This fireplace already had a surround, a surround made of stone, white painted stone. It was nice, but it didn’t have a mantel shelf, and it really didn’t have the presence of a nicely crafted wood fireplace surround, with a nicely crafted mantel shelf.
Nobody wanted to strip the paint off the stone (especially me), so we would make the new surround white as well.
The owner had two wood corbels she picked up somewhere and wanted to incorporate those into the the design. She also wanted me to remove the metal and glass screen and the white panel above to expose the black metal panel underneath, and what the lady wants, the lady gets!
I Like To Start At The Beginning
I already drew a basic form design, but I don’t really know where the details will go until I get started, so off to the shop I go, stopping by my favorite lumber yard for poplar and rough sawn maple. Poplar for the hidden nailers, and maple for the bulk of the visible piece. I needed to get the maple right away so it could acclimate while I figure out how exactly to mount the mantel to the wall.
I would build the mounting frame first, since I can use pre-dimensioned S4S poplar for that. Doing this helps me formulate the field-assembly process, where I can put the thing together around the fireplace using the least amount of visible fasteners. This also forces me to decide on some specific dimensions, like the exact height of the mantel, and the exact width and location of the mantel legs.
My frame, which will be screwed to wall framing around the fireplace.
Time To Get Into The Details
It’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also a good design principle. Repetition brings coherence and comfort to a design, but it can be done in a subtler way. In this case the repeating themes would be the arches and flowing vertical lines. Also the tall plinth base. It should look like one idea, built in layers for complexity and interest.
This feature will be on the apron of the surround, just under the cornice trim of the mantle shelf, but the space is more limited vertically. No matter, I will evoke the same feel using the space I have.
For the arches, I first make templates out of plywood. I can use the template to cut out the bulk of the curve with a band saw, and clean it up with a pattern bit in a router.
The existing arches show two distinct changes in level, as well as an intermediary, curve following groove, so mine will also.
Nice that my clients had already chosen the corbels, because I know that they like them, it gave me a hint about the style they were looking for, and I now I don’t have to find them, order them, and wait for them to get here.
Made of laminated maple, they came with key slots on the back for mounting. Those will help keep them in place as I build around them and add other fasteners.
Now built into the surround, topping the legs and supporting the mantel top. The top that isn’t there, yet.
The frieze panel above the firebox looked empty, despite the curved layers. It needed carvings, similar to the carvings in the stone surround. Ok, more flattery.
The shape was smaller and narrower than the stone, and there was no room for the shield, so it was drawn using only the ferns.
Putting It All Together
The assembly is modular. This is handy both for the construction process, but also because I can’t move the whole completed surround easily anyway. I brought the parts over in two trips.
We start with the platform. There is framing in the wall behind this that I can screw to through the slots in the legs and the slots behind where the corbels will be.
The frieze panel will be mostly covered with additional layers, so I can screw where the fasteners will be hidden.
Note that the parts are already painted where they will be visible.
I didn’t take photos showing the modular assembly process, but here you get the idea. The legs were covered, the curved frieze panel was added, along with the corbels. The top was completely assembled and was placed on top of the corbel cornices. The joint gaps were very thin, easily covered by a thin caulk line.
And The Final Project
A big improvement to a lovely 100 year old Shaker Heights home. Apparently, I missed a spot when painting in my shop, that despite the fact I have enough light in there to do a heart transplant, but they were happy, and that’s what matters!
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