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  • Improving a Fireplace Wall with Cabinetry

    Russell Hudson shows how woodworking can be used to dress up and renovate an otherwise uninteresting wall.

    This house was constructed in the late 70's. The living room's long fireplace wall was made entirely of white cement 'bricks' with black mortar lines between, which was neither warm nor inviting--(much less good-looking!). The new owners wanted the entire wall faced with display and storage cabinetry to surround the fireplace, with a new mantle piece to match. The only thing we left exposed was the stone firebox surround and the hearth's stone cap, which ran the whole width of the room.

    In this first photo you can see the wall being prepped (the original bluestone mantel and shelves chiseled off) and tape indicating the position of the new woodwork to be accomplished (mantle, wall panels and the outside edges of the cabinets left and right). This allowed us to get a sense of how it would look in both size and proportion.

    The homeowners wanted well-articulated woodwork but with bold details, rather than fine decoration. The finished product should be somewhat masculine, including straight lines, and should be substantial. To accomplish this effect, we created block-like corbels for the mantle rather than columns. All of the surfaces were paneled, and a single, large rosette was machined into the face.

    All surrounding wall surfaces were paneled as were the cabinet's side walls. These are true 'frame & panel' surfaces, rather than simply rectangles of applied molding, which is commonly seen in many installations today. Each of the panels sits 1/2" below the surrounding wall surface (frame) with the inside molding placed on the panel and rising 1/4" above the surrounding frame, providing a richer effect. We also chose to insert glass in the upper doors.

    As you can see (comparing first picture to last), the tape helped indicate what the woodwork would look like when finished. These photos were taken before the homeowners personalized the space, filling it with books, pictures, art, crystal, and the painting they had in mind to hang above the fireplace. (I really should go back and take another picture now. Built-ins always look better when completely filled!)

    As is often the case, they were pleased enough that they asked us to do two more projects for them. Their home is much cozier today.

    I hope this article will provide some ideas for the rest of you woodworkers out there. Please find me on the forums and/or visit my home page, which is accessible under my name.

    Russell Hudson / Hudson Cabinetmaking, Inc.
    Comments 20 Comments
    1. David Weaver's Avatar
      David Weaver -
      Fantastic result!
    1. David Nelson1's Avatar
      David Nelson1 -
      I would assume you used poplar for the construction. Looks great.
    1. Noreen Justice's Avatar
      Noreen Justice -
      Breathtaking! Wow is that gorgeous!
    1. Dave Bonde's Avatar
      Dave Bonde -
      Great job, I think my favorite design element is the panels on the bottom that run the full length of your built ins. Outstanding - thanks for sharing. Dave
    1. Ben Arnott's Avatar
      Ben Arnott -
      Outstanding! The design and workmanship is top notch. Great results. This is a huge improvement, and should really provide a high return on investment for the home owners. Thanks for sharing before and after photos too.
    1. DEBRA BOEHMER's Avatar
      Awesome.. Absolutely Beautiful Work....
      But I Love Stained Wood.
    1. Dan Andrews's Avatar
      Dan Andrews -
      A terrific eye for design. Craftsmanship looks topnotch.
    1. Russell Hudson's Avatar
      Russell Hudson -
      Quote Originally Posted by David Nelson1 View Post
      I would assume you used poplar for the construction. Looks great.
      Yup. The right choice for painted work (in the northeast, anyway).
      And... thanks everybody, for the kind words...
    1. Lee Schierer's Avatar
      Lee Schierer -
      Is there a reason why the photos only show
    1. Russell Hudson's Avatar
      Russell Hudson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lee Schierer View Post
      Is there a reason why the photos only show
      You got me. I don't understand why they inadvertently chop off some width when it becomes an article.
      The regular listing has the shots at full width. Frustrating...
    1. Andrea Weissenseel's Avatar
      Andrea Weissenseel -
      WOW can't get my mouth shut Absolutely terrific!
    1. thomas prusak's Avatar
      thomas prusak -
      Great design and craftsmanship.
    1. Frank Townend's Avatar
      Frank Townend -
      Two comments:

      1. I totally agree that it was an uninteresting wall.
      2. The end result is stunning, a great example of your workmanship, and something to be especially proud of.
    1. Trinna Langdon's Avatar
      Trinna Langdon -
      I really love the continuous hearth and the moulding on it. It just ties everything in. Did you ever consider leaving some of the brick exposed during the design phase? I'm glad you didn't. Good call, and excellent design.
    1. Steven G Williams's Avatar
      Steven G Williams -
      Definitely a finished project to be proud of, very very nice.
    1. Kevin Bourque's Avatar
      Kevin Bourque -
      I love the large space above the doors.
    1. James Heisbert's Avatar
      James Heisbert -
      I just love the design! From an uninteresting wall to a beautiful fire place and cabinets.
    1. greg yovich's Avatar
      greg yovich -
      Timing of my joining this group and reading this article is perfect, we're looking at a home with a very similar fireplace (brick), while your style wouldn't fit with the decor, it is very inspirational and helpful if we decide to buy that house. Excellent design and workmanship by the way -
    1. Anthony Alleyne's Avatar
      Anthony Alleyne -
      Beautiful work....Good Job.
    1. Art Mann's Avatar
      Art Mann -
      The cabinetry looks great. I might have been tempted to just close in the area where the fireplace is and fill in the space with more cabinets.