Bonafide Farm

The hearth of the home

November 19th, 2009 § 0

I’ve searched for an old mantle for at least five years. When I lived in my apartment, I wanted a mantle to make a focal wall and add some architectural interest to an otherwise character-bereft space. I set up CraigsList feeds to scope out any old mantles offered for sale. I searched and hunted but never found a mantle that made me pull the trigger.

And then last May, a mantle found me. I was up at my house, before I closed on it, after the previous owner had held a yard sale to clear out her belongings. There propped up against the wellhouse was the most beautiful old mantle I had ever seen. I loved its proportions, its old black paint, everything. Turns out it was for sale by the man who had helped orchestrate the sale of the farm to me–the brother-in-law of my home’s owner. I asked him how much he wanted for it, and at the time felt too directionless to accept his offer. The mantle disappeared, but didn’t leave my mind.

All summer I thought about it. And then when I got to the point with the house where I needed to figure out what to do to the interior fireplace bricks and potential hearth, I knew I had the perfect mantle in mind. I called up the man, who’s a woodworker, and went down to his shop. We struck a deal, and on Saturday he delivered the mantle back to the farm. My parents and I horsed it into the house and against the bricks. Miraculously, it’s fit was darn near close to perfect. And  I love it.


Turns out its previous owner had removed it from a home built in 1840 in Farmville, Virginia. It still has its original coat of black paint on it, which I’ve heard is incredibly rare for a mantle that old. The paint is crackled and gorgeous, and all I plan to do to the mantle is wash it down and wax it to bring out the beautifully faded finish and exposed wood grain. I think I will add a big bluestone hearth below it, and a cute little Jotul stove similar to the one I fell in love with in Alaska. After I paint or parge the bricks, it should be pretty neat.


I made a change from the plans and decided to keep the kitchen and living room open to each other, instead of building stub walls with five-foot pocket doors as I originally drew. I think it’s an interesting effect, to enter into the lower ceilinged, cozy living space that the opens up into the vaulted ceiling in the kitchen. We’ll see. If I change my mind, these are easy walls to add after the fact.

On Sunday, I had my first porch picnic with my parents. The porch is now officially broken in! We’d gone up to try the mantle on for size before I cleaned it up, and ended up staying all day picking up leaves. Dad blew them into piles, Mom and I picked them up and put them in the bucket of the tractor, and then I drove them down into the woods and dumped them. I had quite a massive pile by the time I was done, and I am keeping them all piled up so that they’ll hopefully decompose into very nutritious leaf mold for next year’s garden. It was a fun, gorgeous day, and it felt good to be looking after the house. We had a gorgeous pink sunset, which I enjoyed from the new front porch.


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