Sunday, December 27, 2009

With Cherry on Top

It's one of those projects that's taken years rather than days or weeks to execute, and it's still a long ways from done, but at least one major step was accomplished in the last few days.
When we bought our house with its interesting hexagonal living room, one of the areas that I thought could be improved was the wall with the fireplace. It was divided into two halves, one side brick to the ceiling with the fireplace and hearth, and one side covered with rough cedar planking as a sort of paneling. The most important omission of course, was a mantel, someplace to hang the Christmas stockings from and display a few knick-knacks. I never took any photos of the wall in its original form; you'll have to get this picture from the younger set's second birthday as an approximation.

I thought something more like a Craftsman style would go nicely, something simple and not too ornate, and I drew up a plan that would put some paneling over the brick with an opening around the fireplace and a simple shelf between the wall on one side, and some new cabinetry that would go on the other side, someplace to hold all the DVDs and CDs and stereo bits.
Starting in December of 2005, I went to work on the brick side of things. I drilled some holes in the brick and epoxied in some bolts to hold some plywood in place that would in turn have some paneling and the mantel attached.

I cut some plywood to fit and installed it, then put some thin prefinished cherry veneer ply over the top. I figured a new mantel would be held up by the wall on one side and the cabinets on the other, but put some more bolts sticking out through the plywood in case I thought of a way to float a shelf instead. We didn't actually need a place for the stockings that year, as we spent Christmas in Boise with my family, so the mantel got put off for a bit. A long, long bit. By the next Christmas, we needed something for those stockings, so I hacked together a bit of pine board as a temporary solution. Here's a picture, from our curly-haired offspring's fourth birthday party in 2007. I'd moved the thermostat into the hall, but thermostat bits remained behind for the longest time.

And there the project sat. Until early in 2009, when I decided to tackle the other side of the wall, the one with all the cedar planking. I was curious what was behind it; from what I could see, it looked to be ordinary drywall. I pulled all the planks off, and sure enough, it was drywall, full of holes from the nails that held the planks on, and with about a three inch gap to where the fireplace brick started. Curious. It looked like the chimney had been built after the space had been drywalled. I spackled the holes and wedged a 2x3 into the gap so it would support a bit more drywall, and this picture of a certain someone's sixth birthday party has a bit of the result in the background.

Once my work contract ended a couple of months ago, I figured I would have plenty of time for finishing off the project, but various other tasks, sickness, sleeping way in, more sickness, and a general lack of tuit intervened, until a couple of weeks ago, when I finally got to putting up the drywall bits to cover the gap, which a summer energy audit from the power company had shown to be a major heat escape route. Our gas bills are high enough, thank you very much. I considered repainting, and then thought I'd just run the paneling all the way across. It was intended for the back of the eventual cabinetry anyway. I cut and installed some more cherry veneer plywood, then got to work on the all-important shelf.
In the interim between putting in bolts for the mantel and actually doing something with them, probably sometime in 2007, I'd discovered that IKEA had a floating shelf as part of their LACK line that was very similar to what I wanted. They didn't have one in cherry, but I bought one anyway, thinking that perhaps I could either veneer it or just use the mounting hardware, especially as it was only $30. It didn't fit the space exactly, but it was close, and I could have tried either method. I wound up deciding to build my own shelf over the steel hardware. I had to drill some new holes in the mounting bracket to fit my bolts, but that part worked out very nicely. I made a simple torsion box with some light plywood, like so.

This is the glue step with more of my thin cherry plywood for the top and bottom of the shelf.

And this is what it looked like after I applied some 2" cherry veneer tape to the front and side edges, and applied some corbels I purchased from a woodworking supply store. I think I'd purchased these materials back in 2007 as well, around the time I picked up the shelf from IKEA. I applied some finish so they'd look roughly like they belonged together.

The next day, Christmas Eve, with the assistance of my short helper, we put up the mounting hardware.

Fitting the shelf over it was a little trickier on the wall than in the garage, since the wall was not entirely flat despite my best efforts, and hitting the internal holes in the shelf with the support arms was a bit of a challenge. I wound up sticking some pointed bits of wood in the ends of the support arms to guide them into the holes deep inside the shelf. After more fiddling and trips to the garage for sanding and fitting, the shelf was finally installed and screwed into place, just in time for our guests to arrive. We put up the stockings, ready for a visit from St. Nick that evening. He did not disappoint!

Now there's still a bunch of trim to add, and the whole cabinet plan may or may not happen, but hey, a mantel! And it only took four years (so far)!