How to create a contemporary fireplace opening with a timber mantelpiece

Timebr etched by bark boring beetle

Unlike in the first floor bedrooms, where the original cast iron fireplaces were still in situ, our Exeter dining room featured a rather ugly, tiled, post-war fire surround. Sorry to all you mid-20th-century design lovers and we did try to sell it, but there were no takers so into the skip it went. No way was it going to fit with the plans Team HBH had for the kitchen / dining room space.

Fireplace before and during works

We’ve opened many fireplaces in both our properties and for clients, as it’s a great way of both gaining a little more space in the room and creating a feature whether or not you can afford a new fire or surround.

In some properties a wood burning stove can be installed, in others clients have wanted a purely decorative, restored Victorian fireplace surround fitted. As there were already cast iron fireplaces upstairs and I was aiming for quite a contemporary look to this room, I decided to keep the opening simple, especially as I’d opted for decorative wallpaper and was keeping the original cupboards in the chimney recesses. If you’re going to open up a chimney breast in this way, have a think about the look you want overall for your property as the choice in fireplace opening can have a significant impact. Also, it’s mucky work so do this BEFORE you decorate!

The concrete tiled beast was broken off, the brickwork and debris filling up the original hole removed and the brickwork cleaned down then varnished to stop the mortar joints crumbling. The flue was blocked to stop soot falling down, the hole created was boarded with clean sharp corners and then the hearth tiled in the same slate as the kitchen floor to give a feeling of continuity and help aesthetically link the two areas.

A trip to a fabulous local salvage yard called Toby’s Reclamation had also resulted in a beautiful piece of treasure! Mr Mr just rolls his eyes when I drag all sorts of bits of timber, stone, pebbles, driftwood (i.e. treasure) back in the car after trips out but this was something special. A long piece of sawn hardwood which had been beautifully etched under it’s bark edging by some form of beetle whilst still in the forest, creating the delicate pattern on it’s fluted side. It was long enough to form a natural mantelpiece across the chimney breast at the same height as the recessed cupboard shelf top, all we had to do was give it a flat edge to the back, sand it down to bring up the grain and add a coat of varnish for protection.

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