I Design, You Decide: Mountain Fixer-Upper – The Fireplace
**** UPDATE: The poll has now closed, and we have a winner of ‘WORK WITH IT’, with 81% choosing ‘Work with It’ and 19% choosing ‘Fresh Start’. Thank you to everyone who voted, entered, and shared your opinion. We love having you participate in this exciting project and we can’t wait for you to weigh in on the next design decision. In the meantime be sure to head here to see all the polls and progress of the fixer-upper project.
We are full steam ahead on the mountain house with demo starting this week, but I’m REALLY trying to take my time and not rush the design process, and yet we want to live there this summer so I have to move fast. Our contractor wants the demo list and the only thing that I’m unsure about is the fireplace. We’ve gone around and around about the stone since we put in the offer.
Let me take you down the rabbit hole thought-process since August.
When we first offered (to buy) on the mountain house I immediately went on Pinterest looking for good versions of rock fireplaces. Ours felt a little cheesy and dated, and yet the stone almost looked too ‘new’. The rocks felt too round and bulbous or something – our architect called them ‘bubble rocks’ and I wasn’t impressed with that phrase. They are real, not the fake facade version but is that my dream fireplace? Nope.
I found a few (but not a ton) of rock fireplaces that I did love.
Those are beautiful but we have to be realistic about the fact that those stones are much more beautiful than ours.
But that is more similar and I like it enough. Maybe it could be possible? When combined with pretty architecture and fresh furniture it does seem appropriate and nice.
I really only found one that I LOVED, designed by the owners of Mjolk– an amazing Scandinavian store out of Canada. This is their cabin, and boy do I love it.
Ugh. So pretty. But that stone is so old!! That’s why it’s so beautiful. Our stone is from the 60’s and looks kinda brand new and just so generic. Plus the shape of this one is more graceful and maybe it’s also because it’s combined with the all-white floor and ceiling and we are likely recladding wood on the ceiling and of course installing wood floors.
So I scrapped the idea of the stone. I was like – nope. I want something stunning and stone will never be stunning.
Plus at the beginning of the design process I was leaning way more ‘Contemporary Scandi Chalet’ and less ‘Mountain Cabin’.
My first idea was a hanging fireplace, like so:
I was pretty set on it for a couple weeks and everyone in the office agreed. Great. Done. I pitched the idea to Brian and it was basically crickets. Sure, he likes the fireplace, but not in that house. I guess I also took issue with the fact that it’s a corner fireplace, and would much prefer centered on a wall, so a hanging oval shape felt more appropriate there. My mother-in-law and one of my best friends were both confused and shocked at the idea, saying ‘No, you need something cozier’.
Look! There are logs on the floor, that is cozy!
Fine. Scrapped. Let’s do a really simple and neutral but beautiful tile. Cle has some new handmade terracotta matte tiles coming out that could be simple and beautiful. A quiet statement.
Finding tile inspiration that I actually liked was very challenging. So picture these in really pretty handmade finish. In fact the one that I’m referencing would be the one in this materials board below:
It’s a little more midcentury and admittedly not as ‘warm’, but because the fireplace is so big I think it would be a beautiful but quiet statement with a lot of impact.
You could stack it vertically or horizontally, or stagger it, or scale it up or down….
But then I thought, am I missing an opportunity to do something really crazy and special? Should I do something that will get 10k likes on Instagram every time I post it like my patio tile??? If you think I’m not designing this house with photography/social media in mind, you are wrong. I make editorial content for a living, I want this place to pop on camera, and yet be appropriate in person. It’s an inner hell that I can better explain in a whole post about how social media is affecting the design world…
ANYWAY, Maybe a different shape or color would make it feel more special. AGAIN, the images below aren’t what I want (I don’t love the colors for me) but you get the idea.
Would a pretty handmade gray tile feel more like a ‘rock’ but in a modern way?
Again, the idea of this below (not the color) could work, right? Maybe?
Or is there something kinda ‘bathroom-y’about it?
I have two tiles that I LOVE that could be stunning, but I haven’t seen them in person yet.
If anyone has seen inspiration of a fireplace with beautiful tile that might work, send my way.
As I design I always go through any material that something can be made out of – so obviously wood came up.
We are putting wood flooring down, and will likely clad the ceiling with new wood (instead of refinishing) if we can afford it. If anyone has reclad a ceiling, let us know.
So wood on the fireplace could just be a lot of wood, OR it could keep it feeling more streamlined and simple. My original thinking of this house was more minimal, and using the same high-end elements over and over, but that has shifted to make it feel a little warmer by mixing more materials.
I will say that it was very hard to find even a few images of wood on fireplaces that I liked. A lot of them look a little try-hard and I think the key is having it one length (no seams if applied horizontally) and having them be more wide plank, and keeping it not orange and more matte.
Brian at first really loved the wood thing but then he, too, feared we were missing an opportunity. We could do wood and then a stone hearth to break it up…
Then I thought – might it be super pretty to have wood on floors and ceilings, huge picture windows with wood frame but keep the fireplace minimal with just drywall?
As you can imagine Brian wasn’t psyched, but some of these pictures are really pretty so I kept it in the post just to show you it’s an option.
I love the one above, mixing it with stone, but keeping it clean and modern with the drywall. Or maybe you add a pretty wood beam and play with the shape, like this one:
Then I thought – maybe we should be rethinking the shape altogether. We are demo-ing it out we can start fresh and really make it any shape we want. So maybe keeping it a simple finish, but a pretty shape (thus adding warmth and depth – instead of being so flat) is a good option …
I was almost completely convinced when I saw this above photo (sorry, it’s grainy we couldn’t find the high res online). That shape is so pretty and feels warm and traditional in a way but so simple and classic as well. This is from a Scandinavian cabin and obviously looks great with the simpler color scheme. The harder lines keep it from feeling too spanish or adobe – like. And we can play with materials – possibly even a tile in the surround (white on white?) or a herringbone in the box, or a stone hearth or a wood mantel … so many options. Brian’s first reaction was boredom, but he came around and now he really loves it.
It will take a lot of work to recreate it, but I’m definitely interested.
Now for the twist. We’ve spent so much time up there over the holidays and on weekends when it has been cold. We put on the fire and play uno with the kids and drink wine with our friends and a few weeks ago, after dark, even I admitted the stone is just so warm and appropriate. It’s lovely to sit on the carpet, in front of the warm fire, listening to music, with wood on the ceiling. My friend, Suzanne, once again – mountain houses should have stone fireplaces – are you sure you can’t just work with it?
Brian has been a ‘work with it’ guy for a long time, but also doesn’t want to miss an opportunity to make it the most beautiful it can be. Plus there is a budget issue to think about. We haven’t really set a budget for this house because we are still planning, but we know that it is going to cost A LOT (my guess would be at least $150k), especially on labor. This fireplace might be somewhere that we could save. I think demo-ing it out, rebuilding, buying a new box and vent, and resurfacing it would likely cost $8-$10k. Maybe less, but it’s not cheap.
So it was time to consider what our options would be if we were to try to make the original stone work.
I want to raise the hearth, increase the box (and make it an open gas fireplace instead of a stove so we can see the flames). Re-clad the mantel in a prettier wood, and then stack pretty logs underneath the bench like so:
Then what happens to the rock? Here are some options that are on the table:
Paint it white …
Easy enough. We’d like to still have the wood mantel and do something different to the hearth – maybe a larger gray stone tile top and wood underneath it, still.
It’s definitely the easiest option and will look fine in photos, but I’m not convinced it’s special enough and it will lose some of the warmth of the stone.
To keep some of the texture of the stone we could white or gray wash it:
I’m not freaking out about it but it is pretty. The below one is more gray and I like it a lot more, but maybe that’s because it’s a brick not a bubble river stone.
And again, this isn’t our stone, but this one below feels really ‘mountain-y’.
It’s just a pretty tonal stone fireplace – how could I regret that?
I found a few DIYs online, and this one below looks pretty good:
OR what if it were a really dark color like so:
That is moody and cozy, and could be a dark slate blue or charcoal – but is it really cold?
Then I went back to my original image – this aged stone fireplace from Mjolk:
First off, we need to fill in the grout or mortar to make it way less bubbly. But then could we possibly age the rocks or make them feel more interesting?
The below images show stone fireplaces where the ‘grout’ is basically flush with the stone – and think that it looks way better.
Could we even shave down our stone to be more flat? And then can we use some plaster to go over it all then wipe it off the stone so it looks more like this?
Or do you fill it in to be almost flush and then paint it out a matte taupe or stone color like this:
The number of options possible for this fireplace are daunting – heck I could even just replace it altogether with pretty stone! I’m not ready to make that exact decision right now, but what we actually do need to know this week is if we need to demo it out or not.
So the poll today is asking you guys if you’d like to see us “work with it’ or ‘start fresh’. Do you like the challenge of seeing if we can make this stone what we really want, since it is a mountain house after all OR should we demo it out and rethink it all together with one of the first ideas, creating what might be more of our dream fireplace (but would likely cost way more).
As a reminder .. here she is right now, pre-renovation:
I Design, You Decide
Fireplace: Work With It? or Fresh Start?
Thank you for doing your daily design duty.
Your vote has my vote 🙂
Now enter to win
A five-night stay at the cabin this summer (with some blackout dates, of course, because our family uses it) with $1,000 towards travel expenses (if you live driving distance then it’s just fun money, or if you live internationally then we will cover up to $1,000 of your expenses. So, all the international readers please feel free to participate and enter as well). We’ll make it a dream trip! Including cocktails out on the lake with me.
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And remember, we can always rethink it next year after we’ve tried to work with it … Not ideal as I want to do all the construction at the same time but it is an option.
WHAT DO YOU THINK??? And regardless of which you choose, what is your favorite within that option. If you want us to start fresh would you go with tile or wood? And if you are team ‘work with it’ then what do you think would be the best?