Katy Elliott

A daily design journal about new england life, home decorating resources, and renovating a 257-year-old house in Marblehead, MA.

Green Molding with Yellow Accent

Posted on | September 28, 2011 | 12 Comments

Over the weekend I was traveling for my daytime gig; I hate flying but enjoy the 2-3 hours flipping through magazines. The green molding on the October issue of Veranda caught my eye. Inside a renovation of a 1920’s estate in Nashville depicts grandeur in a pastel palette designed by Barry Dixon. The Robert Kime linen curtains (available through John Rosselli) glows yellow against the green molding. The rest of elements are a bit fussy for me but work well with hints of blue.

This is the third time yellow has caught my eye and had me thinking about my den painted in Farrow & Ball’s Verte De Terre. Below a room from the RIBA exhibit—interior design by Max Rollit. A yellow acidy sofa is a nice contrast to the green. In Ben Pentreath’s house a boxy Max Rollit sofa warms a room full of antiques and textiles. The walls are neutral but hints of sagey greens can be seen on chairs and the ottomon. The acidy yellow compared to a flax linen sofa feels warmer and more inviting in the depths of winter.

I’ve gone back and forth on upholstering a sofa in a acidy yellow but I’m a little fearful. Will I hate it in a few years? What if I use it on a chair instead? Curtains are a no; I think the room is too small and interior shutters feel more appropriate and less fussy.

RIBA exhibit

Ben Pentreath’s yellow boxy sofa.

My den with molding in Verte De Terre and walls in James White from Farrow & Ball.

Images above from Veranda, Style + Pretty, Ben Pentreath and Katy Elliott.

Related Posts:
Searching for the Perfect Sofa
Boxy Sofa with Pillows
Robert Kime Floral Fabrics
Historic Interior Shutters

Restoring Fireplaces From Historic New England

Posted on | September 27, 2011 | 10 Comments

Mantle and firebox from den in August 2010

Last week I shared part one of my query received back from Historic New England regarding preservation for my home. I’ve been a bit confused how to properly preserve and renovate my chimneys and fireboxes. It’s something that’s become a bone of contention—weather we should use stainless liners, thermocrete or nothing. I wanted to hear from the experts and get a preservation’s perspective.

We have four flues and three fireplaces that are exposed and one behind a wall. On the second floor of the house I would love to get two of the fireplaces working again. The den the room we’ve been working on for years now is my biggest priority. The second room will become a bedroom and I’m not as committed to having a functioning fireplace but the mortar in the firebox does need some work. Below tips from the experts as well as photos of each of our fireplaces.

Historic New England: Making old fireplaces functional is usually a matter of selecting which individual fireplaces are most desirable for active use since it is inadvisable from a safety and preservation perspective, and often cost prohibitive as well, to restore every flue and fireplace in a old or historic house to full operability. Regular use of fireplaces in an old chimney can stress the historic masonry and create opportunities for a fire. The safest approach involves adding a flue liner to the fireplaces that will be used and capping and/or sealing off the others.

Historic New England recommends use of a stainless steel “floating” liner in historic chimneys as floating liners do not alter or damage historic chimney masonry. A poured-in-place liner essentially replaces the historic chimney structure with a new solid masonry structure in which the old chimney is made redundant. While the poured in place liner is perfectly acceptable as a means of making an old chimney functional, the lining cannot be removed at a later date and thus violates the first principle of architectural conservation, that whatever modifications are made to an historic structure ought to be reversible without damaging or destroying the historic fabric of the building. Exceptions might be made to install a poured in place liner, for example, in a flue used for a heating system, which receives heavy use and requires a higher safety standard, or for a more recent or modern chimney, but if possible, introducing a poured in place liner into an old or historic chimney should be avoided.

Among the possible downside risks to the poured-in-place liner is the potential for the lining slurry to create pressure on or burst through a weak point in the masonry. The downsides of the floating stainless steel liner are 1) the need for a relatively straight shot for the steel liner (which cannot accommodate a significant angle in the flue) to run from the flue opening to the firebox and 2) the limited life span of the stainless material. These considerations may affect or limit the fireboxes selected for lining.

Within the fireplace opening, selective replacement of deteriorated brick may be necessary. A restoration mason should be able to replace individual brick in the firebox itself and repoint in an appropriate mortar. Traditionally, protected sections of 18th century chimneys were laid up using clay mortar, but the fireboxes and the exposed sections of the chimney at and above the roofline used a lime mortar as the lime mortar was more durable and weatherproof than clay. Care should be exercised not to introduce a modern Portland cement mortar into a historic masonry structure as the modern mortar will be stronger than the historic brick and cause cracking and deterioration. A high lime mortar, with very little cement and a high proportion of sand, is typical of historic lime mortars: one part cement, 4 parts lime and 12-15 parts sand may be used as a guideline. In historic masonry, the mortar is considered a “sacrificial” material, intended to give way, to flex within the structure, to absorb and release moisture from within the structure, and periodically to be replaced by digging out the old mortar and pointing with new.


Traditionally, the area around the fireplace opening inside the mantel, would have been parged, or coated, with a lime plaster, and then painted/stained black. Only high-style houses would have had tiled fireplace surrounds in the 18th century and many of those now present on older houses were likely to have been installed in the late 19th or early 20th century.

For more detailed information on the construction of fireplaces and brick manufacture, see A Building History of Northern New England, James L. Garvin, published by University Press of New England. Also useful is “Chimneys and Flues” by Russell Taylor:
For more detailed information on traditional mortars, see “Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings,” National Park Service Preservation Brief #2 available on the NPS website at nps.gov.

Capping unused flues at the roofline without a highly visible chimney cap may require a custom solution. Pop-up dampers, such as the “Chim-a-Lator” at Volko Supply, may have a sufficiently low profile (if painted black) not to obtrusive visually. If the chimney is not to be used at all, a bluestone cap can be mortared in over the chimney opening. Chimney “balloons” are available to place inside an unused flue but you can also fashion your own “balloon” using a “pillow” fashioned from house wrap (Tyvek, for example) stuffed with loose fill fiberglass insulation and stapled and duct taped at the seams. Extra caution must be taken, however, not to place anything in a chimney or flue that may be subject to heating or cross-over sparks from an adjacent flue.

On the second floor in the bedroom. The shelf is not original and needs to be removed. I don’t need to having a working fireplace in this room but it would be nice to light in the winter.

First floor in the front part of the house. A heating system was being vented through this flue.

First floor in the back of the house. We think we have a fireplace behind this wall. This room will become our kitchen and dining room. Would be fun to have a working fireplace.

Related Posts:
Historic Interior Shutters from Historic New England
Learning More About Chimneys
Day 3: Brick Chimney Rebuild

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