When we moved into our house on the Hill, we loved that it had a fireplace even though it was nothing particularly special. Sadly, the mantel was not original and it had an unattractive (yet functional) electric insert. The whole thing just looked very 90s. There was little hope that we would ever be able to get it functioning again because the chimney was in such bad shape (check out this post to learn more about our house when we bought it). But it was the focal point of the room and we really wanted to bring some charm back to the house so giving the fireplace a makeover was a great way to do that. It was definitely low-hanging fruit.
Here she was before in all of her 90s blandness.
That tile and the green granite on top was just not good. Those built-ins were also not good. Not horrendous, but not special and they also weren’t very functional (I talk more about our built-ins and what they cost here). So, the tile, granite, and shelves had to go. As for the electric insert, I was a bit stumped and intimidated. I wondered What the heck is back there? Can I just take that thing out? Am I opening a can of worms by doing so? The answer was that it was really no big deal to just pull it out. Luckily there were no bodies back there. Phew!
I did some research on fireplaces that were popular in the late 1800s to figure out what to use to replace the insert. I found a store in Chicago called Urban Remains that salvages parts from brownstones around Chicago when they are being torn down or rehabbed. This store is AMAZING!!! They had a few beauitful cast iron fireplace inserts from row homes built around the same time as ours. They were not functioning, but neither was my fireplace so this option worked for us! The biggest challenge was getting the insert shipped to me in DC and the folks at Urban Remains kindly built a crate (yes, they built the crate themselves just to ship me this thing) and sent it my way. How awesome are these guys?? In total we spent about $450 for the new insert plus about $50 for the shipping.
Above is the work-in-progress photo. We have the insert installed and the hearth retiled. We used 2″ hex tile in carrara with dark grout for the surround and mixed in black hex tiles to create a subtle pattern on the floor. The tile is about $17 per square foot, but we needed such a small amount of tile that this was in the budget. I know that the original house would not have had carrara marble hex tile, but this style and pattern does give a nod to the past even though it’s clearly new. In the above photo you can also see the progress of the new built-ins, which give us more space for storage.
And here she is today, folks:
We painted the mantel black (I can’t remember the exact color but I can find out if anyone is interested) and I love it. I’m in a committed long-term relationship with black and white. It always works. Sometimes I stray, but I always come back to it. The black mantel here adds a bit of drama and balances the cast iron insert so nicely.
Check out the beautiful detail on the salvaged insert. I cleaned it up with WD-40 (water will cause it to rust) and that was it!
We also decided to expose the brick above the fireplace just to add a little extra something. Before doing the entire wall, our contractor removed a bit of the plaster in a small section first to make sure that the brick was in decent shape. Exposing the brick is a super dusty job by the way. Ugh. SO MUCH DUST. But I love how it turned out.
Please ignore all the toys that you see reflecting off the TV!! I clearly did not style Bea’s toys and did not realize that they were in the shot. Oops!
When all was said and done, this project probably came in just under $1,000 although it’s hard to break out exactly because we had the contractor do the built-ins and some other work while he was there so it’s hard to parse out. The biggest expense was the insert. So not the cheapest project ever, but it was money well spent and a no brainer for us given that this is the first thing you see when you walk in to our home.
What do you guys think? Strong feelings about the black mantel?
As always, thanks for stopping by the blog and have a great weekend, everyone! Happy Father’s Day! xx