HOUSE: Newburgh

Birch log bundles, just for show.

birch logs

birch logs

Okay, so maybe putting decorative logs in a non-wood-burning fireplace doesn’t make sense. Yes, I know it’s silly. But I don’t care. Look how cute! Birch logs! Bundled! With rope handles! Stacked!

I’ve thought about doing this for years, but I’ve never gotten around to actually buying nice-looking/pest-free logs. A few weeks ago, though, my friend Ilenia ordered a few sets from Terrain for a photo shoot and wound up not using them, so I offered to buy them from her.

A few people have asked lately about why I can’t burn fires in my fireplaces, and the reason is that they’re not actually fireplaces at all. Three of the four of them (like the one in the bedroom) are decorative surrounds for the original heat registers. As far as we can tell, our house was built without indoor plumbing, so our steam radiators weren’t installed until sometime later—we have no idea exactly when, but I’d guess within a few years. Until the radiators came along, heat was generated by a furnace (furnaces?) in the basement that vented through three separate chimneys. That heat entered the dining room and bedrooms upstairs through registers. So yes, those fancy “fireplaces” are just decoration around old-school forced air heating grates. Oh, those Victorians. What will they think of next?

Now, the enormous white marble fireplace in the living room is a different story. If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see a little pipe to the right of the logs. That’s a decommissioned gas line. Once upon a time, there was a gas fireplace there. I’m assuming it was probably a contained stove type of thing because of the condition of the tiles and the lack of any type of grating or cover. In theory we probably could connect a gas fireplace again, but that would necessitate opening up the now-capped chimney and installing a liner and also possibly not meeting current codes…so it’s probably for the best to just have some cute decorative logs in there and not worry about it.

Side note: The bedrooms upstairs all have pipe fittings on the walls for gas lamps, so not only was our house built without indoor plumbing, it was built without electricity.

Side-side note: Newburgh was the first city in the United States to be electrified. It’s home to the very first Edison power plant, built in 1884 under the supervision of Thomas Edison himself. Our house was built in 1891, but maybe they hadn’t run the lines through the entire city yet—who knows.

Neither one of these side notes have anything to do with the birch logs in my (non-)fireplace, really, I just find it interesting that my house was built right on the cusp of two major conveniences—indoor plumbing and electricity—becoming commonplace in American homes. I wonder if the original owner was annoyed by having to do so much retrofitting and renovating so soon after buying a brand-new house. I’m just glad nobody ever ripped out any of the fireplaces, even though they’ve just been for show for at least 100 years.

birch logs

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  • Reply Samantha February 3, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    I’m so jealous of your just-for-show fireplace, it’s so cute. In my apartment, we have a bricked over fireplace – we have a mantle, and a hearth, and little glass doors that just cover bricks. On more than one occasion, a squirrel has gotten in through a gap between the bricks and the fireplace.

    • Hannah February 4, 2013 at 4:28 am

      Haha that’s hilarious! I love squirrels, but our dogs would go beserk if one came into the house!

  • Reply Kristy February 4, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Oooh I love birch trees (the one at my family home recently died and I was so sad to see it go), and because they are so beautiful, I think your placement can be more than forgiven!

  • Reply J. February 4, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Logs are cool indeed. And when you get sick of the logs, you can put old books instead or a mirror, or a painting. Or all of it together. So it’ll be a little display for cool objects.

    • Anna @ D16 February 4, 2013 at 1:09 am

      I’ve actually had all three of those things in there in the past!

    • Zoe Alexander February 7, 2013 at 1:16 pm

      Such a great idea! I’m going to try it! Many thanks! :o)
      Zoe xxx

  • Reply Louise February 4, 2013 at 1:03 am

    It’s great to see how everything’s come together in the living room – looks gorgeous

  • Reply Florian February 4, 2013 at 2:29 am

    The logs are lovely! Now please talk Daniel into using some in his fireplace as well. I bet they would look even better against a dark background.

  • Reply Hannah February 4, 2013 at 3:58 am

    Fireplaces are hard – I never know what to put in them. Things can end up looking completely lost in a huge expanse, or really twee. Luckily our new house still has the original Victorian fire grates in it, so I can leave it at that after years of faffing around with my current one! Birch is lovely, it looks great in there.

  • Reply karla February 4, 2013 at 6:15 am

    with a construction date of 1891 it would not have been unusual for the house to have both been outfitted with gas and electric as the transition from gas to electric was occurring and many people were tentative about electricity.

    • Anna @ D16 February 4, 2013 at 8:53 am

      Oh, that’s interesting! Makes sense. I wonder where the electrical wires would’ve been…even our ceiling fixtures have capped gas lines next to the boxes.

    • Carrie @ brick city love February 4, 2013 at 10:25 am

      Ditto. My house had both (I think). And also because electricity in the early days wasn’t 100% reliable and some people weren’t sure it was safe. According to a local museum (which is in a house of this era) the older generation at the time was really skeptical about the electricity being safe to live with. They worried about it burning the house down or giving off invisible radiation (not the term the museum’s curator used but that was the gist) that could make people sick. Gas also worked whenever the electricity went out, which was rather common in the beginning. They were reliable (Hey Rolling Blackouts!) and the known technology.

  • Reply Nancy February 4, 2013 at 7:15 am

    My sister once lived in an East Village apartment that had a non-working fireplace (now that I think about it, it might’ve been the same scenario as yours…). She filled her “fireplace” with books. At least your logs are apopros!

  • Reply l February 4, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Your living room is lovely, and the birch logs look perfect in that not-for-fire place!

    Just for curious (and because I can’t remember ever reading it on your blog) is your neighborhood, or at least some of it, on the National Register of Historic Places? I once lived in a neighborhood of c.1870-80 homes, and was part of the group which researched the history of the houses and put the area on the National Register. Some of the info that people discovered about their homes was fascinating! It was a lot of work, too, since this was before the internet. As I recall, we spent a LOT of time poring over microfiche in the basements of the library, the local newspaper, and other institutions, as well as crawling around attics and basements.

    Sounds as though you’ve done quite a bit of that yourself!

  • Reply Annabel Vita February 4, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Oh, these look great! If you ever want heat in the fireplace without the hassle of a gas insert, I love these little electric wood stoves:

  • Reply Annie February 4, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Oooh, now you need, ANDIRONS!

    • Anna @ D16 February 4, 2013 at 10:59 am

      Haha, I’m not sure I can make that extra leap of fakery! 😀

  • Reply sherry February 4, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Pretty sure my great grandmother’s home had the same situation going on. Though my fathers cousin who owns it now manages to outfit the livingroom fireplace with a pellet stove, don’t know how much that set her back tho! There was also no electricity on the second floor! I remember staying there as a child and being blown away by the fact we had to use flashlights to find our way to the beds.

  • Reply Grumble Girl February 4, 2013 at 11:33 am

    So, SO good, lady! I too have such an unusable fireplace in our bedroom, though it’s got the original grate covering it, so I don’t have to fill it with anything per se, but I was thinking about displaying some tall, thinner birch branches in a glass urn or a basket of some kind off to the side… hmmm. But I really love the ropes you tied on the bunches – very nice!!

    • Anna @ D16 February 4, 2013 at 11:34 am

      I can’t take credit for the ropes, that’s how Terrain sells them! Perfect for making a pyramid that won’t roll away. 🙂

  • Reply Niina February 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Looks great! I could really live in your house. 🙂

  • Reply jbhat February 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    The birch logs are cute! And wow, I loved learning about the history of your home and neighborhood. Of course I grew up with electricity and plumbing, but it’s incredibly interesting to think about how different daily life would be without either. I catch myself thinking about what an amazing thing plumbing is, especially on those occasions when I need to get up in the night to visit what in olden times would have been a chamber pot. We are lucky.


  • Reply Amy February 4, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    The birch logs are CUTE (handle!) but the best part of this post is all the history, links, and discussion about both. If I ever get to live in a house that’s older than 1975 I’ll be down at the library and the city records digging up files and looking for historic documents and tidbits. So interesting.

  • Reply unha engels February 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    sooooo much classier than my ridiculous electric one. ALLL in the power of mind!! haha.

  • Reply Fritz February 4, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    You need to make that leap of fakery to the andiron stage, I can make them for you using your own
    unique design

    How do you like these monograms…

    • Anna @ D16 February 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm

      I’m not sure I’m qualified to be designing andirons, but thank you for offering! I think I prefer them just sitting on the tile. 🙂

  • Reply Anathalia February 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    We have a non-working fireplace here too, but by no means as glamorous as yours… And to be honest, in an apartment as small as ours, it really takes a much needed space. But, it is here and we have to live with it. To put logs in it is a cool idea!

  • Reply Fritz February 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    Your welcome… if you ever change your mind and want to do a small set of andirons with your little black equilateral cross on the front you know where you can get them

    • Anna @ D16 February 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      Thanks Fritz, I really appreciate it!

  • Reply Moorea Seal February 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Ah. I think your house is my dream home. I LOVE everything in it and It’s so inspiring to see all the ways in which you have invested in it to make it the dream victorian home for modern folks.
    xo Moorea

  • Reply kelly w February 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I would like to live in “a good vernacular building”. <3

  • Reply Ceci February 5, 2013 at 9:04 am

    It’s perfect!!

  • Reply mommy February 5, 2013 at 9:54 am

    The birch logs look great! Logs are so decorative, I actually get mad when Bernie decides to burn ours.

  • Reply becca February 5, 2013 at 11:16 am

    I love that you know so much about the history of your house. Also like the logs 😉
    interesting that they built (or left) the fireplaces as decoration but never thought about actually have a fire in them…
    I just wonder if you have ever thought about a gel fireplace? …I don’t know how they are called in the us, it’s basically just a gel of liquid in a tin can you can decorate around (with stones for example) and it doesn’t need a chimney…

    • Anna @ D16 February 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      Yeah, I’ve seen those, but they’re really not my style. They either look fake-old-timey or really super modern in a bad way with lots of glass and chrome…I’m not into the whole thing, they just look so cheesy. There are some freestanding ventless fireplaces that look alright (like this one from DWR), but they’re tiny and expensive and it’s all overkill in the end.

      I don’t have a burning desire (hah!) to have a fire in my living room, so I’m OK letting the fireplace be what it is. 😉

    • becca February 7, 2013 at 1:00 pm

      oh, thats right. most of the ones they sell look just too much like spaceships 😉 and the ones that don’t are just soo expensive. …so building a really simlpe one could be an option. but yeah, who needs fire when you can have a fireplace like that 🙂

    • denise February 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm


      Your logs are lovely!

      I also have a fake fireplace. I have “part” of a gel setup in my fake fireplace. I use the metal platform with some fake logs that the gel cans sit behind. It’s a setup similar to (but not identical) to this: I’ve found the gel to be a nice way to use the fireplace beyond decoration. The gel cans aren’t too expensive, give off some heat, and definitely give off ambiance. However, I agree most of the fireplaces themselves wouldn’t work with my design style. If you’d like to have some fire without having to go through the work of turning your fireplace into a “working” one, it’s a decent option.

  • Reply Kristen February 5, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Oh my I love these birch logs! Mostly I’m just jealous of the whole fireplace thing in general (whether they work now or have ever worked). The design possibilities…

  • Reply Lauren February 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Hi Anna,
    Where is your TV stand/book shelf from?

    • Anna @ D16 February 5, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      It’s from IKEA, but that line has been discontinued for a while now.

  • Reply PV February 5, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    You could have a ventless gas fireplace…I’m buying a historical home (1790’s) and it has 3 fireplaces. The chimney needs a liner in order to be safe to use them again. The house inspector suggested, since I already have propane for my gas stove, to put in a ventless ceramic log fireplace, no insert so the antique bricks are exposed. Just a thought.
    I love the dark gray walls, I’m planning on painting my diningroom that color and then stenciling over with a gun metal gray metallic paint. I can’t wait to move in and decorate!

    • Anna @ D16 February 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Yeah, those things just aren’t my style. They also emit levels of carbon monoxide that I’m not comfortable living with (you’re supposed to open a window when you use one, which is an automatic dealbreaker for me anyway), and introduce a level of warm moisture into the house that’s conducive to growing mold. I’d rather not go down that road.

      I’m happy to keep the fireplace bright and white and fire-free!

  • Reply Sonya February 5, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I totally love these birch log bundles! From this past summer camping season, I have a log bundle leftover and I keep moving them around my home and taking photos of it.

  • Reply Alex February 5, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Our home is from 1886, and we also have a goofy — but cute — faux fireplace. My dream to eventually make it a real fireplace. Logs in a fireplace, even if the fireplace is not working, makes much more sense than say, candles. Who would do that?!

    Oh, right. Me:
    I can’t help it though, I really want that darn fireplace to work!

    • Anna @ D16 February 5, 2013 at 5:21 pm

      Haha! I’ve done the candles-in-the-fireplace thing, too. I always like the way it looks when it’s dark in the room and they’re all lit, but then the next day they look so sad and small. I think the trick is to have some really big ones and varying heights to the space gets filled up nicely.

  • Reply Vanessa February 6, 2013 at 2:39 am

    So cool to be living in a house (and neighborhood) with such an interesting history! I live in a place built in 2005 and it just doesn’t have the same charm as the older buildings I’ve lived in.

  • Reply Lovisa Wallin February 6, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    oh gosh, that’s just soo damn beautiful! Love the blue walls together with the carpet and the “fireplace”. greetings from sweden 🙂

  • Reply Marisa February 6, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    If at some point you do decide you’d like flames, you actually wouldn’t need to have your chimney re-lined to get a gas fireplace. We had one put in to serve as a secondary furnace for the house (…in MN, it is nice to have back-up heat for the furnace!). It vents (and gets air) from pipes that run up the chimney. Getting it installed was not cheap, but it was way less expensive than having the chimney relined.

    And for candles – yes, having LOTS in many different heights makes it look much less sad during the day, as does putting a mirror behind all the massed candles (that’s usually how we “used” our fireplace prior to deciding to get the gas insert).

  • Reply Katie February 7, 2013 at 10:19 am

    We are living in our second over 100-year-old house. In our first house, we had four non-working, formerly-coal burning fireplaces that housed books, birch logs, games, etc. I never looked into what it would take to get them working, because I assumed it was not possible. However, I came to feel that these non-functioning fireplaces severely detracted from the warmth and coziness of our home. When we moved into our second old home, in a colder climate, I vowed to make at least one of the old coal-burning fireplaces emit some warmth. After talking with masons, gas/woodstove experts and energy consultants, we determined that the only possible solution was to add a woodstove. A mason was able to be widen one of our chimneys just enough to fit the necessary liner to vent the stove. We have used our woodstove (a Jotul we found on Craigslist) almost every evening this winter. No worries about gas fumes, excess moisture, or a stray ember. Not sure yet how the cost shakes out in terms of buying wood versus reducing our heating bill, as this is our first winter in this house, but it definitely allows us to turn the thermostat down. Just as importantly to us, coziness has been achieved. I only wanted to mention this solution in case you change your mind down the road.

    • Anna @ D16 February 7, 2013 at 10:38 am

      A wood stove would be against code in my situation. We live in an attached row house—no widening, thickening, or other alteration of the chimney can occur. It’s literally a fixed, structural part of my house and the one it’s attached to. It was not built to safely ventilate a wood-burning fireplace or wood stove of any kind. This is the case with virtually all of the row houses in Newburgh.

    • Katie February 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      Oh well. Looks like you’ll have to rely on cozy blankets, warm pups and Evan instead. Tough times.

  • Reply Rebecca February 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    So cute! I have had monochromatic books in my fireplace too long and I need an update. Maybe birch with neon pink ropes – maybe bundles of twigs from the yard (just asking my pup to misbehave)

  • Reply Erin February 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    The dark walls with the wood floors are beautiful. I painted three different shades of gray.. no pun at all… in the living room. Ultimately, I chose the middle shade and then I regretted it. I should have gone with the darkest. It’s bold and truly makes a statement. Love it!!

  • Reply karen anne February 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I have some really ancient birch logs in both of our non-working fireplaces – they weigh mere ounces they are so dried out! I keep wanting to paint the ends a bright color like I saw in a design shop. the neon ink you love would be fun on yours!

    Hope you’re feeling better!

    Karen Anne

  • Reply Sarah February 8, 2013 at 9:28 am

    I’m so glad your fireplaces are still there! Growing up, my parents had two different completely fake fireplaces. Like, they were from a set or something. The first was plaster on plywood with a cheap faux brick facade. The second was nicer and white with a stone mantlepiece. Both of them could be moved anywhere. My mom put some tacky plastic log that lit up and made a crackling fire noise when you plugged it in. So glad you went with the birch. I wish that was more my mom’s style. Very cute.

  • Reply Kristin February 8, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Our house is a Second Empire style house (Victorian era) built in 1885. We also had all the original gas lines running to various light fixtures in the house, no original bathrooms, and no working fireplaces. The chimneys in each room had a flue hole near the top of the wall, and they would have had a small free-standing heat source / stove that sat on the floor in front of the decorative mantels / fake fireplaces. The pipe would come out of the top of that stove and turn ninety-degrees back into the flu. After previous owners stopped using those stoves as a heat stove, the flu holes were covered with decorative covers that always looked like fancy paper plates to me (with the fluted edges.) You can still see the darker staining on our original floors where the stoves used to sit.

    Because our home was built for a working class family, the mantels were all wood. In similar (larger and grander) houses in our neighborhood, those mantels were marble. Most fireplaces had summer fronts – the decorative cast iron door that would have gone over a fireplace in the summer time when not in use. I always loved the idea of fake closing your fake fireplace up for the summer. Ah, those Victorians…

    We are in the process of adding built-in bookshelves to our living room right now and we’ve framed out for a Windsor fireplace once we’ve saved up for it. It’s the only thing I’ll consider adding to the house – I’m with you on not caring for most of the fireplace options out there.

    Your house is lovely – nicely done.

  • Reply Mark February 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    What paint color is your dark accent wall?

  • Reply Sherry February 19, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Hmmm…this probably explains some of our non-functioning fireplaces, too. Love the logs! And your kitchen is really coming together! You must live in a parallel universe with 48 hour days. Or, more likely, just double our work ethic…

  • Reply Julie February 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Love the new home! The decor is very cozy!

  • Reply becky February 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    This is a bit off topic, but have you ever read “City of Light” by Lauren Belfer? Your mention of the electrification of Newburgh made me think of it – it’s a fantastic book that takes place in Buffalo right as it is electrified.

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