Craftsman Log: Uncovering History

Ted McMerty’s house was originally built in 1920 in the Fairmount region of Philadelphia.  The site of the Fairmount Art Museum is planted on Fairmount Hill, which the name of the neighborhood derives from and which is the site that William Penn originally intended to build his house.  Currently, Fairmount Avenue that runs through the area was originally named Hickory Lane, which is only blocks north of Ted’s home.

Ted has tackled many areas of his home going methodically room by room treating each original architectural detail with care  Yet, there was always a ghost in the basement that haunted him.  A white relic that didn’t have a home but instead laid in a neglected heap in the corner of the bowels of the home.  On various occasions Ted had visited with neighbors, a cup of sugar here, a glass of wine there, and soon he saw a familiar face resembling his nagging query in the basement.  The pieces making up the rubble were rearranged and revealed a fireplace surround.   Also, painted layered with a thick coating of white paint, Ted couldn’t help but wonder, what did this fireplace look like when the house was brand new.  Here Ted was peeling back the layers exposing the original soul of the home, and he couldn’t help but let his mind strip the paint back to see the fireplace as it once was.

While Ted may not have been able to see how striking the grain was in the slate under all the paint of fireplace, he could see how well crafted the pieces were, how tight the joints were of the pieces that still stayed intact via the original plaster of Paris used as glue.  As mentioned before, David Wing of Dave Wing Design, had been working in Ted’s home for a while, and he figured it was a project Dave may be interested in taking on, in turn Dave knew it was a project I’d be willing to take on with him.  Dave spent quite a few hours if not days with the original couple passed of paint stripping before I stepped in to help with the detailing of removing paint.  Various scrapers and various tools were fashioned out of fragments of wood in order to dig out engravings, inside corners and remnants of plaster coating previous joints like plaque.  A rhythm was found between paint stripper, paint thinner and finally linseed oil to buff out any scratches and additionally seal and condition the stone.

Upon cleaning all the pieces there were some casualties needing re-fabricating from nominal stock from a stone yard.  A combination of milling with a tile saw and buffing out the saw marks with an orbital sander did the trick.  We will let you look at the photos to discern which ones we may have replaced.  Once we arrived back to Ted’s home with the refurbished pieces and widened chase to mount the fireplace to, we decided to use a similar method of gluing.  The exception or improvement was using a polyurethane glue and similarly spreading it across the back of adjoining pieces like a webbing.  Although, before we were even able to join the pieces together we had to trace one of the legs so that we could cut into and out parts of the floor with an oscillating tool and router to correct for level.  Blue tape, shims and blocking nailed to the walls was employed to brace pieces stationary while the glue set up.

It’s a project I feel quite proud of, and not only because of the look of the natural stone in contrast to the painted stone, but also because old materials weren’t bought and implanted into the space, rather the piece originated from the home, was rediscovered in its original form and reinstalled, bringing the ghost out of the basement and reinvigorating the soul of the home.