Victorian Fireplace Surrounds & Historic Marbleizing

Another one of those things which has been rolling around in the back of my mind for years without a solution (like the living room curtains), was what to do with the fireplace in our living room.  Do we leave it plain? (…that seemed too contemporary for the room) Do we install a beautiful white Cararra marble surround? (…that seemed too grand) Do we put up a shelf?

Recently, inspiration hit and once again I got slightly distracted, (again), from our master bedroom project.

The fireplace surround that existed when we bought the house was not original, and we felt it didn’t look right in its Victorian setting. (Remember, my strategy was to be more historically accurate at the front of the house). When we refurbished the living room we removed both the gas fire and the surround (which we sold on Gumtree), and left a simple plastered opening (which annoyingly isn’t quite straight). As a reminder of what our fireplace looks like, go here to see it when we just finished painting the living room and here to see the room more recently.

Recently, when we visited the Old Bath House Salvage Yard to look for salvaged Victorian radiators for our master bedroom, I got chatting with owner about fireplaces.   I learnt from his extensive knowledge that Victorian fireplace surrounds in smaller terraces like ours were typically made of inexpensive stone or slate and then painted to look like marble or granite.  I wasn’t up for marbleizing, but quite liked the idea of a black slate surround as it would match the hearth.  I was told however that slate surrounds are difficult to find, and he doesn’t normally stock them. This is because the surrounds were designed to be painted, so when the paint effect is removed, you often find that the two sides don’t  match! So my slow background search for a slate hearth began… (ebay and gumtree alerts sorted).

Interestingly, when we visited our friends in Brighton recently, we noticed that their Victorian fireplace surround had in fact been painted – just as the owner of the Old Bath House had told us.   The photos above show their surround . Our friend’s original plan was to replace the whole thing as they found the colours gaudy and didn’t think it could possibly be original – but my recently acquired knowledge came in handy and I was able to tell them otherwise.   They hadn’t even realised that the surround had been painted as it was so convincing!  Once we started looking more closely, we found a few scratch marks in the paint which revealed some black slate beneath.  I was even more convinced that a black hearth was the way to go for our living room.

P.S. Our friend’s plan now is to strip off the paint, and see what the condition is of the base stone. If it is mis-matched, then their back up plan will be to paint over it.




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