Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Busman's Holiday

Twice in the last two months I have taken a week off, but being of a control-freak-must-achieve-something-at-all-times disposition I didn't take the time off to laze about. I sometimes suspect I only work to have a rest as days off generally include to-do lists and large amounts of exercise. But this time I had something bigger in mind, namely the hideous 70's fireplace in our lounge:

That photo was taken before we moved in, because a week after that event the delightful object above was in a skip. Sadly we are still living with the shag pile carpet and nasty floral curtains, but one thing at a time...

Firstly we had to have the gap enlarged to fit the little wood burner we acquired on ebay (if it doesn't come from eBay or Ikea it is unlikely to be found in our home), and a nice man charged us a mere several hundred pounds to raise the lintel. Then boyfriend made the concrete hearth and rendered the fireplace with lime plaster, which despite him being trained in such things was a nightmare and more fell off than stuck on. The hoover was permanently out, but eventually it was ready. 

Short pause for discussion about what to tile the hearth with (I won), as I fought to have old fashioned red quarry tiles.  My triumph was short lived as the chap in the tile centre told us you can no longer get them. But can't is not a word I understand so we headed for the reclaim yard up the road and I got what I wanted.

A longer pause then occurred whilst we had another discussion about my idea of making a mosaic around the fireplace. Boyfriend was against this in a big way, his horror when I said it was going to be red too was great, and he reminded me of all those shows on tv when someone has done something mental to their home, de-valuing it instantly.

I stuck my nose in the air, reminded him I was a professional artist and dug my heels in. He gave in and to his credit once he had agreed he resigned himself to it and said not another word. My confidence was somewhat faked though, as I still hadn't come up with a final design, and starting with a little tile I had aquired along my travels dead centre, I basically started making it up as I went along.

Despite wanting my own way with the house, I am sensitive to boyfriend's hatred of anything floral, girly or too ornate so I started with a simple geometric pattern of circles, avoiding too much sparkle. I toyed with squares, but it didn't seem to work and a pattern of decreasing circles in beige, blue-grey and dark brown from the usual mix of broken crockery, tile and bits and pieces emerged.

I took the idea of the gentle curve along the top from the shape of the glass panel in the stove. It was then a matter of filling in the background with some warm red tiles that were hanging about the place, and boyfriend helped by cutting some tricky curved shapes. Then it was just a matter of time, back-ache and wondering why I had started and would I be finished before the new year...

Eventually the tiles were applied, but not yet grouted.  Then it was time for the nice man to return and fit the fire, relieving us of more money. The crazy thing is we were more than capable of doing the work ourselves, but it was cheaper to have a fitter do it (and certify it as safe) than to apply to building regs for inspection.

 The mosaic wasn't finished, but we couldn't resist lighting the fire, and as if by magic, Gimlet appeared and showed his approval.

 Boyfriend, whose taste can always be relied upon (to offend), found us this delightful wood bucket. I think perhaps we can do better... (Back to ebay again)

 Finally it was time to do the grouting, always tricky with such an uneven surface, but I have been making mosaics for years and took my time.

 And there it was finished, boyfriend likes it, I only said 'I told you so' a couple of hundred times and the teen was delighted. She has been banned from touching it, having a love of fires that is a little too worrying. She argued her case well, but I reminded her that people who include the word pyromaniac in one of their email addresses can't expect to be handed matches.

Of course it won't be to everyone's taste, but we are really happy with it, and to have a fire at night to supplement our rubbish boiler is heaven!


  1. How wonderful, Michele! And I think the red is a good choice becasue it will make that area look warm and cosy even when the fire isn't alight.

    The most creative thing I've ever done with a fireplace is a bit of rag-rolling/sponging and anything else I could do with old J-cloths (on fibre-board) round a fireplace that's no longer used. After hours of work, it ended up looking exactly like . . . a slightly different shade of fibre-board!

    1. Ah rag rolling! I remember in the 80's any surface that didn't move had to be rag rolled or stencilled, and although I have seen it done well, most people just stencilled bunches of grapes with dodgy runny paint round the middle of their lounges :-)