Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Every Old House Needs a Fireplace

Have I mentioned how much I love my job???  I have the amazing opportunity to work with incredibly creative people.  And this fireplace project is a perfect example.

But let's start at the beginning.   Remember when I shared the history of bungalows in America (click here)?  Almost every one of the examples had a fireplace in the living room.  It was a critical element of the home - symbolizing warmth and coziness and all things bungalow.

But we don't have one.

And that made me kind of crazy.  This house really needs a fireplace.  It will make it so charming! But we don't have gas and there's no logical place for a masonry chimney (and our budget could never afford that).  The solution?  An electric fireplace.  We used an electric fireplace on another project and they look so good - not like the plastic logs with a pink lightbulb behind them that my Aunt Audrey had in her living room when I was growing up 😂.  They've come a long way!!!  And from a climate/energy efficiency standpoint, they make a huge amount of sense.  

I did a lot of research and found a unit that can be recessed in the wall, like a real fireplace.  But buying online was scary, so I was thrilled that the local folks at Embers Stove Shop had one on display that I could look at.  Sure, if you look closely you can tell it's not the real thing - but it's still pretty great!  And in person you can see the flickering flames which look fantastic.

But I can't just slap it on the wall.  It needs a distinctive mantle.  And I really wanted an antique one.  So I took a little field trip down the the Old House Parts in Kennebunk and started looking around.  They had lots of options, but I was really intrigued by this one - which was miscellaneous pieces of an original fireplace mantle.  Something about it really called out to me - I loved the carvings, but also its simplicity.  This isn't a big fancy house and this seemed to be a great option.

Not too fancy, not too plain - it's just right for the bungalow!

So I bought it and threw it in my van, but needed to figure out how to get the missing pieces fabricated.  

And that's when I contacted Sten Havumaki at Oak & Laurel Workshop.  I'd been following the work he does on Instagram for awhile (you're not following him?  You should be!).  He does AMAZING work, but I was worried this was a bit too simple for his skill level.

Thankfully he agreed to take a look at my pile of mantle parts, to see what he could do.  Walking into his shop was a real treat.  It's filled with templates and sketches and work in progress.  You see, he started wood carving as a kid and realized it was something he really enjoyed.  He worked with a local woodcarver in high school and the went to school for furniture makers.  Ultimately, he set up shop in Biddeford, Maine.  He does that kind of old-school craftsman work that you don't see much anymore. 

This sign and carved bird are from a sign he made to hang in front of his parents garage as a teenager.

I marveled at a project he's working on for a house on one of the local islands.  The owners want it to have a lot of Swedish style carvings, inspired by the work of Carl Larsson.

 The sketches he's done give you an idea of the intricacies required to execute their vision.  

This carving in mahogany, for an arch over the front door, gives you an idea of his skill level.  

And thankfully, he was game to create new replacements for the missing parts of my mantle, as well as repair a broken pieces.  It's incredibly exacting work - that takes a skilled hand and eye, as well as sharp tools.

And the finished product?  Doesn't it look great!  We worked together to decide on the size of the plinth blocks and mantle shelf and I'm just thrilled with the result.  
I'm going to tackle the staining and finishing of the mantle, which will be a bit tricky as I try to blend old and new.  Sten recommended stain and shellac (which I haven't used before) and was kind enough to create a guide with several different options depending how dark, shiny or matte I want the final piece to look.   I'm a bit nervous to get started, but am excited to see how it will look when it's finished and installed. 
This will be a long project, so stay tuned for updates!  

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  1. Beautiful work! How fortunate that you found him and he was willing to help.

    1. I know!!! He’s done an amazing job that will give new life to this mantle


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