Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Fireplace Woes

We are very lucky that our flat has many gorgeous original features. In fact one of the main features that caught our eye when we first viewed the property is this stunning marble fireplace with Delft tiles.

 A fairly simple design, it's not as grand as it's drawing room counterparts elsewhere in the building but personally, I'd take a marble fireplace over a wooden one any day. It's such a stunning material and one which over the course of our renovation, has now been utilised in different spaces within our home (perhaps subconsciously inspired by this very fireplace)!

Ooh shiny!
Gorgeous Delft tiles

Isn't she a beauty? The fireplace in the living room, by contrast, was lacking in lustre!

What could make the 50's tiles even better, you ask? Stick on metallic horoscope tiles, that's what!

It's difficult to make out but the fireplace had been boarded up and re-tiled meaning the original Victorian tiles were long gone. The first two things we did on the day we took entry of the flat were to rip up the sunflower carpet in the living room and take a hammer to the bricks in the fireplace. Step one of 'project fireplace' complete. 

The re-tiling of the fireplace probably occurred in the 1950's when the building was converted into flats as the crackle glaze tiles are reminiscent of this era. At some point the fireplace surround had also been painted. Not ususual. However, we had an inkling that something might be lurking beneath the layers of paint and as people who like to get stuck in, true to form, we took a run at solving the mystery!

You should always wear a face mask and allow ample ventilation when using paint stripper. Clearly, I have a death wish.


Armed with a vat of paint stripper, some rubber gloves, a paintbrush and a wallpaper scraper, we set to work. First of all, we painted thin layers of Nitromorse (paint stripper) onto the top layer of paint. This causes the paint to bubble and blister, so it's easier to scrape off (note that 'easier' is a relative term).

You can start to see what we uncovered underneath- marble!


Unfortunately, we also uncovered layer upon layer of paint including at least one layer of black paint which, when the Nitromorse was applied to it, turned into a sticky gooey tar-like substance, nigh on impossible to remove. Unlike the other paint, which became slightly rubberised in texture and peeled off without too much effort, this black muck clagged up into tar and became stuck to the scraper, the fireplace, our hands, smearing sticky gunk over everything it touched. Yummy.

In case you weren't sure, I can confirm that this is an extremely messy job!

What should have been an afternoon's work turned into an epic paint stripping marathon which went on for so long that in the end we gave up until the imminent re-decoration gave us the push we needed to tackle it all over again. Not recommended.

Buoyed by the relative progress, I also tried to prise off one of the yellow tiles with the scraper to see if there were original tiles underneath. There were not. However, in my vigour (ok, brute force) I managed to make a bit of a mess of the existing tiles by breaking two of them. In fairness the removal of the eclectic horoscope and other assorted tiles (which had been stuck on by the previous owner) didn't help the cause. 

The tiles looked awful and with the painter about to start, I knew I couldn't have the room decorated without first addressing the problem.

With funds depleting into the renovation and enthusiasm waning, I decided there was only one thing for it- spray paint! So we now have a lovely marble fireplace surround with battleship grey spray painted tiles inside it- how's that for a contrast!

It kills me to note that there are still areas of black paint on this fireplace in the hard to reach nooks and crannies that no amount of elbow grease will remove. Deep breaths!


The next step is to find some Victorian reproduction tiles which we'll have laid on top of the existing ones. This actually shouldn't be an expensive job but it's something I'm taking my time with because I feel a responsibility to put something in which, while not original, will be appropriate for the space. I know there will be those purists who like the retro tiles and abhor the fact that I've covered them in cheap paint and in a mid-centrury modern home, I can see that. However, throughout this project we have tried hard to preserve the period features and re-instate them where they have been removed so I am working with that constantly in my mind. We're not trying to be radical, just faithful to the history of the property.

Perhaps in another 60 years time, someone will even mistake the reproduction tiles I install for original? Who am I kidding- they'll probably paint the whole thing- surround and all- jet black and kick start the cycle once again!