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Fixes for Updating a Fireplace

Linda is a seasoned writer and home-decorating authority. She loves sharing design trends, decor ideas, and useful tips with her readers.

There’s nothing like the ambience and warmth of a fireplace on a cold winter night. A fireplace not only creates a cozy and romantic atmosphere it is also a major architectural element. However, an outdated and unattractive fireplace can kill the mood and dampen any hopes of creating a stylish living space.

Fear not. There’s hope for the eyesore that is your current fireplace. A makeover can be accomplished by seasoned do-it-yourselfers or by hiring a licensed contractor. It all depends on your budget and skill level. To get your creative juices flowing here are a few ideas that will give your tired old fireplace a beautiful new look.

Tame a Huge Fireplace

The 1970s weren’t known for many enduring trends including fireplaces. Back in the day architects designed gigantic wall-to-wall fireplaces covered in cinder block or big chunks of stone.

Consider refacing the surround without removing the stone or block. Concrete, plaster or stucco mix can be hand troweled right over the existing masonry. Either finish with a smooth or textured effect to suit the room's style. Purchase a rustic mantel to top off your new fireplace.

In some cases the stone is simply veneer making it relatively easy to remove. Take off the offending material, reshape the surround and install drywall. Finish the fireplace with sleek, modern tile. You'll definitely appreciate the updated design aesthetic.

Important tip: Before you begin any fireplace project it is critical to understand clearances required by law in relation to the firebox. Maintain a proper distance between the firebox and combustible materials. Check with local officials regarding current building codes.

This refaced fireplace has no trace of its outdated masonry.

This refaced fireplace has no trace of its outdated masonry.

Add a Stone Facade

Imagine a bright red brick fireplace that just doesn't go with anything and looks like it has seen better days. Perhaps a "natural" stone fireplace surround will give your room the warmth and charm you desire. Do some online research and find a manufactured stone veneer product that suits your room's design.

The majority of manufactured veneers are made from a mix of cement, stone aggregates and iron oxides. Aggregates make the stone veneer lighter than natural stone, thus easier to work with. Iron oxides are used to impart color variations like those found in real stone.

Dimensional stone veneer starts with a thickness of 2 inches, making it perfect to apply directly over existing brick without encroaching on interior space. A stone veneer fireplace will transform your old brick fireplace into a thing of beauty.

Light weight stone veneer looks great and is easier to install than actual stone.

Light weight stone veneer looks great and is easier to install than actual stone.

Bulk Up a Skimpy Surround

So you’ve inherited a condo fireplace that is lacking in style and prominence. It's trapped in a previous decade and is completely out of proportion. The skinny surround, mantel and hearth desperately need a pump-up makeover.

The distance from the top of the firebox opening to the mantel is too deep and the sides are sadly lacking in width. Build out the columns for the new surround with MDF, newel posts and decorative molding. Or you can purchase a fireplace surround kit to easily create a proper sense of balance and proportion. Top it with a chunky mantel to give it more bulk.

This fireplace could use a thicker mantel and wider pilasters.

This fireplace could use a thicker mantel and wider pilasters.

Install Paneling and Built-Ins

Give your room the look of a gentleman’s study by surrounding your fireplace with sumptuous wood paneling and built-in shelving. Not that cheesy paneling from the 1970s. Quality wood paneling stained a rich hue will take your design to the next level. Up the ante by flanking the fireplace with custom integrated bookcases.

Sure, you could pick up some cheap put-together shelving to flank the fireplace but made-to-order built-ins add am upscale, sophisticated look. Custom bookcases can reach to the ceiling, wrap around the fireplace and even create a cozy reading alcove.

This is a project best left to professionals, unless you are a master woodworker. Sure, it's will be an expensive project but the dramatic end result will be well worth it.

Rich wood paneling creates a warm sophisticated study.

Rich wood paneling creates a warm sophisticated study.

Upgrade with Paint

If you're not a big fan of red or yellow brick fireplaces, there are a couple of easy and inexpensive fixes to mask those outdated colors. Begin by cleaning the surface of the brick prior to painting. Make sure it's completely free of dirt, grime and soot. Wear rubber gloves and carefully wipe the surface down with a mixture of trisodium phosphate and hot water. Rinse the brick completely with warm water and let dry.

Create a whitewash effect with any shade of white paint in a satin finish. Brush it on in small sections. While it is still wet, rub the paint with a rag to remove most of the paint. To create the perfect opacity apply one or two coats. For depth and texture lightly sand the surface with a fine grit sanding sponge between coats.

If you want to completely cover the brick use a stain-blocking primer and apply with a masonry paint roller to fill in all the cracks, crevices, corners and edges. Allow the primer to completely dry. Follow with a masonry, stucco and brick paint. Use a 3/4-inch roller. One or two coats should do the trick. That dated 1980s look will be completely neutralized and looking clean and fresh.

A whitewashed brick fireplace gives it a new and updated style.

A whitewashed brick fireplace gives it a new and updated style.

© 2012 Linda Chechar

Start a Conversation!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on November 05, 2013:

Thanks, RTalloni for reading and commenting on this Hub! Yes, changing a fireplace does require careful planning to get it right.

RTalloni on November 05, 2013:

Updating a fireplace's facade is an important decision. You offer some great tips here, thanks.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 21, 2012:

Thank you Dirt Farmer! Glad you enjoyed this Hub!

Jill Spencer from United States on December 19, 2012:

Cool ideas and great photos. Congrats on being featured in HubPages Weekly!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 19, 2012:

Jackie, gas logs are certainly a good option. We used to have a wood burning fireplace with a gas starter. The best of both worlds! Thanks for your comment. It's always good to hear from you! :)

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on December 18, 2012:

Those are nice and I love a fireplace. I had one for years and then finally replaced it with gas logs there which were nice too.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 18, 2012:

Thank you, Armchair Builder! Manufactured stone veneer is the way to go!

Michael Luckado from Hawaii on December 18, 2012:

Great pictures...as a builder, I can say I'm a huge fan of manufactured stone.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 17, 2012:

Thanks asrestoexp! The stone veneer is a favorite of mine also! Thanks for reading and commenting!

Arizona's Restoration Experts, LLC on December 17, 2012:

Informative, great ideas and nice pics. Favorite is the stone veneer fireplace.

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 16, 2012:

Stone veneer is a great option, Om. It's been around for quite a long time. However, the newer incarnations are much more realistic. Very hard to distinguish from the real deal. Always good to hear from you!

Om Paramapoonya on December 16, 2012:

Neat ideas! The fireplace often serves as a room's focal point, so it can either enhance or ruin the ambiance of the entire room. I really like that fireplace with stone veneer! So lovely :)

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 16, 2012:

Nancy, So glad you like this Hub! Thanks for stopping by to comment and vote!

Linda Chechar (author) from Arizona on December 16, 2012:

Ha! Making a fire has never been easier, Carol! We've had gas fireplaces but never used them much because of the cost. :( Thank you for your kind words and vote!

Nancy McClintock from Southeast USA on December 16, 2012:

I love your photos. You have given some well written advice. Voted up.

carol stanley from Arizona on December 15, 2012:

Great photos here. We have a switchon fireplace...I love when my husband says he is going to make a fire..Yah..turn on the switch. You have some cool ideas here especially stone background to the ceiling. As always a true craftsman you are. Voting up.++

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