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This Old House: fireplace reconstruction

Feb 07, 2024 11:37AM ● By Jen Gennaro

Picture this: we’re already three days past deadline to ship the January issue, thanks to internet kerfuffles and the never-ending Christmas break. The four of us girls are all upstairs working, still surrounded by boxes. The internet decides to play favorites, not quite having the bandwidth for us all to be on the network (AT&T to the rescue again, coming out that night to install wifi extender box thingies). My phone rings. It’s my husband. “Can you come downstairs right now please?” Know this: he rarely calls because he usually leaves his phone in another room. The last time he called me with this tone was during the pandemic, when he gave our Lucy (a child, not a dog) a really, really short haircut. “It was perfect when it was wet, but when it dried, it just kinda…shrunk up?” Anyway, I walk downstairs to find him four feet under. He was standing on dirt. Where a fireplace should be. 


Where is the fireplace. 

What is this dust. 

I cannot compute what is happening.


Turns out the fireplace caved in as he was trying to fix the tile surround. Just another day in paradise, I think to myself as I clippety-clop down the hall in my heels to find a shop vac, a broom, a dustpan, a brickmason, a return receipt on the house, anything??


It’s fine. I’m fine. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from 16 years of marriage, it’s that Mike G can build or fix anything, and it’s going to be done right. 


Over the next week or so, he meticulously rebuilt the firebox using fire cement (even though we know we’ll never burn fire in it) and put in a classic black and white tile surround. Here’s the work in progress. 


Stay tuned for our next trick, which involves the total transformation of a bathroom into a kitchen!