Thursday, January 13, 2011



"Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell."
Joan Crawford

The 24 foot Penske truck was packed back to front and top to bottom with approximately one fifth of our New York office, apartment and weekend home possessions. Rick, Emmy and I sat in the cab, our dog Buddy perched on Emmy’s lap. I gunned the engine and it was off to a new life in Madison, Wisconsin. My mom was slipping slowly into the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s and we were set to move in with her to help out, make her life a little easier and lift some of the burden off of my other siblings. We backed the truck, which in my view was an inch short of being called a semi, into my mom’s driveway in the heat of mid-August 2009. We expected to be greeted with open arms but within a week of, “Whose furniture is this?” “What’s all this junk doing in my garage?” and “Who’s that girl sleeping in my back bedroom? I didn’t ask her to stay in my house," we decided living with this woman who had become possessed by Joan Crawford was not such a good idea after all.
And thus began the search and our eventual move into our own apartment, a few miles away from Mama Joan but close enough so that I could get there in five minutes if I had to. Our criteria were a minimum of two bedrooms, two baths, and a fireplace, the essential necessity for our southern boy in order to get him through the frosty winter months.
What we got was a bedroom and a loft, a bath and a half, a garage, laundry room and a fireplace in a cathedral ceilinged living room all spread out over three floors.  Space wise, coming from New York City, this was palatial. The only issue was everything was as beige as beige could be. The walls were all beige. The floors were all carpeted in beige. The blinds were beige. Even the lighting tended to look beige. The bright spot was the golden glow of the fire in the fireplace. So we decided to tackle the fireplace as our first effort of converting the beigeness we were surrounded by to a brighter more stylistically sympathetic focal point of our new digs.

Here’s how we did it.
We decided on a style. Rick kept thinking the bones of the apartment complex evoked a cottage feel, the kind of look you think of when traveling around the countryside New England.

To achieve the cottage look we began investigating materials we thought had a bit of country roughness to them, the kind of low grade material used on a cottage where years and years of paint would have been applied giving it that dichotomy of rough yet smooth. At Home Depot we found 4 x 8 sheets of exterior siding for $26.97 per sheet. The tongue and groove look and the scale of large boards to narrow recesses was exactly what we wanted. We had to buy three sheets to cover the entire front of the fireplace and the six-inch returns on either side.

Color was our next delimma. Rick wanted a high gloss paint to achieve that glossy look of heavily painted wood. We didn’t want to have to apply too many coats. We wanted the grain of the wood to show through and retain the roughness we wanted to highlight. We, well Rick, settled on another Home Depot product, Benjamin Moore paint in Calypso Blue. The blue/green was a thread running through our existing furniture and by choosing a vibrant hue from this color scheme the vertical thrust of the fireplace made it the perfect centerpiece of the living space.

The mantle was another low cost item. We cut a 2 x 12 pine plank we bought for $7.72, painted it high-gloss Decorators White and attached it the wall with 11 inch Ekby Stilig brackets we bought at IKEA for $6.00 a piece. We chose to off-center the brackets to duplicate the rhythm established by the off-center fireplace. The asymmetry of the mantle helped to make the asymmetry of the fireplace look intentional rather than a mistake.
We happened to meet a metal worker through one of the women Rick worked with at the local department store. We had him cut and drill out a metal surround and hearth to cover over the hideous existing beige tile. We’ve let the metal erode choosing not to seal it so slowly we are getting that beautiful rust color to complement the Calypso Blue of the wood. Our iron worker charged us $100 for all of the metal

The final touch was the white molding that framed the surround and covered our edges forming a holding line outlining the fireplace separating it from the walls and windows.
Total cost of materials: less than $225. Now we’re ready to light our fire.

Raku (ra ku)
The process of firing pottery at a low temperature and then placing the smoldering pot in a closed container with combustible materials which ignite in a ball of flame when they touch the outer shell of the transforming clay. When the surface of the pottery cools its beauty is revealed like a butterfly with multi-colored shimmering swirls of color like oil floating on water and reflecting the sun.

Kerry Gonzalez
Gonzalez Raku 


When I was in junior high school there was an adage that circulated through the boy’s locker room. One of those stories that ended with the flick of a towel and a bunch of fourteen year-old testosterone induced giddy laughter. It went something like if you put a bean in a jar every time you had sex during the first five years of a marriage (remember this was the early 60’s when wedlock was the only acceptable way of getting to homeplate) and then took a bean out for every score there after you’d die with a pile of beans still filling up that jar. It was supposed to be a joke but the more I think about it the more I’m beginning to think there’s more truth than buffoonery here. In the fifties and sixties marriage was a lifelong commitment. You stuck it out whether you remained in love or not. After five years of bliss I guess a lot of those marriages ran out of romance and those beans kept staring back out of their little glass prison.
Making a fire on those icy winter nights has turned out to be a lot like sex. The first year in our new place that fireplace blazed morning, noon and night. Now, not so much. There are a thousand excuses: we’re out of fire starters, no one wants to go down to the garage to haul up the wood, the cost of a cord or wood went up a hundred bucks, we can’t find Woody the woodman’s phone number. Right now, in year two of our fireplace, we’re running way beyond that first honeymoon year of gorgeous blazing fires.
So how do we get the romance back? Where’s our cord of wood? How am I going to ignite that fire one more time? Who’s got the match to get us warm again? It’s only January and in Madison terms that means we’ve still got another three months with the possibility of snow covered eaves and a reignited hearth blazing away.


Lynn Davis
Iceberg X Disko Bay Greenland 2004
Represented by Edwynn Houk Gallery 

1 comment:

  1. How are you doing Rick?

    and I love the fireplace!