MICHAEL FITZSIMMONS DECORATIVE ARTS
Over 30 years specializing in the Arts & Crafts field
Fireplaces + Custom Furniture
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On the left is the library in a vintage apartment before work was done.  The overall feeling is a little chilly, an impression not helped by the white painted fireplace face and light upholstery.  The view on the right shows the room now.  The trim, as in the rest of the apartment, was repainted from stark white to a soft taupe-y tan color.  We tiled over the existing fireplace face with soft blue-glazed tiles, and reupholstered a sofa from the living room, and the existing ottoman, with a wonderful William Morris fabric that complements the tiles beautifully.  The same silk curtain fabric used in the living room is used here as well, only now it is the complement to the blues and greens, giving a sparkle, albeit a subtle one, to the small space.  The oppressive and overpowering mirror above the fireplace is gone now, replaced with an interesting painting from the couple's travels.  A lot of people think, erroneously, that a big mirror over a fireplace will make a small room seem larger - the opposite is actually the truth, as these two photos show.  If your room is small, make it a virtue, not something that you are ineffectually trying to fight.
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On the left is the view of an entry hall before work started.  My client had made a good start with the use of William Morris's Golden Lily wallpaper, but the space, a large and central one, lacked the essential feeling of welcome that all entries should have.  The table in the center, an obvious choice, actually served to hinder the flow among the other rooms, and created a visual barrier that subconsciously said "stop."  The picture on the right is the way the room looks now.  On the original plans, we discovered that there was a fireplace intended for the corner where the big pier mirror was.  When we looked behind the mirror, we discovered that the masonry was there, but it had never been opened.  I used all the original woodwork from the mirror to create a mantle and fireplace surround, and we installed a ventless box.  Two wing chairs, a nice table and a pretty lamp create a wonderful spot to sit during a party.  The feeling now is definitely one of warmth and welcome.
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On the left is a view of one end of the living room in the same house before.  While there is a nice, original fireplace and mantle, the space feels curiously unfinished, and lacking any anchoring weight.  The flanking loveseats are the right idea, but the white slipcovers are too stark.  The photo on the right shows my solution - built-in bookcases that also cover the radiators now complete the picture, and give a feeling of solidity and purpose to the area.  A custom pair of Lutyens-inspired chairs replace the sofas in the proper scale.  I changed the wall color just slightly to a warmer, happier shade of tan.

This is the existing fireplace and surround when my clients moved into a loft apartment in a vintage building in Oak Park.  Not the most horrible, but certainly nothing special, nor did it reflect the character and personality of the original building.
The picture on the right shows the same view after.  The concept and detailing were based on an original fireplace from elsewhere in the building.  I felt strongly that my clients' apartment should not look like a left-over scrap of a once-grander space, as these conversions can often seem, but rather like it always was this way.  The bright, multi-colored checkerboard pattern on the face echoes the original source of inspiration, and the painting above, by the wife's mother, was a stunning complement, found long after the tiles had been installed.  Flanking bookcases help to define both the space and the function of this area.

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This is the living room in a Tudor-revival house in the suburbs.  Despite the ample windows, the room was cold and dark feeling.  The previous owners had attempted to deal with this by painting the walls a pale yellow and everything else, including the limestone fireplace, stark white.  It did not work - in fact, the results were just the opposite.  The room felt colder and just sort of grey and depressing. Counter-intuitively, it sometimes is better to go darker in order to make a space feel brighter.  We kept the woodwork white, but softened a bit.  The big difference is the wall color - a rich, warm, lush terra cotta, with plenty of complementary colors.  The result, as you can see, sparkles, and the light that does come in seems brighter by contrast.
The original fireplace in a grand suburban househad been removed, and replaced with a Georgian-style surround by a designer in the 1920's who had achieved a level of local fame, (no, it was not David Adler) and so the owners wanted to keep the mantle and surround intact.  There also might have been a covenant about it in the sales contract, no one could quite remember, so it was decided to err on the side of caution and work around it.  I was inspired by a photograph I saw in a book on Standen, and designed the structure on the right to basically "float" on the wall, and not actually be fastened to the surround at all beyond some small beads of caulk.  Building pilasters on the sides allowed me to get a pair of sconces into the composition, something all fireplaces need, I think, and bring some architectural interest to a fairly plain wall.  The copper charger has since been replaced by a red lustre plaque by William DeMorgan that the husband and I secretly scored for my client's Christmas present.  At auction the following month, a DeMorgan plaque similar to ours, but not as nice, sold for five times what he paid.  The Morris-designed rug, Rounton Grange, was custom made in a large size to fill the generous room.

These are two views of a living room fireplace in a large new addition to a vintage house, with paneling, tile work and built-in shelves all inspired by Voysey.  The light fixture is a period antique, and the painting above the fireplace was bought by my client before work had even begun.  It turned out to be a perfect size and palette to use in this room.  The tiles on the fireplace face are a wonderful and varied glaze of iridescent green, something Voysey would have appreciated, and are laid in vertical soldier courses like many of his fireplace designs.

One of the reasons that no one really liked sitting in the original living room in the suburban bungalow was it was dark and frankly a little depressing.  The heavy paneling and black-painted fireplace surround did not help matters any.  When I first visited I knew something was not right with this whole situation, and suggested that we at least take the paneling down as a start. Upon removing the paneling. we discovered a fantastic original chimneybreast and the remains of two flanking bookcases, hidden for more than twenty years!  Obviously the painted brick was not original, but most of what we needed to recreate the whole composition, or at least clues to what it used to be, was there.
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Here is a view of the finished fireplace with bookcases.  We were able to locate old bricks from a salvage source that matched exactly in order to rebuild the mantle, and I had my cabinet maker build the bookcases to exactly copy what was there.  It is now a fabulous, inviting and much-used space. This is  a view towards the entry hall and stairs.  While small, the house does not feel cramped because of the generous openings between the spaces.

 

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This is a view towards the fireplace in the basement family room space of a house in River Forest, both before and after.  Paradoxically, by bringing the paneling up to about 5 feet, and painting the remaining wall and ceiling the same color, the room feels higher than it really is.  Both the leather sofa and the pair of chairs are on the low side, which helps to reinforce the feeling.  The wicker chandelier is something we have made exclusively for us in two sizes.  The one shown is the larger, 31" in diameter.  Because it is hanging over a place in the room that you would not normally walk under, we could lengthen the drop a little.  This kind of fixture, which reflects light off the ceiling, is a wonderful way to softly illuminate a room without casting hard shadows.
On the left is the before view of a living room in a modest but charming Oak Park bungalow.  It was not clear if there ever had been a fireplace in this house, but the one next door did have a non-functioning one in this location, so we knew that conceptually this was the way to go.  Any molding or art glass had long before been removed, and the whole room was chilly and unexciting.  The view on the right is the room now.  The leaded glass, the bookcases, the fireplace and the tilework is all new, but designed to look as if it had always been there.  The challenge in this small room was to make the fireplace the focal point without allowing it to dominate the space.  I dropped the level of the bookcases to well under the window surrounds, and pushed them back as far as possible in their depth, in order to maintain the proper sense of scale.  After the work was complete, my clients invited a neighbor to drop by and see what had been done.  The first words out of her mouth were, "you're so lucky to have the original fireplace."  What a great compliment!
Sometimes what seems impossible turns out to be relatively easy, at least technically speaking.  The picture on the left shows a fireplace at one end of a large room in a new house in Virginia.  There is nothing particularly special about the space or the detailing at this stage, nor had the architect planned anything more that the standard mantle and wood surround.  The exterior of the house had very strong, but accidental, touches of the architecture of Greene & Greene, and so I suggested that we make the interior reflect this as well.  On the right is the finished fireplace, with the exception of the tile surround, which came after this photo was taken.  An inglenook with built-in bookcases and a bench, and large and emphatic beams and woodwork details create a magical space.  Two bowarm morris chairs in mahogany by Hile Studio, covered in a soft green velvet, are all that is needed to complete the feeling of repose and containment.  While the design of the space took a considerable amount of work and thought, the execution is not much more than trim work, albeit on a grand scale.  Nothing is structural, as it would have been in the Greenes' architecture.  The wood is poplar, colored with aniline dyes to mimic mahogany.  Click here to see a picture of the finished tilework and a custom rug we had made based on an original watercolor design by Charles Greene.

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