Three elements- concrete, stone and wood - work together on this fireplace surround. Okay, concrete is essentially stone, so maybe its only two or possibly two-and-a-half elements. Whatever the math, the fireplace is anchored by the dark, cool texture of the concrete hearth, surrounded by a sandstone veneer, and capped by a live edge big leaf maple mantle. The original incarnation of the fireplace in marble tile and painted mdf was still in good shape, but was on the other side of the spectrum of the clients' aesthetic sense. The goal was to create a fireplace with materials that emphasized their natural characteristics (split-faced sandstone and live edged maple) without feeling too rustic, while fitting into a fairly contemporary house at the same time.
The concrete hearth was assembled from four sections poured off-site. The design of the interlocking sections was to a large degree influenced by the difficulties of either pouring off-site as a single, #350+ piece; or pouring on-site and working with wet (and dusty when dry) concrete around carpet and interior furnishings. I felt it was important that the exposed faces of the heath have a fairly uniform texture (so the geometry of the concrete sections would be a dominant feature of the hearth) and if poured on-site it would have been difficult to produce a top surface with the same character as the sides and face by using a hand trowel. The concrete sections were only lightly polished in order to remove the subtle texture imparted by the melamine forms, but not so much as to grind through the cement cream layer and expose the aggregate. A handful of air pockets, intentionally left unfilled, add a nice smattering of shadows to the face of the hearth.
For the mantle, a hefty slab of big leaf maple from Curly Burly, with just a bit of spalting that adds an interesting pattern and contrast to the corbels. There were several iterations in sizing the mantle. The slab was nearly 16" wide, but after three or four rounds of test fitting, contemplating, and cutting down, it finished about half the original size. Two overhead spotlights cast a prominant shadow over the fireplace, and in the end we found a good balance between the light-accented mantle edge and its shadow across the face of the stone; and at the same time paying attention to the proportions of the three elements of the fireplace surround.
Indeed, it is a small world. A woman came into the Out on a Limb gallery while I was working and she was looking for a box that was "about this wide by this wide" (imagine something that would fit a couple grapefruits). Though, there is an eclectic array of wooden crafts at the gallery we did not have any such object; but I offered make one that if there was something in particular she had in mind. She hesitated, said she needed something for the weekend (it was already Thursday) and that she would keep looking because she didn't think there was time for something custom. I had plenty to do at the time, and would have normally just referred her to other stores nearby; but after just a couple minutes of conversation there was a familiarity between us and I pressed her a little, said that a quick turn-around on something fairly simple was possible and we worked out the details pretty quickly.
She had grown up in Eugene but now lives in Alaska, and had returned to memorialize the recent passing of her father. Her sister still lives in the area, and they were going to spread his ashes at a couple of his favorite local spots; and she was looking for a box they could use to transport his ashes, and that she could keep in his memory. He had loved to spend time in the woods, and it was important to her that it be made from a locally occurring tree, because it would have been familiar to her father. In life he traveled among the trees in the forest, and in death travels in the trees of the forest.
The box is black oak with an English walnut top, both harvested locally by Curly Burly. Projects like this are often particularly satisfying because there is very little forethought involved, and the design falls naturally from the characteristics of the objects dimensions, function, and materials. I worked out the design on my bikeride home from the gallery, and had it assembled later in the afternoon.
When we had spoken at the gallery and I told her where my shop (and house) was, and she said she had spent her childhood somewhere in that area of Eugene. Understand, in the early 1950's when she would had lived in the neighborhood, there was very little about southeast Eugene that was "residential". The Corps of Engineers had only recently lowered Amazon Creek, and what was a broad floodplain created by the Amazon and its many small tributaries and had been largely impassable during the winter months was transformed into a seasonally soggy, but developable, neighborhood. A client from project a few years back had spent part of her childhood in a house a couple blocks away, and had told me about the early days of the neighborhood when there were only a handful of homes on the street and there was more mud and trees than sidewalks and houses.
When she came to pick up the box, I was running late to meet her and she occupied herself with a walk around the neighborhood. Turns out, the house she and her sister grew up in was just a couple doors down. The journey for her and her sister to say goodbye to their father had again intersected with the place their father had first brought them home.