Friday, October 10, 2008

Smash 'em! Crash 'em!

From the day we moved in, I hated the fireplace.

But we rent, and it's not my house to tear the fireplace out of. But oh, how I hated it. I hated it so much I covered the bad Formica plastic fake ass faux wood mantle in fake Burberry plaid fabric for Christmas the first year and never took it off.

We talked and talked about what we would do, if we could do, whatever we wanted to do. The chimney was removed from the outside of the house long ago and nothing about the fireplace remotely functions. It was just there. ALL OVER THERE.

I had a brilliant plan that if we owned the house, I would rip everything out down to the wall, smooth it over, flip the furniture around to face south instead of North and place a double sided gas fireplace in the south wall so we'd have a fireplace inside and out on the front porch. I'm like that. I think BIG.
I hated this fireplace so much, I couldn't find any full frontal photos of it for this post. I always cropped it out of the picture whenever I took photos around the house.

But we don't own the place. And I'm not investing that kind of money in it. The landlord is not a "big" thinker.

Then one day, Lyle mentioned my "big idea" to the landlord and she said, "Well, not this month, but look into it. I understand. I never liked that brick fireplace either. You know, it's all hardwood under the hearth. You can take it out if you want, I don't care." (all said in her Peruvian accent)

That weekend I realized that the brick fireplace in our house had become like the weather. To paraphrase my dad, "Everyone talks about how ugly that fireplace is, but nobody ever does anything about it."

And while Lyle was outside in the garden and Chandra was writing on her laptop outside, I got out a hammer and a chisel in the living room.
Note the area on the floor next to the carpet. 20 bricks remain in the center of what was the hearth.

Oops! Did I just do that? Day one and I've removed about 30 bricks from the hearth. IT WAS NOT NEARLY AS EASY AS I HAD HOPED.

But wherever there was actual hardwood under the brick, they did come up. I tap, tap, tapped away all by myself and then carried out the bricks 7 at a time to the side yard. The broken brick and mortar bits I collected into a bucket and wound up dumping under the deck in the back yard.

Lyle came in and caught me at final clean up. "I'm cleaning it up!" I shouted in a preemptive strike. He just stood there shaking his head. "What? You don't like it? You're angry that I started this? I just did the front of the hearth so if we didn't want to go any further we don't have to..." I rambled nervously on...

"That's not it," said Lyle, "It's just now that you've started, I want that thing OUT!!!"

That night I was sore. Brick work is hard work. The hammering is bad, the clean up is awful and the carrying rubble and bricks out is the worst.

The next morning, once I was able to move again and Lyle was outside, curiosity got the better of me... "How hard would it be to get rid of just one side arch?" I wondered.
Note the hardwood flooring revealed in the front. Formerly under brick.

Tap, tap, tap... Tap, tap, tap... Tap, tap, tap... and before you know it, I've knocked off this top part of the left side. But I can't go on. I have a shower and lie down to take a nap in the afternoon. So very sore.
The plaster on the wall behind all that brick is going to come off with the brick removal. This thing was not built for the temporary.

An hour later I wake up and can hear in the distance somewhere, Tap, tap, tap... Tap, tap, tap... Tap, tap, tap... CRASH. In my head I begin to panic, "Oh no, oh no! Lyle is stealing my job!" or the worse thought, "Oh no, he's going to make a much bigger mess than I did!"

Up to now, I had only used a regular hammer and chisel. But there he is, with the sledgehammer. "It goes tonight!" says Lyle with a maniacal look in his eye.

"Let's roll up there carpet and cover the furniture", I suggest. "If you're getting out the sledgehammer, it's gonna be messy." We also lock the dogs out of the living room because they keep trying to eat the rubble and I'm worried about flying debris hitting them. Yeah, it's gonna get messy. I think we probably should have changed out of the flip flops we had on, but it was pretty funny to watch us both jump when bricks went flying towards our feet. I guess we care more about the dogs than our toes.

We kept promising, "just until this part" or "just until that part" "Ten more minutes" "One more bucketful of rubble" but we couldn't stop ourselves.

Suddenly I broke through the proverbial wall. Pain no longer mattered. Accomplishment! Completion! One goal is all I have in my mind! I went round the loony bend and gave a crazy laugh as I busted down the entire side arch on the right. "I hate you fucking bricks!" (crazy laugh) "Ugly! Ugly! Ugly!" I chanted on each hit, and then with a creak and a moan, the outside wall fell in and the top threw up a few pieces which brought out a girly squeal as I ran for the protection of my toes.

As the literal dust settled, I realized the awful truth. Shit. Now all that had to be taken outside.
The rubble pile in the driveway Its very much in the way and its been 4 months. I can't move it. I keep begging Lyle to conjure up a project in the yard that will force him to move it and use it.

Bits and bobs thrown under the deck to keep down anything that may consider growing under there. Free homemade gravel!

But the major work was done. 90% of the fireplace was removed. Waiting for discovery behind it was a (gasp) attractive original fireplace!
Much more in keeping with the style and scale of the house.

We showered. I couldn't lift my arms to wash my hair. Instead I lowered my head to my hands. We called it a day and went out for dinner. That was Sunday.

Monday. I ignored the fireplace.
Tuesday. I caught the bug again. I sat down at the last 10% of the brick with my small hammer and chisel. Tap, tap, tap... Tap, tap, tap... Tap, tap, tap...

Aw screw it! Wham! Wham! WHAM! I beat the last remaining bricks to smithereens, cleaned up the rubble, hauled it outside, dusted, mopped and had a shower.

I was sitting on the couch in the living room when Lyle came home.

"Hi Honey," greeted Lyle
"How are you?"
Good. Can you cook dinner tonight?
(there is a long pause as I can feel Lyle's gaze burning through me and then scanning the house) "Can you wave hello to me?"
"You couldn't stop yourself could you?"
"And now your arms don't work. Do they?"
Not just my arms. My hands don't work either. You may have to feed me.
(There is a long silent pause. Lyle let's out a heavy sigh)
Are you mad at me?
"No. I'm just so happy that fireplace is completely gone."
Whew. I'm happy you're happy. Please make dinner. I'm very hungry.

Lyle left the room. I sat on the couch with my arms vibrating and my hands throbbing - so hungry. Lyle returned to the room with a step ladder and a hammer.

What are you doing?
Nothing doesn't require a step ladder and a hammer.
"I just want to see something."
I just wanted to see dinner.
"I won't be more than a couple of minutes."
(At this point he is at the fireplace and I begin to panic. I know where he is headed.)
No! Stop! Don't start this! It can only lead to trouble!!!!

Remember this fireplace and mantle?
We had only removed the brick from below. The mirror was still in place. Lyle was determined to find out if it could be removed.

He started at the side. He started to rip stuff out of the walls. Brackets for the ugly shelves that ran up each side, those came out. He wanted to figure out what was behind the box that was built behind the mirror. He discovered the the box was built out of mirrored tiles that had been painted over. Those came out. A dark space behind the mirror held a shape. He got the flashlight. And then hew found what he was looking for...

The original mantle.Behind the mirror Lyle found a scrap of newspaper that had been used as a wedge. He unfolded it and it was dated from 1943.

Lyle stopped when he realized that the mirror was too big for us to move by ourselves. However fate, or dumb luck, sent our good friend Tony over to borrow some clothes on Wednesday and the next thing you know, the mirror is down and moved into the hallway. (where, by the way, it fits like a dream and is already mounted to the wall.)

Patching started on the wall surrounding the fireplace. It had been been plaster and lathe. Now it is lathe and putty. We decided to go with a "rustic" finish. Okay, we decided that since I couldn't get it any smother, we would tell people it was a "rustic" finish and be glad it was over.
I painted the fireplace stark white with a primer. It was filthy. 60+ years of dirt had crept behind that mirror. After I painted the walls brown to match the room, I decided I would paint the mantle and fireplace white as a temporary solution until I decided what color I wanted.

And now, 3 months later, I like it white. I like being done. I love the openness of the room. I like to sit and stare at my non-working fireplace. It was totally worth it.

From this:
To this: (Click on the photo for a larger view)


Sherri said...



I miss my faux fireplace. It's in the storage unit, being dusty.

And I so completely understand about the arms and hands. 600 sq foot room to tile a few years ago.

Christopher said...


Silly Billy said...


A Lewis said...

Just like coming out of the closet....a complete transformation!

peter said...

Great job guyz!

The T-Dude said...

Holy Crap! What a great find! And to think it had been hidden there the whole time. Well done.

"Just David!" said...

Wow, great job! I can't imagine who would have done that to the fireplace in the first place, maybe it was a WW2 thing, too bad you didn't find any war bonds!

martin said...

Great project, you could get a tv show doing makeovers !.

landis smithers said...

i knew you were building to something but that payoff is killer.

rock on, you butch, dedicated, hearty worker from some 1940's restoration mural in a municipal building.

i'm going to stare at it some more in stunned appreciation.

jason said...

it looks fabulous now.

Why would anyone hide such a lovely thing in 1943.
I guess It must have been part of the Nazi worldwide agenda or something.

jason said...

it looks fabulous now.

Why would anyone hide such a lovely thing in 1943.
I guess It must have been part of the Nazi worldwide agenda or something.

Rachel said...

That's my boys!

Frontier Psychiatrist said...

Wow. Love it.

Michael Guy said...


Hell, I'm worn out just reading about all that work!

LOVE the reveal. YOU guys need your own show!

dit said...

I love it! Wow, that was some work. Jim, you did a great job. You are so talented.

Chris said...

Gorgeous! You could cook pizzas in the old one.