Your only choice is to cover this thing back up.” It turns out that our former chimney had imploded about fifty years back and its rubble and soot was still preserved behind this faux marble. It was the dirtiest, most daunting sight I’d ever seen. I am not going to lie. I was with Vince, but my man Mike was determined to excavate. I’ll thank him now, but at the time I thought he was crazy—mainly because I was his main source of labor. The project at hand consisted of removing hundreds of pounds of debris, carrying it down three flights of stairs, chipping away the plaster fireplace surround, exposing the brick behind it, and sanding down the concrete remains—not exactly items on my home design résumé. Though skeptical, I too saw glimmers of an exposed brick fireplace filled with candles at the foot of our bed, and before you knew it, I was at Home Depot buying buckets and respiratory masks.

Above, the picture of the fireplace as the previous homeowner had it. Below, are pictures of the project in its many phases throughout the excavation.

fireplace marble cover
The faux marble once we yanked the mantel off.
brick fireplace excavation
What was hiding behind the faux marble (broken pottery and doll head, not shown here). You can see the soot cloud forming, and it only got denser.
fireplace finishing
By tapping a screwdriver in with a hammer, we could chip away the plaster covering the bricks. Yes, I am sporting my former volleyball kneepads.
fireplace peelback
Once we loosened up the plaster, we could pull it off in sheets.

fireplace chimneyRemoving the fallen rubble was exhausting but easy compared to dislodging the bricks at the top of the chimney. Mike and our brave friend, Scott, knocked the remains down with the longest pole we had handy: a golf ball retriever. Only Mike got pelted with a falling brick (his arm is slightly bruised, but he says it was worth it).

This is our fireplace, free of the imploded chimney, and me trying to clean up the concrete-speckled bricks. We did this by attaching a wire wheel to the end of a drill. A wire wheel, if you don’t know (because I didn’t), looks like the roughest Brillo pad ever created, and when it spins at top speed, it can pulverize concrete. We went over each brick until the bricks were smooth and red again.

fireplace excavationAfter eight hours of hauling brick and breathing soot, we have a second “pretty” fireplace. Though we have plans to add a proper surround, we are going to revel in its new “clean and clear” look for a while.