The fireplace had been through a couple stages of upgrade before I met the homeowners. The original brick fireplace had been updated to gas and was given a veneer of slate tile prior to their purchase of the home, but the mantle and fireplace surround were left bare. After moving into the home, they picked up a nice live edge black walnut slab from Urban Lumber, and they mounted the slab with the idea that it would be part of the final design.
Though the mantle was temporary, they got the most out of it. I first met clients in October and it was decorated for Halloween. They already were gravitating towards a craftsman styled fireplace, and when I returned in November to go over the first round of designs, the mantle was decorated for Thanksgiving. We further refined the design and looked at wood samples in December, with Christmas stockings hung (by the chimney with care). They took the President's Day holiday off.
The final design was based on something they had found online, and it incorporated craftsman themes that would play well with the existing slate tile. We realized early in the process that the black walnut slab was a bit too short for this mantle (and it was subsequently used as a shelf above a coat rack in the entryway); and locally harvested white oak seemed the perfect choice because it takes stain well and would tie in with other similarly styled furnishings in the living room. The quarter-sawn white oak was treated with a wood dye process followed by a coat of stain to achieve a color similar to the diamond-shaped accent tiles. End grain black walnut plugs provide a bit of subtle geometry to the piece, and a shadow line below the mantle top adds levity (and hidden in the shadow is a groove to hang decorations for the next holiday).
The former fireplace surround was porcelain tile and painted mdf, and the homeowner was looking to make use of local materials to update the focal point of the living room. The tile was replaced with travertine, and the nicely figured black walnut was milled by Curly Burly. I used a hand-rubbed Polyx Oil finish to really help the figure pop. Often, some of the more muted violet and grey tones in black walnut will become less distinct when finished; and I was pleased that the color variations remained so prominent in the finished piece.
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.