Friday, March 4, 2011

Fire in the Hole!

Since the dawn of time man has coveted fire...

And woman has coveted fire...places as focal points for living rooms and great places to display cool things from the forest!

In my case, I coveted the kiva style fireplace. We live in the desert in a "sorta" Santa Fe style house (which is to say we have tile floors and stucco walls) so wouldn't you think the builder would have included one???

Nope - nada. The only fire area in this house was inside the malfunctioning dishwasher (we replaced it).

The lack of fireplace seemed an obvious oversight to me so as we were signing the papers to buy the foreclosure 2 years ago, I secretly resolved to just "add one" after we moved in. No need to bother Dave with the details...he's happier in his renovation darkness.

The living room "BEFORE" pic - it's very plain with no real focal point.
Once we settled in, the lack of fireplace really started to get to me so I started looking into my options.

Natural gas was out since our neighborhood doesn't have any. Propane was out because the one spot suitable for a fireplace is no where near an outside wall and a tank on the roof seems a bit scary.

Making a real wood burning fireplace was a bad idea for three reasons:
1. it would mean chopping a hole through the tile roof (above my pay grade and certainly above my skill level although Barb says the one I cut through her shingle roof never leaked - mind you she's since built a second story over it);
2. getting a permit (always a hassle and I don't even know where the building department is located); and
3. pouring a foundation is super-messy and involves jack-hammers which are too heavy for me to use.

Finally I narrowed it down to two feasible and affordable solutions: alcohol or electric. In our family (we're Irish) it's only acceptable to burn alcohol over desserts so that left electric.

But I didn't want it to look electric. No paper flames crinkling as the tiny fan hummed - I wanted to be able to fool myself (okay - fool myself after a cocktail). to the rescue. I was able to find a realistic looking electric fireplace insert at 10% off!

Now I just needed a place to put it.

I started by creating a scale drawing of the living room and then discovered that while straight lines are easy enough to make, curves aren't. Some folks skilled in drafting use special templates to draw nice even curves - budget-minded me created the "condiment top" template - ketchup, mustard, and taco sauce all have different sized lids (bet you feel like you're learning something cool already, huh?)

I was still having trouble visualizing the space (could have been the mustard and ketchup stains on the paper) so a mock up was needed.

Since the kids were home for a visit, I them to evaluate my plan by rearranging the living room and creating a cardboard version of my new kiva.

This is the view seconds before the whole assembly collapsed.
Their input and the life-sized model really helped me convince Dave that a fireplace was needed. But how the heck was I going to build the thing?

I knew I could build a real fireplace with bricks but that would be expensive and I'd need a foundation to hold the weight. But I really wanted it to look like adobe so I settled on a wood base with a stucco topping.

I could easily imagine the shelf I wanted for the TV and the "banco" (bench) that would flank the fireplace. What I couldn't imagine was the curve of the kiva itself and how it was going to intersect with the shelf unit.

So back to the foam core board I went and created a scale model of the living room checking the look of tall shelves versus low shelves and really focusing on how the heck I was going to build the fireplace itself.
Here's a birds-eye view of the "high shelf" option.

And a birds-eye view of the "low shelf" option.

I always like to peek through the windows to see how everything will look.

We settled on the low shelf option to keep the focus on the kiva itself and I set to work building the skeleton.

I started with the shelf and banco - nice easy straight cuts - the blue tape marks the studs.

Turned out this is where the "easy" part ends...

Creating the curve for the fireplace was a challenge - too many planes to think about.

Erica came up with the idea to use Type X drywall as it is fire rated for 1 hour just in case...
It's like building a wedding cake out of odd scraps of wood and hardboard.
Dave had to add on the last layer - oh if only I were taller!

Once the frame was built, I had to cover EVERY surface with steel mesh to anchor the stucco.
Cutting steel mesh is easy with tin snips...for the first 30 cuts...the last 300 cuts make blisters...
I had to use duct tape to get the band aids to stick inside my work gloves.

I had stuccoed over our brick fireplace in the last house so I knew how the end finish would look - what I forgot (until I was halfway through the first coat) was how I swore I would never do it this way again...sigh.

Adding the first coat of stucco is like spreading old peanut butter over a cheese grater.

Not OSHA approved - don't try this at home.

Once the stucco was dry, I had to scrape every surface to loosen all the little pebbles (which screw up the drywall mud because they make long streaks which creates the effect of sliding cats).

Once I swept and vacuumed and then wiped everything down, I top-coated the whole thing with regular drywall mud.

And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited for the dang stuff to dry. We live in the DESERT shouldn't everything dry faster???

Two days later I top coated and began to wait again.

I was getting a little crabby I admit it.

Wet sanding is only slightly less annoying but my hands were ruined so even that hurt.
And then everything had to be sanded (rubbed) with a wet sponge to smooth out the majority of the peaks. Yup - and that's another reason why I was never going to make "adobe" this way again...sigh.

Finally it was dry.

Looks just like the foam core too much like foam core - I need accessories!

So I primed, painted and fell into a heap on the couch.

I added a couple of Mexican blankets to soften the bancos and add some southwest flair.

My favorite kiva "look" is when they have ironwork crosses. I lucked out and found a nice one at Kirkland Home on sale. I bent it to fit the curve of our kiva and promptly popped off one of the turquoise tips. Now I know why it was on sale. Some super-glue and a quick coating of hot glue to prevent the metal from rubbing on the new paint and I had the look I was trying for!

Finally our living room has a "Southwest" focal point (just ignore Dave's huge TV).


  1. It looks amazing Mum!!!! Soooooooo good. I also love your foam core model, it definitely takes me back to the days when you were planning your "great room" and before I had to get involved. Ahhhh good times. And by the way I thought your blog was super funny so no worries. :) Love you tons!

  2. That turned out amazing! It looks soo cool. I love it. I definitely need to come visit this house. Lots of work and loved the sliding cats comment. Also love you mini scale mock ups, such a good idea. :)

  3. You means the good times BECAUSE you weren't involved yet??? Those days??? Just teasing - thanks for your kind comments!

  4. You are always welcome to visit - sneak into your mum's suitcase at the end of the month and come with!!!

    I have to do the scale mock-up - I'm not smart enough to visualize it all without that :)