Restoring Butler House's Fireplace Mantles

When Amy and I first visited Butler House (back when we were searching for a unique property to buy), one of the things that stood out was the stack of original fireplace mantles sitting in the first floor (see first photo below). These were removed from the second and third stories during earlier renovations and generally in poor condition. They may have even been slated for the dumpster, along with a lot of other construction materials left in the property, but we made it a condition of the sale that they stayed.

Even after we bought the building, the mantles stayed downstairs for another three years. Our hands were full with bigger projects, and the mantles were very much an aesthetic bonus, but not affecting our everyday use of the space. However, as our bigger renovation projects wound down, Amy and I had the time to take on more specialized projects. High on our fun hit list was restoring the mantles and installing them back onto the dozen fireplaces in the building. You can see some post-renovation, but pre-mantle photos here.

The first step was cleaning - removing layers upon layers of paint that various tenants had applied over the past century. For this, we used a local service – Dip and Strip - who were amazing. Our job was to deconstruct them into manageable pieces and catalog all the parts. It took two trips with two cars, including full roof racks, to transport all the pieces. Two weeks later, all of the pieces were clean and ready. We were blown away when we went to collect everything and saw the beauty of the wood, especially the quartersawn oak.

Now that we could see everything, we performed some final spot cleaning, fixed miscellaneous damage, and stained and sealed everything. This took several weekends of work, but it was exciting to see everything coming together. With all the parts ready, we proceeded two mantles at a time. In addition to carefully reassembling of all the mantle pieces, we also had to pick new fireplace tile and cast iron surrounds, which we had been collecting piecemeal over the past two years.

Overall, we couldn't be happier with the result, bringing a grandeur to the rooms and offsetting the brick walls. In the living room and master bedroom, we decided on working gas sets, which is what the building would have used back in 1904.

© Chris Harrison