Spooky Hallowe’en mantel

Hallowe'en mantel

As cute as the pumpkins were on the fireplace mantel, I had a different idea for Hallowe’en decorations.

It’s a little bit haunted forest with all of the twisty branches.

And it’s a lot haunted forest with my collection of skulls.

Hallowe'en mantel

I had the idea for a little while, but it really came together when Matt’s Mom brought home these silver candlesticks for me. They used to be Matt’s grandmother’s (the same grandma that had the piano). Their tarnished finish was perfect (although I’m sure not up to Mama’s standards–and I’m sure she never thought they’d be displayed with skulls either).

Halloween mantel

It looks extra spooky with the candles lit (although it doesn’t translate in pictures very well).

Hallowe'en mantel

Hallowe'en mantel

Happy Hallowe’en, everybody.

How are you celebrating? Have you decorated for Hallowe’en? What’s your preferred Hallowe’en style: spooky ghouls or cute pumpkins? Does anyone else have a creepy collection?

Fall mantel

Pumpkins, antlers and candles decorating the mantel

There have been some beautiful fall home tours going around the blogosphere recently. I’ve held off on bringing fall inside, trying to hang onto summer just a little bit longer. However, now that it’s October, I can’t deny that fall is here.

This is our first fall having a working fireplace, so that’s where I started my decor. Behold the fall mantel.

Stone fireplace decorated for fall with pumpkins

The black lantern, wooden sphere tealight holders and antlers have become staples on the mantel. For fall, I added two wooden candlesticks that my Dad made and a whole bunch of pumpkins.

Antler, pumpkins and candles decorating a fall mantel

These 10 pumpkins are probably only about half of what the garden has produced this year. From what I’ve read, squash (and pumpkins) need to cure in a warm-ish place before they’re stored for the winter. So this display is about both form and function. (And yes, that’s the Blue Jays game on the TV in the background. Summer continues even into October. Go Jays!)

Pumpkins, antlers and candles decorating the mantelAntler, pumpkins and candles decorating a fall mantel

I love the barn beam mantel so much. The wood against the stone is beautiful. Now with the pops or orange and black it feels right for fall.

The only thing we have yet to do to fully embrace fall is light the fire.

Candles lit on the fall mantel

How are you decorating for fall? Have you had a fire at your house yet? Did anyone else grow your own pumpkins? Any suggestions of what to make with the pumpkins (besides jack o’ lanterns)? How about tips to store the pumpkins? Who else is watching the baseball? Let’s hear it for the Jays!

Not quite a spring mantel

Despite the snow flurries that fell thick enough to coat the ground this weekend, I’m pretty sure it’s spring. Easter was early this year, but not that early, right?

Snow on Easter Sunday

It seemed like it was time to update the mantel for spring. We still light the fire most nights, but the snowshoes on the mantel seemed to be a bit out of season.

For me, styling a mantel is like styling a bookshelf–challenging.

I replaced the snowshoes with some green glass bottles. I separated the pair of antlers and spread out the trio of spherical tealight holders. But I’m not sure it’s working for me.

Fireplace mantel decorated for spring

I’ve learned I really like the pop of black from the lantern–and the glow of the candle at night–but I’m wondering if maybe I should do without it for the spring.

The glass bottles seem a little small to me. And I think their watery blue-green tone says summer more than spring.

I’d love your input and advice on what you’d do. Here are your constraints:

  1. The stone needs to be the main feature of the fireplace. That means no covering it up with a huge painting or mirror, although something smaller might be acceptable.
  2. I want balance, but I don’t want symmetry. Matching topiaries at either end of the mantel with a perfectly centred hurricane are not me.
  3. Bigger is better when it comes to tchotchkes. The fireplace is 8 feet wide and 9 1/2 feet tall and close to 4 feet deep. It’s a monolith. From the mantel to the lowest point of the ceiling is 40 inches. The accessories need to be equally large scale so they don’t get lost.
  4. I’m cheap, so there’s no way I’m spending much money on decor, especially if it’s going to change seasonally.

This post from Kim at Tidbits and Twine has an easy formula for styling a mantel. I particularly like her layers of anchor, weight and filler. However, I’d have to put my anchor off centre. 🙂

Here are some of the things I’m thinking of:

  • Something living (or more likely, given my luck with plants, a decent replica of a living thing)
  • Large crocks or bottles (or urns or tarnished trophies?)
  • Candles or lanterns of some kind (maybe an oil lamp or a candelabra could be fun)
  • Some appropriately “farmy” accessories (wagon wheel hub, grindstone, antlers)
  • Something appropriately seasonal (is there something that says spring besides the obvious tulips and hyacinths?)
  • Art (even though I don’t want a central painting, a smaller scale painting or sculpture or mirror might be nice)

This picture speaks to me. Even though the fireplace is a completely different style from ours, are there some lessons I can apply?

Help me bring spring inside, even if it hasn’t arrived outside yet. What are your styling secrets for mantels? What accessories would you use?


I’ve had a post sitting in my draft folder since December. Back when we were deep in the fireplace redo, I wanted to think about something prettier. So I wrote about styling the mantel. In that post, I listed some of the things I was thinking of for decor.

At the top of the list was something living (or more likely, given my luck with plants, a decent replica of a living thing).

Well, it turns out that I may not be able to keep plants alive when I want to, but the mantel is taking care of the something living all on its own.

In the joint between the two barn beams, a little plant has sprouted. I thought it was just a cobweb, so I “picked” it before I realized what it was.

Plant growing out of a mantel

The barn beams had been laying outside for who knows how long. There are some worm holes, some soft spots and, obviously, some seeds. The indoor climate is apparently just what this little sprout was looking for.

Not quite what I had in mind when it came to mantel decor, though.

Farmhouse fieldstone fireplace

There’s lots of discussion these days about adding character to our houses. I believe a home should reflect both the people that live there and its setting. For me, this is one of the misses with our house. Our ranch-style bungalow looks like it could be in any neighbourhood from the 1970s. Inside and out, it doesn’t reflect its farm setting. So my mission since moving here has been to inject a little more country into the house.

Just before Christmas, the living room got a huge (literally) injection of country character with our new stone fireplace.

Fieldstone fireplace with barn beam mantel

Whew. That’s a lot of philosophy for a fireplace. More pictures.

Old wagon wheel hub on a stone fireplace hearth

The fireplace is beautiful, safe and, best of all, it works.

In a time when people are painting and white-washing over brick, tiling and drywalling over surrounds, a huge stone monolith like this is not necessarily in style. However, for me, this is one of those timeless designs that is about the farm, not the trend.

Fieldstone fireplace with barn beam mantel

The stone is Bluewater by Natural Stone Veneers. It’s real stone that’s been sliced to form “tiles” about 1 inch thick. You can order both corner pieces and flats. It’s a way to get the look of a stone fireplace for much less cost and much less labour. In fact, as my mason was doing the stone, he commented how close the Bluewater was to the fieldstone that’s found naturally in this area. Exactly what I was going for.

Just like real stone, the veneers are irregularly shaped. Our mason had great attention to detail in putting this stone together. Take a look at the upper half of the fireplace near the centre. See the diamond-shaped stone? He saw the special shape of this stone and worked to feature it in the middle. He chose the stone directly below the diamond specifically because of how its notch fit the bottom of the diamond.

Fieldstone fireplace with barn beam mantel

The mantel is barn beams from our own farm that we had milled at a local sawmill. We used two beams sandwiched together to get the depth we wanted. They’re finished with three coats of clear polyurethane.

The woodbox was a mid-project addition. This is why it’s important to be present during renovations like this. As he was building the fireplace, my mason said, “You have a lot of space here now that we’ve removed the chimneys for the decommissioned furnaces. Do you want a woodbox?”

Woodbox in the side of a fieldstone fireplace

I hadn’t even considered that possibility, and now I can’t imagine the fireplace without it. It’s really handy to have a place to store extra wood, but it also makes really nice visual. This is the side of the fireplace that faces the kitchen. As much as I love the stone, the woodbox breaks up the monolith and makes the view much more interesting.

The wood bucket is an old washtub that Matt and I bought at an antique store several years ago. I take the whole bucket outside, fill it with wood and bring it back inside–really heavy, but a really easy way to bring a big load of wood inside in only one trip.

Initially, I had a very, very plain rectangular fireplace screen in mind. However, since having this one, I find I like the contrast of the arched top with all of the other straight lines we have going on. It’s simple to move the screen to the side when I need to tend the fire. Surprisingly, the handles never get hot.

Fireplace screen

The grate is from my grandmother’s house. It sat outside at my parents’ house for years until my Dad brought it up to the farm one day last month. It fits as though it was made for the fireplace–just another example of how things work out the way they’re meant to.

We’ve had the fireplace for less than a month and already it’s been well-used. I’ve split wood, cleaned out the ashes and had lots and lots of fires. Last week temperatures were in the -20s. It was so nice to come home from work, light a fire and have dinner in front of the warm glow.

Deer antlers and Ikea Borrby lantern on a barn beam mantel

For me, nothing beats a real wood fire. In its function, as well as its fieldstone facade, it’s a perfect fit for our country farmhouse.

And just to remember how far we’ve come, here’s the full 14-day project:

Fireplace renovation animated gif

Soooooo much better.

Fieldstone fireplace with barn beam mantel

Tips for renovating with your dog

Hello everyone. Holidays are officially over and it’s back to the regular routine.

Except, that is, for today’s blog. I have a different type of post for you.

As you know, before Christmas we redid the fireplace at our house. Today isn’t the full project post, but that’s coming, I promise.

As part of the renovation we had to make some special considerations for Baxter. Today, I’m sharing some of my tips for renovating with a dog over at ThatMutt.com.

Baxter and I would both appreciate it if you’d click over there to read today’s post.

Baxter posing during the fireplace reno

And for That Mutt readers who are dropping in, welcome. My husband and I live on a 129-acre farm in Ontario, Canada. I blog about our adventures in country-living and DIY renovating, which of course includes our favourite furry fellow, our dog Baxter.

Here’s some links to help you get to know us:

Thanks, Lindsay, for featuring Baxter and my reno tips.

Merry Christmas

Christmas stockings hung by the fireplace

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be here.

And yes, we actually have a working chimney and a way for St. Nick to enter for the very first time.

A full fireplace post will come in the new year.

For now, I want to say thank you all for reading. Have a very Merry Christmas. Enjoy the holidays.

Fireplace update – Week 2

Work on the fireplace continues. Our mason originally expected this to be a one-week project, maybe a day or two over. But it turns out our fireplace is large. After two weeks of 9+ hour days, the fireplace is not yet done. But we’ve come a long way.

Last week, the fireplace looked like this.

Masonry fireplace in progress

Now, it looks like this.

Fireplace two weeks in to construction

You heard a little bit about the hearth stone on Friday. Before I get into the other activities from the week, Baxter has a video to share with you about carrying in the slab.

A few other things happened before we were ready for the hearth. First, the chimney went up both inside and out. As you may recall, the old chimney was pretty much the whole reason for this redo. It’s surprisingly thrilling to have a big, solid, proper chimney. My Dad and I still have a bit of flashing to do, hence all of the wrapping.

Chimney wrapped in plastic

The cinder block rough-in was completed, and then the firebox was constructed. That’s what our mason was working on in this photo that you saw on Friday where he’s sitting inside the fireplace.

Mason building a fireplace

The second most exciting part of the week was installing the mantel. When he was building the structure of the fireplace, our mason installed four pieces of rebar. The bars went back into the block about 2 feet and were securely cemented in place. They stuck out on the face of the fireplace by about 1 foot.

My Dad and I drilled carefully placed holes on barn beams that matched up with the pieces of rebar, and then Matt and I slid the beams onto the bars. Voilà, mantel. Or half a mantel. This photo shows the first beam in place. The second beam goes on in front of this one and hides the ends of the rods.

Installing a barn beam mantel

This weekend, I gave the mantel a few coats of clear varathane to protect it and bring out the quality of the wood a little bit more. I’m giddy over this mantel. The rough barn wood is just so beautiful.

Barn wood mantel

If the mantel was the second most exciting, what was the first, you ask? Absolutely the most exciting development of this whole project was seeing the face stone going on. I picked the stone fairly quickly, but then I doubted myself for the past three weeks. Had I picked the right stone? Would it look good in our house? Would I like it once it was installed? Should I have made more effort to source other options?

Well, I love the stone. It’s exactly what I was envisioning. Rough field stone that looks like it could have come from our own farm.

Fieldstone veneer on a fireplace

Here’s another montage of how the fireplace has progressed from the start up to now.

Two weeks of progress on fireplace demo and rebuilding

We have at least a few days yet to go. By the end of the week, everything should be done (although I can’t promise the post-reno clean-up will be complete).

Stone moving party

I was super happy when our stone supplier was able to source a single piece of stone for our hearth. No seams! Score. 🙂 However, now we’re at the point of installing the hearth. Moving a who-knows-how-heavy stone! Not so score. 😦

The stone is 10 feet long by 18 inches wide by 2 1/2 inches thick. Every time it has moved up to now has involved a forklift. However, we face two problems:

  1. We do not possess or have access to a forklift.
  2. A forklift will not fit into our house.

We are relying on people power. Pure brute strength.

I do not have good photos to illustrate the scale of this task because, you see, I really didn’t think ahead to consider the scale of this task.

So here’s the hearth at the far right peeking out from behind the skids of stone back when they were first delivered two and half weeks ago.

Stone for the fireplace

And here’s our mason sitting inside the fireplace, just to give you an idea of the size that we’re working with.

Mason building a fireplace

The plan was that Matt and I would get home from work a bit early last night and together with our contractor we’d move the hearth into place. Well, I made it home, but Matt got caught in a snowstorm and spent two hours on the road. Our mason and I tested moving the stone on our own. Not gonna happen.

New plan. The three of us would reconvene this morning at 6am before Matt left for work.

Matt and I did a test last night when he finally made it home. His verdict? “Woman, I don’t know if this is gonna happen, even with three of us.”

So we did what you always do in this situation: call Dad.

So the new, new plan is a stone moving party at our house this morning at 6am. There will be Matt’s Dad, the mason, Matt and me. Baxter will be here too, though he probably will not be very much help.

Wanna join us? It’ll be a special way to start your day. 😉

I realize most of you will be reading this after the stone moving party has ended. However, we’d still appreciate if you could send your good wishes. Heck, send levitation charms. Send muscle enhancing drugs. We’ll take all the help we can get!

Update: The stone is in place and is still in one piece. Yay! Full fireplace update to come on Monday.

Fireplace update – Week 1

It’s time for the first official update on the fireplace project. You got little tidbits last week, but today you get details and photos.

For a reminder, here’s what the fireplace looked like originally.

1970s fireplace

And here was the plan.

Fireplace fixes

To make this plan happen, we had to start over.

There was no liner or flue in the chimney, so if I wanted a true–and safe–wood burning open hearth, we had to build a proper chimney. That meant starting on the roof and taking everything down.

Demolishing the chimney

Wiley was very helpful during demo. I pulled him up to the edge of the roof and raised the front-end loader so that I could throw the bricks into the bucket and then drive them around to our rock pile.

Demolishing the chimney

Of course, even tractors get tired. All was going well until Wiley decided that one load was too heavy. No tractors or drivers were harmed, but it was definitely an anxious moment.

Wheelie in the tractor

Once we made it inside, it was more of the same: jackhammer, rubble and dust… lots and lots of dust. I’ve concluded that masonry dust is the worst kind of dust. Worse even than drywall dust. My hair has never been as stiff as it was on Monday night (no picture of that, sorry).

Demolishing the fireplace

It turns out there’s a reason for everything. The fireplace is where it is and is the size it is because it’s a chase for pretty much everything you could think of. There were two chimneys to vent the old furnaces that we used to have. There was the fireplace insert and its wonky chimney. And then on the far left, there was a heating duct and cold air return for the pool room.

The bump-out that I hated so much was actually there for a reason. It wasn’t just decorative. It was concealing the heat run to the pool room. Since we’re not using the pool room yet and don’t need to heat it, we just capped off the duct. When it comes time to redo the pool room, we’ll run heat some other way.

Capped heating duct inside the fireplace

After demo came rebuilding, which started a bit slowly. The wall behind the fireplace had to be insulated and then drywalled for fire protection, the duct had to be capped, the hearth had to be expanded, the base had to be laid. But by the end of the week some really good progress had been made. This fireplace is huge, so it takes a lot of time to put it all together.

Building the fireplace

Here’s how the fireplace progressed day by day.

Fireplace demo and rebuilding

We made some really good progress on the mantel yesterday, and we should be able to mount it by the middle of the week likely. I’m not sure that we’ll have everything finished this week, but we’re still on track to have fires by Christmas.