Upon moving in, we found this area very strange. It consisted of a boxy 1970s-era wood- or coal-burning stove atop a mess of fiery orange brick-like tiles that had been hastily spraypainted white. Unfortunately, the sprayers didn’t properly secure the area, and the overspray reached the original wood floor and window trimmings. Did I mention the area above the fireplace was created with mirrors? Classy.
Initially, we hung curtains in front of the mirrors to distract from their stark reflections. In order to do this, I purchased a long brown curtain rod ($12 at Big Lots), extended it to the appropriate length, and bent it to a 90 degree angle. We installed the curtain hooks from the wood trim near the ceiling and hung some beige sheers ($4 each at Big Lots) so that some light could reflect through the mirror and brighten the room still. That temporary solution worked wonders; people really thought we had a window back there!
When family came to visit wanting to work on projects, we attacked the area full-force. I had a specific idea in mind of what I wanted as a final product, and I tried to explain my idea using this pinterest board, but I found myself frustrated trying to explain my ideas to everyone else. Regardless, we got to work. Here’s how it all went down.
0.5) Move the stove. This was insane, and I think it deserves a step of its own, but it wasn’t really part of the restoration process. The thing weighs probably close to 600 pounds!
1) Remove mirrors. We used small shims and prybars to remove them without cracking. I listed them on Craigslist Free and they were gone within hours! We also removed the wall-layer of tiles. I used these to test out coloring for the paint I’d eventually use on the rest of the area.
2) Fix plaster wall behind mirrors while sanding and staining new wood trim. Luckily, having a team of 4 allowed us to do all this at the same time! Note: we purchased pine for some of the living room, but pine DOES NOT STAIN well! Only the poplar pieces worked, and we had to replace the pine pieces with poplar. The wall took the better part of a day on its own, since it requires so much time between layers to dry. Typical drywall-fixing tools and techniques were used for this.
3) Paint the wall. It’s not super-evident from the photo (or even in person), since we divided the areas with wood, but we couldn’t quite match the color!
4) Prime the weird tiles. I used Kilz primer in white, and it really cancelled out even the parts where the original scary orange peeked out. Before priming, I did a little sanding to remove some of the drips the amazing spraypainters had left, since the drips were dimensional enough to show through.
5) Paint the tiles. This is the part I’m most proud of. I brought images from my Pinterest board to Home Depot and had them mix 3 tiny sample jars: one dark green, one light/lime green, and one brown. I used a stiff-bristled brush to paint the grout areas dark brown. At this point, it looked like a subway to me! I also created fake grout lines to make it look like some of the tiles were thin or uniquely shaped. I did this freehand (the original tiles of this time period would not have been perfect squares or rectangles). Then, I used watercolor brushes to brush on thin mixtures of the three colors individually on each tile. I completed 2-3 layers of wash on each tile, doing them individually because the original tiles would have all looked unique. After I was satisfied with my work, we coated the entire area with 3 coats of clear flame resistant sealer for shine and durability.
6) Install the stained wood and quarter-round.
7) Purchase just the right stove! We found a refurbished early 1900s model from a man in San Diego who refinishes these pieces himself. He moved the exhaust from the top to the back for us, ordered a custom reducer pipe to make sure it fit in the opening properly, and lowered the feet to ensure the stove would sit perfectly on its perch. The antique cast-iron stove, even with its custom work, was a steal at $725 (new ones cost $1400+).
I can’t believe how much of a difference this area makes in the whole home, not just the living room. People exclaim that they thought we’d bought new tile and installed it, or that it looks like it’s really original to the 1906 home! This project was truly a budget undertaking, and it looks extravagant.