a blog about design, art and ideas



July 2014

A tale of two stone fireplaces

by Julian Cohen,

This is a tale of two fireplaces that were crafted by artisans in a lineage that astonishes the imagination. The most recent of these fireplaces was built using tools of the post industrial revolution. The earliest of these fireplaces was built using tools that predate the ancient Greeks. These fireplaces are connected by the tradition of the masonary; the art of working with stone, and yet their stories begin more than 400 years apart.

I have designed many limestone fireplaces. These two fireplaces; however, stand out from the others because of common lineage.

The 21st century fireplace

The most recent of the two was one of three fireplaces I designed for a house in Asti, California. I knew early on who the manufacturer would be: Euan Petite. Euan began his career in stone as a mason working on the restoration of the 900 year old Chichester Cathederal in England. I had originally met Euan when he was supervising fabrication and installation for the now defunct Bay Marble in Santa Rosa, California.

Jim Rummel, the founder and owner of Bay Marble was an artisan and visionary. He bought used stone milling machinery from all over the country and by the early 1990s had created one of the most capable stone milling facilities west of the Mississippi. I had collaborated with Jim many times and was familiar with his operations. There was also a traditional stone carver, Gilham Erickson, that had worked for Jim on and off. I called Gilham, visited him at his workshop and knew he was also the right person person for the project.

The team was in place, Euan would build and install the fireplace and Gilham would do the carving. ARC Design, with the help of Irvin Klein, produced shop drawings for Euan and full size templates for Gilham. Gilham's input was vital. His knowledge of stone and historical ornamentation helped refine the design, which was inspired by Romanesque carving. Gilham made prototypes and samples using various carving techniques.

Once Euan had fabricated the fireplace, he arranged to get the parts to Gihlam's workshop, and once Gilham had finished his part Euan again transported the components to the project site and installed them. The results can be seen below.

The French Renaissance fireplace

My clients owned a sixteenth Century French limestone fireplace. Here is the Certificate of Authentication.
They bought the fireplace from Louis at Portalais, in Petaluma, with the intension of using it in a new house that was being designed for them. Circumstances changed their plans, and instead of building a new house they purchased an existing house in Sebastopol dating back to the 1930s. I was commissioned to design an addition to the house and a remodel of the interior. The client requested we make room for their 16th century fireplace. With some simple modification to the chimney surround, John Roberts, the contractor, removed an existing fireplace surround and prepared the conditions so that Euan Petite could install the 16th century fireplace. Euan had to make some repairs and subtle modifications to the French fireplace to make the installation work. Below you can see the results.

A project like this works when a client has vision and commitment and is willing to take a risk, when the contractor pays attention to all details, and when there is an expert at working with limestone and fireplace installation.

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