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DIY brick hearth!

Brick fireplace, lacquered

The fireplace in the study is currently in disuse, but it deserves to be a standout feature. And since we’re getting a heat pump installed inside it this month, it was urgent that we clean it up and make it useable. Let’s call this the first part of a two-part fireplace makeover?

(The homemade-computer situation is pretty scary, too, but that’s also being tidied.)

The fireplace been boarded up, and when we removed the carpet and refinished the floorboards, we saw that it didn’t have a hearth, either. I’m guessing it had bricks or tile demo’d out at one point, with a spare piece of timber stuck down to fill the gap. (It feels like so long ago that this room had purple walls and blue carpet.)

Before laying the hearth, though, I painted the existing brick surround. Natural-brick lovers, you’re welcome to say your piece, but this isn’t weathered, character-filled brick here. This is very ordinary brick that’s been covered in yellowing lacquer. I wanted it opaque white to meld with the wall better, especially with the continuing horizontal lines along the top and bottom. I also had California-cool midcentury painted fireplaces in the back of my mind. Predictably.

(via de Lisle, Philpotts and Staub Interiors)

(Why can’t I live in youuuuu.)

So I painted our fireplace with Zinsser BIN primer (to make the paint stick to the lacquer) and Taubmans water-based enamel in Winter Mood, the same gear I’ve been using for all my white trims and cupboards. Looks indistinguishable from the inspiration image, no?

After painting the surround, it looked even more stupid without a hearth. Good thing that was next.

I know little and less of masonry, but felt more confident with mortar after the two of us were laying brick edging in the front yard. (Future post.) Jamie was out of town for three weeks, so this is a job I carried out on my own.

And this was how I built a hearth where there was none:

1) I determined how large the hearth would be by using the existing bricks on the wall. The existing fireplace is six bricks long, so I extended the hearth to eight bricks long. From there it was easy to figure out a pattern and how deep it’d go. (The existing bricks on the wall also let me know that I wanted to stand the bricks on their sides rather than their faces.)

2) I then drew the pattern for my bricks, knowing that three bricks on their side would equal the length of one brick. I figured I’d need 40 bricks, which I got from a salvage yard in Mornington for $20. Ten of the bricks were solid. Those guys would form the front and side faces.

3) Using 10mm gaps for mortar and the standard measurements for a brick (230 x 110 x 76mm), I determined the dimensions I’d need for the underlying cement board and cut it to size. (Score it with a stanley knife, then bend it and it’ll snap.) I marked the corners, then lay the cement board in place with a bead of Liquid Nails.

(I did some reading to figure out the best substrate for the hearth and figured that cement sheeting would do it, like this. The tradie working at the hardware store depot said that it was fine for a hearth as long as it didn’t have flame directly touching the brick.)

4) With the cement board in place, it was time to clear the room, lay a heavy-duty dropcloth, and move in all my materials:

All up, it cost about $120, including the tools I didn’t have (trowel, mixing bit). I lay masking tape around the edges of the cement board, put on a pair of gloves, then got to work.

5) Using the large bucket, water pail and drill with mixing attachment, I mixed the mortar on the front patio using the directions on the bag. (Outdoors, because I didn’t want a cloud of cement particles floating through the house.) The drill made my life a whole lot easier. No photos of this unfortunately, because I was trying to work quickly, but you want to get mortar to a workable consistency. Like “creamy mashed potatoes,” but with wet sand. It’s not a sticky paste, it’s just wet, gloopy sand.

6) Once the mortar was mixed, I glopped it onto the cement board, using enough to lay a few bricks at a time. I spread it around with the bricklaying trowel and floated it, running the trowel over it to bring water to the surface. The mortar layer was about 10mm thick. After the bricks were laid down, I smooshed mortar between them with the trowel and used the rubber mallet to tamp them perfectly in place.

7) Once the bricks were all mortared, I gave them one last rinse, then let them dry and cure for three weeks. After that, they were primed (this time with water-based primer) and painted to match the rest of the fireplace brick.

Much better already! It’s so much more grounded with a proper hearth.

Next up: cleaning the inside of the fireplace (you can see that’s in progress right now!) and getting a heat pump installed. It’s starting to cool down, too, so I feel good about getting this done. Tell me about your fireplace or awesome heating system, if you’ve got one. I want to believe.

Other updates in the study: Initial plansfurnishingsflat file storageDIY linen-weave roller blinds.

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