AKJ Architects LLC

Transforming a 1950s Indoor BBQ Into a New Fireplace


Our 1956 rambler has been an ongoing project for my husband and I since we moved in nearly 20 years ago. While I work as an architect professionally, I moonlight as a phase-by-phase architect for our home projects. This particular project ultimately took us almost 20 years to get to, and it’s just one of a few phases for the dining and kitchen area transformational projects we’re doing.

When we bought the house in its original condition, the indoor BBQ was located on the same wall as the kitchen oven, spaced far enough away that it was directly alongside the dining room. This indoor BBQ unit was definitely cool and trendy in its day. We’ve heard great stories from the previous owner, a Boeing industrial engineer, about how he and his wife put on amazing dinner parties, preparing duck and chicken on the power rotisserie over the tray of charcoal briquettes for their guests. This crowd-pleasing appliance came equipped with a handy crank for lowering the briquette tray and an electric wall switch to control the rotisserie – all embedded in the multi-colored brick with a storage cabinet underneath. The chimney took all the smoke out of the top of the house.

I’ll be honest, when we bought the house, the thought of burning toxic charcoal briquettes inside our home wasn’t very appealing, so we never used it, not even once. My thought was that we would put a fireplace there at some point. We always knew we’d replace it with something cool eventually. This was 2003, more than 18 years ago. During the interim, we liked it as a safe location to burn candles.


The Why and the What

What we’ve learned over the years is that the dining area can get incredibly cold in the winter due to the extensive glazing along the back wall with no insulation. As we planned for the new gas fireplace, we felt excited about the added benefit of warming up the dining area and kitchen.  Another great feature is that this fireplace won’t be connected to the thermostat for the rest of the house, so it’ll always be a place where we can add supplemental heat at will by just turning it on and off. 

The Search

As we finally embarked on our search, we had to consider a little more than just finding a style and finish that we liked. We were also replacing the kitchen wall oven, and since the oven and gas insert share the same wall, we wanted them to look cohesive. We researched at least 25 manufacturers to find something that would work in that space so we wouldn’t have to damage or paint over any of the existing brick. This design goal resulted in many hours of product research for us.  And, when we found the Valor Ledge, we were ecstatic.

After all the research, we ended up at Sutter Home and Hearth, a store in Seattle that sells gas fireplaces to meet with a sales associate and see if our selection would work. We reviewed our drawings, asked more questions, and ultimately realized the Valor Ledge would work with all our requirements.  We decided to go for it. We also ordered a custom brown metallic back plate to complement the original brick wall.

One of the hardest parts of any renovation project is evaluating all the finish and color options available and ensuring they’ll work for the environment you’re working in. This is when the trained eye of an interior designer and someone experienced in coordinating all the variables (Arlene) is so helpful.

This is also a time when it’s super beneficial for the owner of the project to get into the selection process with the guidance of an architect and interior designer like Arlene. The value of being an active voice in your project helps to avoid surprises and in understanding why things come to be the way they are. The complexities of road blocks, existing conditions, and coordinating available products and finishes to be brought into the space are best navigated by an experienced pro.

It’s common for people to have trouble pulling the trigger on their selections when the options can be so overwhelming. Investing money without the full picture can put you in a position of damage control and delay around a choice that isn’t working the way you intended. Well executed proportion, color selection, and balance create that ever sought after “I love my home” feeling that is irreplaceable.


Once we chose our options in October 2020, the installation process began with booking. Our booking was several months out for installation in Summer 2021. Why the wait? Gas fireplaces are a hot item now and we don’t know how much Covid delays played into this. There are lots of factors, but this would be another blog post and we’ll stick with our experience.

After signing the contract, Sutter Home and Heath booked someone for December 2020 to come look at the space, take measurements and review the manufacturer front finish options. During that meeting, we approved the Patina Ledge Front finish with a custom brown backing plate to conceal the existing masonry opening. The rust color of the Patina Ledge looked had some of the colors of the existing brick and was close to the kalamata olive color for our new oven.  We were sold. Then, we hired an electrician to remove the original rotisserie grill and cap the electrical for us.

Another part of the scope of work for Sutter Home and Hearth was to obtain a mechanical permit from the City of Seattle in June 2021. We made sure to be home to allow the inspector in for the first part of the permit process. The City came back again for the final required inspection on July 21, 2021, once the entire appliance is installed.

Installation Over Three Visits

The first install visit was June 8, 2021, and included wood framing and drilling by Sutter Home and Heath.

On the Second visit, June 16, 2021, Sutter Home and Hearth came to install the appliance and the direct vent on the top of the chimney.

At the third visit, July 20, 2021, the outer covers (back panel and front panel), the driftwood logs, and the batteries for the remote were installed. The unit was turned it on for the first time and we had to run it for 8 hours, twice, with portable fans on to blow the air out of the house as it cured. The curing is strong smelling and definitely needs to be blown out of the house. Concealed in the cabinet below, a charger for batteries for the remote and another hard switch were installed for a clean look.

Potential Challenges

Sometimes things get mixed up and it’s helpful to be flexible. The first outer panel that arrived and was installed was not the finish we chose. Sutter Home and Hearth were quick to return the same day with another outer panel; however, this was also not the correct finish. We did our best to notify the company and allow the error to be ironed out.  Sutter ordered another Patina Ledge Front and that too was more like a milk chocolate color versus a rust. At that point, Sutter offered to sell us the rust colored showroom floor sample and we are delighted to have this color for our new gas insert fireplace. 


Our next step in this area will be replacing the traditional cherry wood dining room table with something more modern. And eventually we’ll replace the cabinets. While these projects can certainly be completed much quicker, it’s taken us nearly 20 years, this is the pace it is for us as we work on the sidelines to our professional careers.

My husband has weighed in and says, it’s been a lengthy process, it went well due to all the documentation and details observed in the process, and it feels like a tremendous change compared to what it used to be. This new fireplace is an immediate upgrade to the style of the house while still respecting what the house is which fits with our goals of trying to keep the integrity of the 1956 home, preserving it, making only minor changes that blend in, and avoiding demolition or painting over the existing brick we have.

If you’d like to know more about this kind of project reach out and ask. Arlene has extensive experience with projects like this for her clients and thoroughly enjoys guiding the process for an efficient project.

Arlene Kisiel-Jermann

Arlene brings over twenty-five years of design experience to her company. As a professional who strives to provide exceptional customer service, creative design skills, and an eye for detail, AKJA has the experience and training to lead your residential project from concept through completion.

Arlene received her Master in Architecture Degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her Master in Science in Interior Design from the University of Massachusetts and her Bachelor degree from Skidmore College with a major in Art & minor in Spanish. Arlene's combination of creative degrees in Architecture, Interior Design and Fine Art give her a holistic approach to residential design and enable her to quickly comprehend and efficiently collaborate with other professionals. At MIT, she coupled her studies with graduate courses at the MIT Center for Real Estate where she studied business. Since a young age, Arlene has had numerous academic opportunities to travel throughout America, Europe and Asia and learn about art and culture throughout the world.

Since 1987, Arlene has been privileged and trusted to work on residential and commercial projects with multi-million dollar budgets. She has managed all phases of residential design, architecture, and construction for well-established Seattle architecture firms such as Sullivan Conard Architects, NBBJ, and General Contractor Toth Construction, a Seattle based custom residential builder. Arlene launched her own firm in 2007 to design new and renovated homes, cabins and condominiums ranging in size from 500sf to 10,000sf. She brings passion, creativity, a commitment to succeed, and a powerful blend of skills, education and experience to every residential architecture project.

Stacey Lara

Stacey Lara has a wide range of experience specializing in efficiency and human wellness. She's a transformational coach with an administrative background in the medical, engineering, landscape architecture and architecture industries.

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