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Solutions: Pewabic fireplace makeover warms the heart

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

We may not be able to stop winter in its tracks, but we can add warmth with a new fireplace like the one that was well worth the wait for Michael Isabella and his wife, Joan Cherry Isabella. Theirs now serves as a fabulous focal point in the living room of their Farmington Hills home.

“It’s so new to us. It’s still a thrill,” says Joan of their long awaited renovation that features Pewabic tile. “I’ve loved pottery from the time I was a little kid. I even took classes in making it.”

Luckily, the couple is on the same page when it comes to aesthetics, and they were both tired of looking at the painted brick fireplace that came with their 1986 transitional colonial.

After the last of their old rescue dogs passed away, it was time to replace the living room carpet and update the fireplace. Michael, vice president of marketing & media services for CKC Agency, a Farmington Hills-based public relations firm, got to work tearing it down.

Still, it would take two years to make their dream fireplace a reality; they missed the annual sale at Pewabic because they were out of town. Fortunately, they had no qualms about putting the project on hold in order to get what they wanted.

The façade consists of leftovers and rejects from the sale. “I love that even more. Someone’s rejects are my ideal of perfect,” says Joan, acting program director for WDET, Detroit Public Radio. The only exceptions are two decorative tiles near the top; one that features the state of Michigan and the other that depicts the city of Detroit.

They opted for a gas-burning fireplace because the gas line already existed. Michael Peters from This Is It Shop’s House of Fire in West Bloomfield installed the new fireplace insert and doors.

Jim Baier Carpentry in Ferndale designed and built the custom mantel based on Michael’s floor-standing speakers. “I totally trust his vision. He has a much better ability to visualize the end result than I do,” Joan says. “I knew that from working with him before on our kitchen.”

With help from their son, Joan rearranged the tiles on the floor, while they waited for Baier to finish up other projects.

Other changes to the space include a new TV and a leather sofa that is a reproduction of a vintage piece.

Michael loves the fact that the new fireplace is in the same room as his extensive record collection. “I love to see everything in here,” he says. “It’s like a man cave with all of my stuff.”

When Joan first urged her husband to tear down the original fireplace, the resulting hole in the wall didn’t bother her a bit. “I hated it so much that I was thrilled because I knew we were on the way to something great,” she says.

Just like the piano she plans to paint as her next project. “I know this is going to make this our own like the fireplace,” Joan says. “Making something small that works for our family is everything.”

Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at jeaninematlow@earthlink.net.