January 7, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Kurt and Beth Bratches moved to Omaha from Connecticut just over a year ago, one of their must-haves was a home with a fireplace. “I grew up with a fireplace,” says Kurt, owner of All Things Home, a remodeling service.

A former day trader, Kurt and his family would often escape the buzz of Wall Street in the serene calm of the Adirondack Mountains, where cozy lodge rooms were commanded by roaring stone fireplaces. The Bratches channeled their vacation nostalgia as the focal point of the living room in their warm and inviting Country Club home.

Built in 1932, the home needed a few updates. “The fireplace was tragic,” Kurt says. “I tore everything out.” Beth, an interior designer with The Designers, came up with the design.

“I always think it’s important to let the house speak to you a little bit,” she says. “The paneling is not something we would have chosen. I think it was done in the ’60s, but when you look at design, that’s kind of coming back. Let’s just replicate that design there so it goes with the house,” she says.

“The key is to update it without taking away the character and integrity of the house,” Kurt says. He first used a hand chisel to take out the existing hearth. “That was the un-fun part of it. It’s messy.” He then built the box and the surround. For the mantle he used a piece of reclaimed cedar from a friend’s barn in Connecticut.

He used mason screws to secure the box to the masonry. “The idea is to put your fasteners on a spot that can be hidden.” Kurt then used a sheet of birch over the top. “I laid it up like a frame and then I put the pieces in between it and framed it all out,” he says.  He finished it with crown molding and gave it a coat of satin paint. “Satin gives it a nice patina.”

A tip from a pro? Kurt first taped the dimensions of the fireplace on the floor to experiment with the stone’s placement, like putting together a puzzle. “That’s how I figured out where everything was going to go,” he says.

The entire project cost $400 and took about a week to do. “You buy quality lumber. It just comes out better,” he says.

The cedar for the mantle wasn’t the only material that took a circuitous route to Omaha. The Bratches collected the project’s river stones from such sites as the Long Island Sound, Rhode Island’s Block Island, and Omaha’s Standing Bear Lake. One of the stones stands out among all others. The one engraved with the word “home” was a gift from their daughter.

The Bratches’ self-styled river stone fireplace now serves as a visual collection of some of their favorite memories…a love story written in stone.

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