Before & After: Overcoming the Quirks of ’70s Fireplace

published Feb 10, 2016
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(Image credit: Submitted by Christy)

About six years ago, my boyfriend and I bought a severely neglected 1970s ranch house. It was basically a grimy, character-free tract home with critters living in the garage and AC return duct. We had a lot of issues to deal with after we bought the house, so the limestone fireplace was pretty far from the top of the list, and we ended up ignoring it for years while we worked on other parts of the house. Eventually, it became harder to ignore. Even though the fireplace facade was real stone, it was ugly, hard to clean, and had a way of sucking all the natural light (which is in seriously short supply) out of the room. So one day, we just picked up a couple of sledgehammers and started tearing it out…. and a quick year and a half later, we finished!

(Image credit: Submitted by Christy)

After tearing it out, we realized we had no idea how to build the fireplace we wanted. WIth the facade gone, we found that the firebox was actually not set in the wall quite straight and that there was a huge gap around the firebox, where it should have met the wall but didn’t. Additionally, the walls of the firebox sloped in a weird way where they met the walls of the house, making it impossible to just slap some tile across the whole thing as I had wanted to do. So, we (and every contractor we interviewed) were stumped by those quirks.

Eventually, I came up with a solution, building a new surround out of cement board and tiling it and the hearth with beveled cement subway tile, building the structure of the facade, mounting a cedar beam for the mantel shelf, and adding trim and painting.

This was our very first tiling project and our first substantial carpentry project—so we’re really proud of how it turned out. We even did a herringbone pattern on the hearth—I thought for sure that was hubris, but it turned out pretty well. The new facade makes the room feel cleaner and brighter and less like someone’s grandma’s house in a yellowed polaroid. We’ve been so excited to use the fireplace this winter—and even though it’s been unseasonably warm, we’ve still managed to have enjoy a good blaze here and there!

Thank you, Christy!