45. Hearth Songs

The chimney at the cottage touches three rooms — the kitchen, the living room, and the mudroom. Chimney in mudroomIn the kitchen and in the mudroom there are round openings for connecting up stoves or stove pipes. (The holes are covered with odd metal circles that look like paper plates.) In the living room is the fireplace. Bare brick only shows up in the mudroom, and it is rough. Perhaps that’s why the kitchen and living room parts of the chimney were plastered or paneled over. From time to time I lobby for uncovering the plaster in the kitchen or the living room for a partial-view of rough red brick, but Mr. H. C. vehemently vetoes the idea (quite stubbornly) every time.


This is what the fireplace looked like in August 2011, when we first acquired the cottage. Clara’s knickknacks and collectibles are gone from the mantle, and in their place is the febreeze and tissues!

It’s been a puzzle to us, how we were going to fix up and adapt the chimney for our use. We know it will need work, no matter what we decide. Earlier in the process of rehabbing the kitchen, when we were more naive, we took off the round stove pipe cover in the kitchen (just for curiosity); we discovered it was full of leaves, sticks, ashes, probably mouse nests, bird feathers, and other unmentionables. We quickly put the cover back on and said, “Okay, something else we have to clean before the kitchen reno is finished.”

We were supposed to do that this weekend (in my mind anyway…) but it was just another thing that got put on hold while life happened. It will be next weekend, I think; but it’s just as well because, dear readers, I think you would be totally disgusted by any pictures of this process. So I am off the hook for showing them to you; you are off the hook for having to look at them, and we shall simply move on to other, more favorable aspects of the chimney…


Not that this is very favorable! But you’ll notice that tools have replaced the Febreeze. And notice the paint shadows around the fireplace that tell us where some sort of hearth used to be.

We found this mantle pictured below in Waynesburg at a great little store called Jan’s Country Nook and Hardware. She bought the hardware store several years ago; she has kept the hardware inventory and added her own antiques and collectible finds. There’s everything from hard-to-find screws, antique oil finish, wash basins, quilts, canning jars, and old whatchacallits… A fireplace mantle in the window drew us inside. When we walked in, there were two old timers there looking around and offering their commentaries — “Well look at this, I ain’t seen one a these in years!” “Is that a real stuffed coon? He looks like he’s seen some hard times!” She had several fireplace mantles leaning around, and we found this one that was the perfect size. Well, almost perfect. So we paid our $75 and hauled it away.

Fireplace mantle

This mantle is old (dove-tailed joints) and made of pine, but stain-varnished to look like oak. I love that about it. It was made by a craftsman who just used pine…It was also used for a coal fireplace because it is filthy with coal dust. That’s what gives it the lovely patina! We aren’t sure what will happen when we start to clean it. The stain varnish may come right off and we’ll end up painting it…Ah, the adventures an old house brings!

Only after we got home and leaned the mantle up against the fireplace, did we seriously start looking for gas logs. (See post 41. A Winter’s Eve.) And that’s when we discovered that our lovely little living room fireplace is actually for coal. This was typically done in Victorian houses in bedrooms for a lttle extra warmth. The fireplace dimensions are small, so gas logs are out. What’s in are very nice looking (read expensive) coal baskets.


This is a picture of a coal basket from Four Seasons Supply; they sell these gas-coal baskets to retrofit old coal fireplaces.

Here is a another style from the same company:16c493f0

If you look closely at one of the photos of our fireplace, you’ll see that we already have the coal basket, so we’re hoping to find a unit that just has the burner and the coal thingys. (Oh, I love the exactness of the word thingy — and the best part is it can be substituted for ANY word! Hand me up that thingy… Did you see that thingy I’m looking for?… What are those round thingys in the fireplace?)

Yes, those round thingys in the fireplace are clay balls that were used to hold the heat in fireplaces. Michael counted them as he took them out of the coal basket — 61 of them! We both thought they were odd; most people who come here ask what they are. But while researching coal fireplaces, I found these fireballs. fireballsThey are now the “Contemporary Alternative” to gas logs at the Gas Log Guys website. Fireballs can be purchased in several different colors — brown, white, gray, adobe red, and black. We only have white, but if you like ’em, we, uh, have 61 for sale…

After Michael took out the fireballs, we put the decorative sycamore logs back in the coal grate and went looking for the little cast iron semicircle thingy that used to be in front of the fireplace. We found it and put it back. I cleaned the mantle this weekend (instead of the chimney) and sure enough, the stain varnish is chipping off in places.  We will have to paint it,  or antique it, or encourage its distressed look in some way, but that is more research and another post. Cinnamon brown? Dark gray? Gray-green? (Michael says no to antique white!) Stay tuned. But for now it has been decided — the wood stove with its real fire will go in the mudroom. Stay warm…


41. A winter’s eve

The new fallen snow and ice of winter is beautiful when the sun shines20130103-212845.jpg

or when it lights up an otherwise dark night

or when the icicles glint like crystalline daggers protecting the house within20130106-230655.jpg

or when I am inside sitting by a fire in the fireplace … a mug of fragrant warmth in my hands (a cookie doesn’t hurt either.)


Oh wait, how did TWO cookies get into this picture?

But mostly I struggle with winter.

The gray and the cold; the colds and the blues…
This year it wasn’t even to the first day of winter before I was sick of snow. I was sick of snow, and it hadn’t even snowed yet…
Snow on porch

And yet, the seasons were created for a reason. It’s all a wonderful circle of life, even though in winter there’s not much life visible. (And the visibility is bad for us poor folks who have to drive in it.) One good thought about snow — it protects the fruit trees from cold and makes better fruit next year. Two good thoughts about snow — I got these gorgeous boots for $9.99.


What kind of boots did you think they would be? This is the country after all, and Tractor Supply is my new main store…

There isn’t much happening at Apple Hill this winter. We are huddled in the city house by the fireplace, trying to decide if we can settle for a gas log fireplace in the living room at the cottage. There’s something so soul-satisfying about a real fire. The smell, the crackle, the heat… Ah well, you can get heat from a gas fireplace, but there is definitely no wood smoke or crackling involved. Of course, the lure of just turning it on whenever you want is a tantalizing extra…20130104-211419.jpg

I’ve discovered that many people have strong feelings about fireplaces. So what are yours? A real wood fireplace or gas logs for convenience?


Extra notes for consideration:

  • The gas line is already run to the fireplace
  • We are most likely going to have a wood stove in the mudroom, and the stove has a window in the door for live fire action
  • The fireplace in the living room doesn’t have a flue/damper so serious work is involved.