Fireplace + a cow and a red telephone booth…

When better to check out fireplaces than in the wintertime…

When I was looking for a house all those years ago, I was pretty excited when this house had a fireplace.  Though, I knew that I would not ever use a wood burning fireplace – we have wood burning bans in Denver pretty much all winter and I am not much interested in cleaning up after a wood fire.  Below is the only picture I have of the old fireplace – not sure why I didn’t take a picture of the whole wall…


I figured I could easily get it converted to gas (and it was ugly – and not original to the house) so I decided to start demo one sunny afternoon.  Tad came home to a pile of bricks and a dismantled mantel on the front lawn.  He was a little distressed I think – but it worked out.  We discovered some seriously charred wood underneath the hearth.  So, I say it is a good thing I decided to demo this monster rather than keep it as wood burning.  I had to search around quite a bit for an appropriate gas insert though.  The firebox was pretty shallow and small in size so my options ended up being limited to basically one – thank goodness I loved my one and only option.


The insert was built up on a small platform – I like having it up off the floor six or eight inches. The existing chimney worked for the exhaust and air ducts – I like that they didn’t have to punch an additional hole in the back of the chimney for air.  The gas line was easily installed by a plumber.  Everything was covered in cement board – so we wouldn’t have any further charring of our wood structures.  It was in working order – warm and toasty for those cold winter nights.  All we needed to finish was the decorative stuff – the mantel, the surround, and the hearth.  This is where the project screeched to a standstill.  This scene (below) is what you saw when you entered our front door for 4,5, maybe 6 years – maybe longer – not quite sure.  The mantel, surround, and hearth remained unfinished for a very long time.


We debated the design over and over again. We even sought outside help in the form of an architect for this wall.  Below is when we thought we might do some sort of a built in around the fireplace.  We finally decided on a simple design of tile and/or stone.

Before Fireplace

Then, there was a $6000 bid (yes, the 3 zeros is not a mistake) for some basic cinder block work to create a base for the surround.  A year or two or three later – I decided we could do it for a lot less than $6000.  Tad was skeptical about our masonry skills.  However, a few hours later (with Sunday afternoon football games on the TV) we got it done for less than $60 in supplies!  I still wonder if masons really do make $1000 per hour.


I bought some mosaic tile – Tad didn’t like it.  I still have that mosaic tile in the basement waiting to be installed somewhere, some day.  We agreed on slab stone.  I talked to numerous stone fabricators.  None of them were willing to attempt to cut and install the surround face as a single piece.  A chance meeting at a friends house resulted in a stone fabricator who was willing to give it a try.  He came over the next day and templated it out.


Success – a single piece of stone – no seams – on the front face of our fireplace!  The stone is polished Absolute Black.  I debated whether or not I wanted a polished finish or a matte finish.  Since I went with black all over, I thought it would feel a bit heavy and imposing – in matte.  The polished felt less like a big black hole.  I think polished was the right choice.  It is very reflective – and  despite being solid black, it doesn’t take over the whole space.  In fact, you can see in the photo below how reflective it is – I tried a ton of different shots to minimize the reflection but to no avail.


The minimal mantel has worked out great.  Plenty of room for a few pieces of Jonathan Adler pottery and some big glass cherries.  At Christmas, the mantel becomes a forest display for my collection of trees.


We also added some fun artwork above the fireplace – a cow and a red telephone booth.


You are probably wondering if I am obsessed with cows?  The last post – our Mudroom – featured an O’Keefe cow print and a cow print area rug.  I will admit that I do have one other piece of artwork in the house that is a cow (you haven’t seen that one yet), but I wouldn’t call that an obsession…  Besides, this particular piece of art – the cow and the telephone booth – has a story associated with it.  During a trip to England with our friend Jennie, we went on a hike in the Cotswalds.  Jennie had a guidebook that recommended this particular hike.  It guided us along a lovely walk of rolling hills – and a few cow pastures – full of cows.  Tad, Jennie, and Clara (another friend who was living in London at the time and nicely hosted us for a few days – she was wearing brand new, bright white Keds for this adventure) were afraid of the cows – so, I was charged with shooing the cows out of our way.  Imagine me making mooing sounds and wildly flailing my arms about in an effort to move the cows – it was quite the scene.  The cows just starred at me like I had lost my mind – eventually they sauntered out of the way so we could pass.  At the end of the walk (in the middle of some cow pasture), there was a red telephone booth.  The guidebook said to call a number – from the red telephone booth – and a taxi would come get us.  The wife of the taxi driver answered but it seemed that all the taxis in town were in use – it was prom.  It was getting dark and we weren’t sure if we could wind our way back through all those cow pastures in the dark.  Plus, Clara’s footwear choice was a bit of a problem – she wasn’t happy about the thought of having to hike back – several hours – in her now cow poop stained Keds.  The taxi driver’s wife felt sorry for us – she came to pick us up in her personal car.    We still laugh about that hike – the cow pastures, the cows, my flailing arms and attemps to move the cows with mooing sounds, Clara’s Keds, the red telephone booth in the middle of nowhere, and that lovely taxi driver’s wife who took pity on us.  So when I stumbled upon this print, I laughed out loud – thinking about that hike – and had to have it in our living room.  I gave it to Tad as a Christmas gift.

I am sitting in front of my warm, completely finished fireplace right now – laughing about that trip – we had so much fun.