A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Fireplace, You’re Always in the Back of My Mind

Last weekend I went to one of the big architectural salvage stores in Chicago, Salvage One, with my niece and sister-in-law just for fun. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular except a keyhole cover for one of our doors — no luck there.

Then I saw these cabinets. There were a matching pair of them, and they’re exactly the type of thing I’ve been thinking would look great flanking the fireplace in lieu of the stone veneer currently there.

They were $450 each. Hmm, a bit pricey.

I snapped a photo of the tag with the measurements anyway to see if by some chance they’d be a perfect fit.

The height was good, but unfortunately too wide.

Things like this just get me thinking again about that behemoth and I really wonder if we’d just be better off getting rid of the darn thing? Is having a fireplace worth the 3′ x 8′ space it occupies?

Then again, if we got rid of it completely, we’d have to deal with what’s behind it: original textured plaster walls with cracks (we ended up having them plastered smooth), painted woodwork, wood floors that might be beat up and don’t match the rest of the floor…I’m sure I’m missing other things.

So either way, it’d be a big job and (as my husband rightly pointed out) we don’t need to start on yet another project until others are finished.

My tentative plan is to at least get rid of the stone veneer and deal with what’s left once that’s done, however I’d wait to do that when we demo the first floor bathroom (funny how the room I probably hated the most from Day One is one of the last things to go!). I don’t know when that’s going to happen.

leaded glass doorsIn any case, once the stone is gone and if we decided to keep the fireplace, I would love to be able to incorporate these leaded glass doors on either side.

These were from my grandparents’ house in Toledo, OH — my mother’s childhood home. Apparently they removed a built-in buffet in the dining room to replace it with a freestanding buffet they already owned. This was probably done in the 1940s. They kept the doors for some reason and my mother eventually gave them to me. I don’t ever remember them being used or displayed in the house so they must have been stored in the attic (which I used to LOVE to explore as a kid anytime we visited, but other things up there interested me more at the time).

They’re actually the exact width for either side of the fireplace, and they’re also the exact height of the firebox (I usually keep them stashed above the fireplace as you see below).

Yesterday I decided to take some photos of what’s behind the stone. I’ve always known that it’s just stone veneer cemented onto Durock over basic wood framing but I thought I’d get more detailed about potential obstacles.

There’s a removable plastic grate on top behind the mantel. It just lifts off.

And this is what you see looking straight down on the right-hand side.

The firebox is to the left and you can see the Durock and 2×4 framing. The wire and tube is for the gas starter, so that’s one obstacle but could be moved. The hardwood floor looks dirty but otherwise okay. Still, who knows if there are any issues in other spots.

The framing is also sitting on top of a baseboard radiator. We knew there was one there, and that’s why the PO used the plastic grate on top, to potentially allow the heat to escape through it. I don’t really think it’s effective — besides, there are radiators under the entire bay window area, so it’s not really essential for heat. It’s also the reason why the fireplace is elevated off the floor. I’d be more inclined to remove that radiator and lower the firebox, so that’d be another obstacle.

Here’s the view on the left side.

The only obstacle there is the flexible tube for outside air venting, which can be dealt with.

So, here’s my super-quick (super-bad) mock-up of what we could potentially do (but make it prettier in your mind):

  • Use the leaded doors and build shallow bookcases on either side. There could still be a hollow space behind them to accommodate the gas starter lines and the fresh air tube
  • Remove the baseboard radiator and lower the fireplace to the floor. We’d have to extend the chimney tube to the firebox, which should be easy to do, and I’d probably add tile on the floor in front of it for fire safety in place of the current raised stone hearth.
  • Use drywall to enclose the chimney tube above the mantel instead of the stone and paint it to match the walls
  • Replace the mantel with a more appropriate bungalow mantel, probably just a simple solid piece of wood without the dentil look

It’d still take up space, however by removing the large hearth, which is over a foot tall and deep, and bringing it down to the floor, we could potentially put a couple chairs in front of it which would help with furniture placement.

Anybody have other suggestions/ideas?


  1. Reuben on October 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I think you might be on the right track to just remove the whole thing and deal with the floor later.

    • denise on October 12, 2012 at 10:25 pm

      Hi Reuben–thanks for your input! I’m kind of leaning that way, but I really don’t know if my husband would. I guess we’ll have to see whenever we finally get to that point but I’m hoping within the next year!

  2. Daniela on October 13, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I would also encourage you to get rid of the whole thing. It is so enormous. A nice period appropriate build-in might fit nicely into the space or if you want a heat source, a small free standing gas or wood stove might fit much better into the space.

    • denise on October 14, 2012 at 10:56 am

      Thanks Daniela–I totally agree with you. I’ve looked at other smaller options a little bit, so it’s definitely a possibility. I’ve also been starting to think that our grandfather clock would look perfect there too!

  3. Morgan Culture on January 14, 2015 at 11:42 am

    Got linked to this from your 2015 goals list, and saw that you were looking for suggestions (and that you’ll be in action soon!). What about building a short hearth area (thereby avoiding any ugly underlying floor issues) and adding a refurbished or repro parlor stove?

    Although we inherited a different type of ugly “remodeled” fireplace area, we did that and it turned out amazing. Here’s what I’m thinking- and you could potentially run the gas lines from underneath if you build that small hearth.


    • denise on January 14, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Hey Morgan, nice job! We definitely have/had a similar type of ugly! Although I wouldn’t mind getting a different firebox, we’ll probably end up keeping the one we have to cut costs (I plan to paint over the bright brass and replace the ugly door pulls). I really want to minimize the footprint the fireplace currently occupies though, so I’m really hoping the floor isn’t too bad under the hearth. But I’m totally open to any ideas, and you have some good ones! All-in-all, I think we’ll have to wait and see what we end up with once the façade is gone. Hopefully we’ll have some luck!

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