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

Looking back at home goals 2014

Before we dive too much into 2015–boy it feels weird typing that–I’m going to take a little look back to my Home Goals from 2014.

I’m proud to say that Matt and I kicked butt in 2014. I don’t mean to sound boastful. But we got a lot done around the house over the past year. Today’s post is about celebrating some of our accomplishments. Woo-hoo!

Here’s the list of my original goals and how we did on each.

1. Painting. Check!

  • Main floor hallway
  • Kitchen
  • New addition – Living room

Hallway painted Benjamin Moore Abalone

Painting the hallway and kitchen was the first project we tackled last year, and we crossed them off the list in February. The living room wasn’t on the list at first, but over the course of the year we slowly got it painted one wall at a time. In fact, we finished the final wall just last week (okay, so it was Jan. 2, but who’s counting?).

2. Laundry room. Check!

The laundry room was my first participation in the One Room Challenge. I love how I was able to transform this utilitarian space with just a bit of paint, some simple updates to the cabinets and a few fun accessories.

Black and white shaker cabinets with chrome hardware in the laundry room

3. Master bedroom. No check.

We were not very successful at the master bedroom makeover. I was supposed to scrape the popcorn ceiling back in the summer but never worked up the effort.

… That is until last week. Yup, the master bedroom makeover is underway.

Matt and I bought a new bed (a king-size one–yipes) just before Christmas. Its imminent delivery motivated me to deal with the ceiling. We’ve got a bit more work yet to go, but that’s what Home Goals 2015 are for (that post is coming up next).

4. Furniture. Partial check.

I had a few pieces of furniture that I wanted to find/make last year. I can cross off about half of my list.

  • Refresh bookshelves and living room TV stand with new trim and paint – More on the bookshelves here and the TV stand here and here
  • Coffee table for the living room
  • Sofa table for the living roomDetails here
  • Hutch/cabinetry/built-ins for dining room
  • Narrow dresser for my officeDetails here
  • Hutch for my office
  • Free-standing cabinet for the hallway to the laundry room – No details, but you can see it with the ironing board hanging on it here

Corner bookshelves

5. Living room fireplace. Big fat check!

I honestly did not expect to be able to cross the fireplace off the list this year, but I can. And it makes me a little bit giddy. We squeaked it in right at the end of 2014. The full wrap-up post is still coming, but I can let you know that the fireplace is fabulous. It was wonderful to lounge in front of the fire over the holidays.

And no, you’re not getting a picture of this yet. 😉

6. Landscaping. Maybe a partial check.

Landscaping continues to be my nemesis at the farm. I did some work outside, but not as much as I had hoped.

Front of the house May 2014

  • Reestablish the flowerbeds around the house. I’m about halfway around the house and have come to the decision that we don’t need flowerbeds on the south side or the back. It will take a lot of work to rip out the old beds, but once I do mowing will be quicker than weeding.
  • Plant grass seed where old firepits were and clean up the detritus that’s still hanging around. Again, halfway done. The grass is growing, but there are a few more piles still to clean up.
  • Tidy the east shore of the pond and build a new firepit near the water. I decided that this task is too big to take on myself, but budget constraints prevented me from recruiting some professional help. Maybe next year.
  • Continue to plant the turnaround. Half the turnaround is in really good shape. The other half we’ve gone with grass until I can work up the energy to make it a flower garden.
  • Put in a vegetable garden. Oh I had such ambitions around this one, but it was a complete non-starter.
  • Continue with the landscaping master list. I don’t think this task is ever going to go away.

2014 was much more successful than 2013. Last year at this time I was quite frustrated with how little I had accomplished. This year, I’m over the moon by how much we’ve done.

Having my goals was really important to help me stay focused. What made the difference this year was translating those goals into monthly projects. Thanks to all of you for sticking with me and encouraging us through 2014. Coming up next, Home Goals 2015.

Was 2014 a productive year for you? What was your biggest accomplishment last year? How do you stay on task?

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).

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.

Milling the mantel

The fireplace is progressing. It’s still just cinder block, but it’s almost up to mantel height. You’re going to have wait a little while longer to see a picture. In the meantime, let’s take a little detour into the making of the mantel.

We started with some big barn beams. These have been lying outside the barn as long as we’ve owned the farm. You can see them beside Matt in this picture from our first summer.

Barn beams

They are huge, heavy hunks of wood. They were more than 12 feet long, and it took my Dad, Matt, his Dad and me to move them, even after Matt cut them down with his chainsaw.

When I came up with my plan to use our barn beams for the mantel on the new fireplace, I hadn’t examined them very closely. I expected the beams to resemble beams. Instead, they were very round.

Barn beams on the forklift

To be a mantel, I was looking for something with some corners. One of the beams had one flat side, but that was it. My Dad found a local sawmill that would cut the beams square for me.

I love finding spots like the sawmill. They’re treasures of unique services and products. The variety of wood they had in their yard was amazing–trees, slabs, boards, logs, crosscuts, exotics, domestics. They mill custom flooring and trim. And of course they have cool equipment. I have to confess I’m looking for an excuse to go back.

After our logs went through the sawmill a few times, we ended up with two beautiful cedar beams 6 inches by 6 inches square. We’re going to sandwich them together to make one big 12 by 6 mantel. We were able to preserve the original flat side on the one beam. That’s going to end up facing into the room where its hand hewn face, complete with marks from the adze that originally shaped it, will be visible.

Attaching these two pieces and mounting them on the fireplace is a whole other issue–and tomorrow’s project. I think we’ve figured out our plan. Fingers crossed everything works out.

Anyone have any tips for installing the mantel? Have you ever custom-milled any of your own wood? Have you ever used reclaimed wood for a project?

Dining room sideboard as living room sofa table

The fireplace project is going well. We got it all down on Monday, and it started to go back up yesterday. Unfortunately, so far it’s rising pretty slowly, so I don’t have anything to show yet.

Let’s turn our attention to another part of the living room… or at least another part of the living room as it looked last week before everything was taken apart.

Last week when I showed you my family photo display, I kind of glossed over the piece of furniture that they were sitting on. Finding a table of some kind to go behind the couch in the living room was one of my Home Goals for 2014. I seem to be posting a lot of Home Goals these days. Credit it to a last minute surge in productivity before the end of the year.

The idea was to find something to hide the back of the couch, have some space for display and also provide some additional storage, mostly for the adjacent dining room.


The story of finding this piece illustrates why I have measurements of the furniture I’m hunting for and a tape measure in my purse at all times.

Someone was moving out of an office at work. The cleanout uncovered a wood sideboard sitting opposite the desk. It looked like it might be close to the right dimensions. I dashed back to my office for my measurements and my tape. A surreptitious measurement session later, I had confirmed that it was the exact right height and the exact right depth. It was a little short, but I had an idea for that. Off I trotted down the hall to find someone with authority to ask if the sideboard was up for grabs. Of course, that turned out to be not the VP himself, but his assistant. She said, yes, I could take it.

Even though I had permission, when Matt and I were loading it into my Dad’s truck the following Saturday, I kept expecting security to come speeding up to the building. Luckily, we made a clean getaway.

Asset control sticker

Back at home, the sideboard fit perfectly in the living room… pretty much. It’s still a bit shorter than I wanted. (I’d love to put a pair of lamps on it and clear off our end tables). Here’s that first photo again. See how the couch is sticking out on either side?


My original plan had been to cut the sideboard in half and insert some open shelving in the middle. A new top and new trim around the bottom would camouflage the addition, and then I’d paint it all out.

Well, once I had the sideboard, that plan didn’t seem like such a good idea. It’s really, really well made, and I feel like chopping it up would be a bit of a crime. (Plus I was told it’s a Krug, which is apparently pretty good furniture). Yes, there are some dings in the wood, but I feel like I’d rather refinish it than paint it. It’s a beautiful colour that’s actually pretty close to our dining room table (which also needs to be refinished).

If I decide I truly cannot live without a sofa table that’s the full length of my sofa, I will probably start over and source or make a complete new one.

For now, this thing is awesome. I love having the shallow drawers at the top. To be honest, I’m only using one of them, but it holds all of my napkins, so I don’t need more space yet.

Napkin storage

For the cabinets themselves, I’m using even less. My piano books take up half of one lower shelf, but other than that the sideboard is empty.

So much for needing storage. Oh well. Let’s call it room to grow. We’re obviously still a work in progress over here.

What would you do with this sideboard if it was yours? Do you have a sofa table, or some another piece of furniture behind your couch, at your house?

Getting fired up

So remember back in November when I said, “No more projects until 2015”?

And remember before that when I talked about the living room fireplace? And before that when I posted my Home Goals 2014? (And 2013?)

Ummm, yeah. So we’re doing the fireplace.

Right now.

The stone–six skids of it–was delivered a week ago. Ralph signed off after a careful inspection.

Ralph inspecting the chimney pieces for our new fireplace

Yes, I believe Santa will fit down this chimney.

We gathered the various barn beams we have lying around (yeah, we’re lucky like that) and picked out a couple of contenders for the mantel. Since they were closer to tree trunks than lumber, on Saturday my Dad and I took them to a local sawmill and had them squared off.

Barn beams on the forklift

Matt and I removed the extremely heavy metal insert yesterday. We emptied the living room to get ready for demo and taped off all of the openings with plastic in a (probably vain) attempt to contain the dust and soot.

I should be clear that this is not a DIY project for us. We do not possess the expertise to build a fireplace. However, a close family friend does. He’s a professional mason, and he did all of the brickwork on my parents’ house, including their fireplace, and worked with my Dad for years. We’ve hired him. So when I say we’re doing the fireplace, I have a loose definition of we and doing.

I’m off work today to help with the take down, and I’m planning to work from home a couple of days this week, but my involvement will be very limited.

Regardless of my minimal contributions, we should have a new fireplace by Christmas.

Now that’s what I call a present.

8 tips for building furniture out of pipe

Pipe furniture is really popular these days. In the laundry room, you saw how I used pipe fittings to build the hanging rack and towel bar. Along the way, I learned a few lessons that I’m going to pass on to you.

8 tips for building furniture out of pipe

1. Pipe fittings are really easy to work with. The pieces go together very quickly. Assembling the towel bar probably took all of 10 minutes. I loved lego as a kid (who am I kidding, I still do), and this was like revisiting my childhood.

Towel rack made out of pipe fittings

2. Pipe fittings are oily. The fittings come in black or galvanized options. I chose the black because it looks more rustic to me. However, the black coating rubs off really easily.

Oil and rust rubbed off of pipe fittings

Before I could do anything with the fittings, I had to clean them. Some people online recommended degreaser, which I’m sure would have worked. I didn’t have any so I tried 2 other options: wiping them down with vinegar (didn’t really work) and washing them with dish detergent. The washing worked. I dried the pipes with a rag and let them sit for 24 hours to make sure the threads and interior of the pipes were completely dry before I did anything with them.

Washing the oil off of pipe fittings

3. Pipe fittings come in different diameters. Pay attention to what diameter you choose, because different size pieces won’t screw together without special fittings. I chose the 1/2 inch size because it was a bit cheaper than 3/4.

4. Pipe fittings come in different lengths and connectors. You should be able to find the pieces you need for pretty much any project…

Black pipe fittings

5. … But if you can’t, the store staff can cut the pipe too. The cutting was one of the dirtiest operations I’ve ever seen. I felt bad for making the staff person get so oily from running the cutting machine. The result though was the perfect lengths of pipe. The machine will also put threads onto your pipe.

6. Pipe fittings don’t screw together fully. You’ll see the threads at each joint.

Screwing together pipe fittings

7. Drywall screws are good partners with pipe fittings. The pipe flanges attach to the walls with four screws. Since I chose black pipe, it made sense to use black screws. The coarse threads on the drywall screws dig into the wall and hold the pipe securely.

8. Attach the flanges to the wall first. Once your towel bar or hanging rack or whatever else you’re building is fully assembled, it can be hard to reach the screw holes in the flanges to attach your creation to the wall. However, attaching the flanges on their own is a piece of cake.

Tips for building furniture out of pipe

I elected not to paint my pipe fittings, although I’ve seen other projects online where people did. The finish isn’t pure black, but it’s a nice industrial dark grey–no sparkle here.

Just in case you’re interested in building your own towel bar or hanging rack, here are the pieces I used. I have to give credit for the hanging rack design to Angie over at Knick of Time. I’m not sure what pieces she used, but I think mine turned out pretty close. I spent a lot of time in the pipe fitting aisle at Home Depot. While my measurements may not be exactly the same as what you need, some of them might work for you and save you at least a bit of time.

Towel bar made out of pipeTowel bar

Dimensions: 10 3/4 inches long (from the outer edge of each flange) and projects 3 inches off the wall

  • 2 flanges
  • 2 elbows
  • 2 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 6-inch piece

Hanging rack

Dimensions: 50 inches long, hangs down 10 1/2 inches from the ceiling and projects 17 inches off the wall
Hanging rack made out of pipe

  • 4 flanges
  • 2 elbows
  • 2 Ts
  • 2 3 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 4-inch pieces
  • 2 15-inch pieces
  • 1 48-inch piece

And just in case laundry isn’t your thing, here are some of my other favourite pipe projects.

If you’ve spent any time on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen furniture, lights, shelves and numerous other things made out of pipe fittings. They add a great industrial style for a pretty reasonable price.

Have you ever made anything out of pipe? Do you have any tips to share? Anyone want to make anything out of pipe? Do you like the rustic industrial look?

Laundry room makeover

You saw the before and after of the laundry room last week. What you didn’t see was the cabinet hardware. Well, it finally came in. Between the sparkle of my new pulls and having an SLR camera for the weekend, I decided to reshoot the laundry room photos. You don’t mind do you?

Black and white shaker cabinets with chrome hardware in the laundry room

Clothespin light in the laundry room

Vintage washboard and red toy iron in the laundry room

Hanging ironing board in the laundry room

Black shaker cabinets with chrome cup pulls and knobs

Enamel basins and infant sleepers hanging in the laundry room

Matt's infant sleepers

Vintage wood hanngers on a hanging rack

Laundry room decorations

Towel rack made out of pipe fittings

Laundry room decorations

Laundry room

Thanks for your patience with my laundry room infatuation.