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Ask the Remodeler: A misfit hearth, flooring gaps, and wall removal

This brick hearth is incongruous with the home's Victorian character.Handout

Q. We have lived in our home for 30 years, and the dining room hearth is an eyesore (put in by a previous owner in 1980). Our house is 119 years old, and I would love a hearth for our wood stove that matches our Victorian home. I don’t know how to take down all that brick or how to find an appropriate design solution that looks decent and is affordable. What do you recommend?

A.L., Ashby

A. You have a beautiful little wood stove, but I agree, not the most attractive hearth setup. The first thing I would recommend to make it more period is to get rid of all the brick. The flooring appears to go under the brick, which would be good. A traditional look is to have the hearth flush or close to flush with the wood floor around it. This will take a skilled carpenter to cut the wood flooring and subflooring back to install a code-compliant fireproof hearth. There are code parameters for the width and length of the hearth relative to the size of the woodstove/opening, so consult a professional. A slab of Absolute Black granite is a nice look, but it can be costly. A less expensive solution would be a stone tile or a porcelain tile that mimics stone.

The wall behind the stove also needs to be code compliant. This can be achieved with a nice ceramic, stone, or porcelain tile. Victorians typically would have ornate tiles around the fireplace opening that would terminate at the wood mantel. Spicing up the field tiles on walls with something unique would give it some Victorian charm.


Q. I am considering refinishing the original narrow-plank oak floors in my 40-year-old home. Some of the planks have shrunk, leaving small, noticeable gaps between them. Is it possible to fill these gaps when I have the floors refinished?


L.K., Acton

A. The most effective way to fill those gaps is to cut pieces of the same species of wood, in your case oak, and install those prior to sanding and refinishing. There are some who will tell you that putty and fillers can be used, but unfortunately, the seasonal movement of the wood, as it expands and contracts, will cause those materials to fail in a very short time, resulting in noticeable cracks. Filling the gaps with wood is more labor-intensive, of course, but will be a more lasting and attractive fix. Fillers can be used for nail holes and pinholes, etc., but not much more than that.

Q. We have two smallish rooms in our Cape-style home (on the first floor), and we’d like to remove the wall between them. We don’t want to have a contractor here until we are vaccinated and it’s safe. We will not be removing the wall ourselves but would love to have an idea if it’s possible so we can start designing our new, enlarged space. Is it? Thanks so much. We were super excited to see your column return!

Ingrid and Jon, Pocasset

A. You are making the right call not to do anything until a qualified contractor has looked at your home. There is a very good chance that the wall you want to get rid of is a bearing one, and removing it typically requires structural engineering, most likely involving the installation of a steel or engineered wood beam to take its place. There is an old adage in remodeling that money solves all problems, and so I can say with confidence that there is a solution out there to give you the open space you want. How involved it is and what type of structural reinforcements you will need to make are uncertain at this point. You can, however, start dreaming up ideas for the future space.


Mark Philben is the project development manager at Charlie Allen Renovations in Cambridge. Send your questions to homerepair@globe.com. Questions are subject to editing. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @globehomes.