2 Vital Reasons to Engage A Stonemason

stone-mason-tools

An array of mallets, chisels, points and more. 

Wooden House Project readers may be wondering, “why a feature on a stonemason when our interest is wood-frame houses?” Well, readers, I present two vital reasons (as well as one bonus reason).

A hint: Look up, look down.

The first: Wood-frame houses are supported by a solid foundation of stone, brick, and mortar. Richard Perri of Professional Home Inspectors reminds us that Brooklyn’s soil presents a challenge to the homeowner because of its high groundwater table. These foundations have not only supported the wooden house for more than a century, but they have separated the earth from the home’s basement (or cellar) for more than a century; let’s face it, repairs may be required.

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Christian Herrmann atop the National Arts Club roof.

The second:  Look up! A chimney. Chimney’s are made of stone or brick and may be an indication of a working or non-working fireplace. In its simple form, the fireplace is comprised of a firebox, flue, and smoke chamber. The wood-frame home’s fireplace, perhaps now a charming feature, served to heat the home a century ago. A mantle may be all that remains—but maintenance to the infrastructure is ongoing.

chimneys-along-13th-street

Look up! I did when snapping these beauties along 13th Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues) in Park Slope.

The bonus reason: The opportunity to meet a stonemason, of course!

Christian Herrmann, 30, became a stonemason by chance. “My first job was as a stonemason’s tender,” explains Herrmann. “Right after graduation from high school, I was looking for a job and my Mom handed me a piece of paper with an address written on it and said ‘be at this location at 7 o’clock the next morning with boots, gloves, and ready to work.’” He arrived at the job site, intrigued by the operation. The crew, rebuilding a massive stone arch bridge, was cutting stone and working with a level, hammers, chisels, trowels, and pointers. “This is so cool,” Herrmann says when describing the stone cutters craft.

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Fireplace and stone arch, samples of Herrmann’s craft.

Herrmann was an apprentice, educating himself on job sites—from St. Thomas, to Quakertown, Pa. to New York City and Rome, Italy. He became a freemason in 2007 and is a current member of Quakertown Blue Lodge No. 512, where HM Design Group is headquartered.

He enjoys the solitude of working with stone. Herrmann surveys the site before giving a recommendation. “You don’t often know what course of action to take until you get your hands on the stone,” he says when describing his recent three-month restoration of a chimney at the National Arts Club, where he is a member. “As I’m doing the demo, I’m observing and documenting. The stones ‘speak to you’ and tell you what is going on before you remove, carve, cut and re-set.”

Herrmann derives inspiration from his surroundings. This spring, he offered a multi-media presentation, Fireplace Full Circle, to a sold-out crowd of fellow National Arts Club members and guests. His goal: To share his ancient craft in an accessible way while profiling historic fireplaces and the special moments that happen around them. The Club was a perfect setting with its American art collection set against the Aesthetic Movement interiors complete with stained glass windows by John La Farge. The audience learned first-hand about the Club’s chimney restoration and witnessed the restoration, thanks to Herrmann’s stop-motion film.

No matter where Herrmann’s job takes him, the stones speak his language and he is listening. national-arts-club-chimney

Completed renovation of the National Art Club’s chimney. 

—Sara Durkacs

All photos by Christian Herrmann, unless otherwise noted.