Our fireplace has been reincarnated from plain white brick to grey stucco. But before you start imagining a grainy, textured surface–nope, not that kind of stucco. We went with a smooth finish in a color that gives the effect of polished concrete. But more on that later.
In its former life, when we first moved in, it looked like this…
I can’t get enough of this picture. It just sums up the bare essentials so well: chairs, dog bed, a television and, of course, a Fiddle Leaf Fig in a decorative basket.
We wasted no time attaching blue painter’s tape to the wall in an attempt to figure out how to flank both sides with shelving to house my expansive collection of this and that (I call them “objects d’art”; JB says “stuff”; potato; potato) as well as the TV which had no other place to go as our house has an open-concept dining room/living room, but, darn it, no other rooms that weren’t already claimed as bedrooms or office that could serve as a den or family room. In other words, this room had to play double duty as formal living room and casual TV room.
It was a tricky design dilemma because the white brick of the fireplace only projected 2″ out from the wall which meant any adjacent shelves or built-ins (12″ standard depth for bookshelves; base cabinet depth, if custom and not in a kitchen, is a bit more negotiable, but almost all depths just looked too deep) would jut out so far in comparison, they’d only accentuate the existing flatness of the fireplace.
During our first year and a half in our house, I’d hang various paintings to make the fireplace as interesting as possible, but when we had visitors, it was always one of the first spots that I’d point to and explain it needed to be deeper and better but the “how” part hadn’t quite come to me.
This painting is one of my favorite garage sale finds. I bought it about ten years ago from the woman who painted it who was having a garage sale. She was probably in her late 70s and only asking $5 for the painting and I think I might have embarrassed her when I told her how much I loved it and asked if she would sign it (she signed the back with her pink ballpoint pen). It now hangs in my bathroom and it makes me smile every time I look at the brassy expression and akimbo stance of the subject that are so different from the unassuming manner of the actual artist.
Then I saw this photo of a fireplace and thought, “That’s it!”
And, heck, I already owned a “Liberace-called-and-he-wants-his-mirror-back” mirror that I was VERY into. We were almost there! White stucco it would be.
Hair-on-hide just barely visible underneath the chair, but it’s there along with my trusty Fiddle Leaf Fig from Day One. I could just see the inspiration of that other photo coming to life.
But, just to be sure that white stucco would look better than grey, I painted a wash of grey paint on the bricks. And the fireplace immediately felt like it jumped forward a foot! Suddenly it felt much too massive for the room. Just more confirmation that grey was not the way to go.
We added 4″ strips of cardboard to help imagine what bringing the fireplace out 4″ (for a total of 6″ depth) would look like. I was going around measuring the depth of fireplaces at clients’ homes and 8″ was a very common depth but that felt far too deep at our house.
While we were in the process of mocking things up, we experimented with placing a couple of boards of wood on the bottom to see what closing the bottom of the fireplace–turning the opening from a square that dropped to the floor, to a raised rectangle–would look like. We were instantly sold. Not only did the rectangle give the more modern look we were after, but suddenly the raised opening became more of a focal point…and we had plans for that opening. Oh, just you wait!
First the fireplace was clad in an armor of non-combustible (but of course!) metal, to bring it out to a total depth of 6″.
I found it kind of interesting like that–in a modern art sort of way.
And then the scratch coat went on and we both realized we preferred the grey. Lesson? Painted grey bricks look nothing like smooth grey stucco.
Just to make things super complicated, I picked two different colors of pigment from two different stucco companies to make a custom color. What began as a somewhat simple directive of “2/3 Coral Gables from La Habra and 1/3 Titanium from Merlex” devolved into me suggesting, “How about 1/8 cup more Coral Gables? Hmm. A little more. More. Okay, there.” In the end, I’m not exactly sure what the ratio of pigment to pigment was, but we ended up with the color I was after.
Which wasn’t this…
Oh Lordy, the final coat was dark when it first went on. We sat back kind of stunned until we realized it was lightening so quickly we could actually witness the process. When it landed on the color I wanted, I plead with it to stop and what do you know, it listened! I’d say it reached its final color by Day 3, in case you ever find yourself in this situation.
The color became the one you see in the closeup below.
Note: Mottling is important! I probably drove the stucco installers crazy by repeatedly confirming that they would use a metal trowel and burnish the surface for “a lot of mottling” which I would then try to pantomime with my hands, mid air, but I didn’t need to worry. We used Baez Plastering Expression Inc. and they did SUCH a good job!
The bottom of the firebox needed to be raised once we created the bottom exterior lip so we enlisted Tubular George to raise the gas line, pour concrete to raise the bottom, paint the walls with flat black BBQ paint to give a fresh look and…
The installation of balls.
So we went from this…
This shot was taken eight months ago, the weekend before I had Baby Kai, when JB had just finished painting the formerly BAND-AID-colored walls Benjamin Moore’s Simply White and the floors were being installed (we chose California Classic’s Mediterranean Collection French Oak in the color Aegean) and I was still avoiding the house as it off-gassed except to come inspect the work and say things like, “Gosh, we still need to do something about that fireplace!”
Now that the fireplace is such a feature and 6″ deep, I’m working on figuring out the base cabinets to hold the media components (cable box, etc.). The TV will be mounted to the wall so it won’t project farther than the fireplace, as it does now. If the space calls for a shelf or two above, it will get them, but right now I’m thinking I prefer a cleaner, shelf-less look. And, don’t worry, we realize installing a fireplace full of tempered glass, sand, and concrete balls is not exactly kid-friendly. When Kai is more mobile, the fireplace will either be fitted with a temporary glass insert or JB will whip up an impenetrable barrier out of wood. (He’s handy like that!)
And here she is, our new fireplace, ready for her closeup.
You might just barely be able to make out the flames in the background. It is much more dramatic at night, but nearly impossible to capture in a photograph since flames have this way of never staying still.
Speaking of never staying still, the children’s book I wrote and my mom illustrated, My Pet Cloud, is moving up in the world! As of last month, it’s now available at Chaucer’s Bookstore, Plum Goods, Chicken Little, and Tecolote Book Shop. If you don’t live anywhere near Santa Barbara, you can always find it online at Amazon.com.
It was also featured in the current issue of Season’s Magazine. 🙂
and in last week’s issue of the Montecito journal! 🙂
Happy Tuesday! 🙂