Friday afternoon I arrived at the house and backed carefully up to the garage to disgorge two enormous, ponderous eight-foot slabs of beech countertops from Ikea. After wrestling them into the garage, I was greeted by a familiar smell but out of place, coming from the dumpster in the driveway: the smell of the kitchen! I knew with looking that the hearth bricks had been pulled up and put in the dumpster. I had been smelling it since April but only recently realized that the kitchen fireplace stank of urine — apparently a previous owner had many, many animals and the fireplace was a latrine. Since we took off six layers of flooring in the kitchen to get down to the original 18th-century pine, the hearth bricks were now about 3 inches proud — the hearth floor had been raised at some point to accommodate the many extra floors. The dumpster showed an astonishing broken up layer of reinforced concrete, unusual (and completely unnecessary) which had been under the hearth bricks. Unfortunately the bricks — a mixture of original 18th-century bricks and newer ones, of different sizes — were pretty firmly set in the concrete, and had to be broken up.
Or fortunately, really. Out of a sense of duty I sifted through the malodorous dumpster for an hour and rescued a few dozen bricks of various vintages. Only a half dozen fire-blackened 18th-century bricks survived intact, and thankfully they smell the least. The newer bricks will sojourn in the backyard for a year or so, for use somewhere else — if they ever stop stinking.
And the kitchen, with the hearth gone, suddenly smells clean!