Photography by Bess Friday

Published on September 6, 2021

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In a place as cold as, say, Alaska, a fireplace’s number-one priority is to provide heat. But in San Francisco, the addition is a nice-to-have, not a must. This is exactly why designer Katie Monkhouse’s latest clients were okay faking theirs. “Every other pin on their client board was some Victorian or French apartment with a beautiful stone mantel,” recalls Monkhouse. 

Funny enough, the home’s architectural plans actually featured a fireplace, but the previous builders never got around to it and Monkhouse estimated that running gas lines to the ground-level condo would have cost a minimum of $5,000. “It was more that they wanted the coziness of it—the feeling like there was something the living room was built around—versus having an actual fire,” she says. Fortunately the newly constructed space already had herringbone floors going for it, and the sad blank wall provided an opportunity for a fresh focal point—wood logs optional.

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The living room before.

One of the things that was evident from the owners’ inspiration images was that the mantel had to be real marble, not just phony plaster or wood. Monkhouse tracked down a place in Florida called Fine’s Gallery that sells prefabricated fireplace surrounds. “They range from super-ornate to borderline crazy to minimal and modern,” she says. Once she put the order in for their Arabascato marble one, she tasked local design consultant and handyman Jasper Montgomery with executing the bump-out for the feature and the arched built-ins that would go around it. 

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The problem was when the mantel arrived in its crate, it was split up into 60 pieces and weighed more than 750 pounds. “I just assumed it would come assembled,” says Monkhouse. “That was a learning experience.” Fortunately she always tells her clients to budget an extra 10 to 20 percent, so she was able to hire a stonemason to come to the house and put it together (he did it in one day).

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To ensure the mantel didn’t look just “slapped onto the white wall,” Monkhouse had the pretend firebox painted completely in Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty, elevating the illusion of depth. “That was definitely the finishing touch,” she says. This hack brings the heat.

Photography by Bess Friday

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