House & Home

Fab Facelifts for Drab Fireplaces

Posted October 8, 2015

Who else is in denial that it's already October? Guess that means summertime is well and truly over. (Sigh.) Of course, fall comes with its own special pleasures … such as getting ready to snuggle up to your cozy fireplace again. But if the start of fireside season has you eew-ing with disdain rather than ooh-ing with delight, maybe it's time to give the ol' fireplace a new look.

Think Safety First

Start by making sure that your fireplace will be safe to use this winter. Before you kindle a single twig, clean and inspect the chimney, flu, and hearth.

Clean Your Fireplace Facing

Next, take a good close gander at the state of your fireplace facing. If the brick is in good shape, but looks a little dingy, start by simply cleaning it. Scrub verrry thoroughly with soap, hot water, and a heavy-duty wire brush. This "deep cleansing spa treatment" might be all that your fireplace needed to buff up its good looks. Should you feel the need for some extra oomph, you have successfully prepared it for painting.

Deal with Damaged or Moldy Brick

OTOH, brick which is cracked, crumbling, or sprouting a serious crop of mold is not a good candidate for painting. You will be better off covering up a damaged fireplace or, in the case of a dampness problem, dealing with the source of the moisture.

Add or Replace a Mantel

Maybe your fireplace itself is fine, but it's mantel that has a case of the blahs … or is missing altogether. Replacing the mantel or creating a new one altogether will add immeasurable impact to the look of your living room.

Paint Brick or Stone

Yes, you can paint over brick or stone in good condition. You just need the right paint … and a lot of patience. (That's not to mention a lot of paint, as well -- porous materials will soak up several coats.) Use an alkaline-resistant paint, to avoid reaction with the mortar.

Be aware that a gleaming white fireplace which is to be used frequently to burn wood will not remain in pristine condition for long. You might be better off choosing a deeper shade like khaki or charcoal.


Stone or brick that's been treated with standard paint tends to need a lot of maintenance, especially when subjected to the wear and tear that a fireplace receives. A more forgiving alternative is to apply a coat of whitewash or chalk-based paint. This will give you a fashionably distressed finish and brighten up your fireplace without hiding its intriguing texture.

Cover with Tile

In the mood for an unexpected fireplace cover-up? Tile can top either outdated brick or old, ugly tile in elegant style. Ceramic tile is attractive, but glass tile -- usually associated more with kitchen backsplashes -- contributes its own uniquely sophisticated flash.

Cover with Stone Veneer

Try stone veneer for a dash of pizzazz when you've got a less than perfect fireplace. Real natural stone gives a lovely rustic look, but as a runner-up, faux stone veneer is surprisingly attractive … not to mention quick and easy to DIY.

Cover with Concrete

To coordinate cleverly with a modern decorating scheme, adhere cement board to the fireplace cladding, followed by a coating of concrete. Have your concrete professional tint the mix a subtle color or leave it industrial chic gray.

Apply Beadboard

Contrary to actress Mae West's oft-quoted opinion, it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing. If the builder or previous owner of your home seems to have decided "the more brick the better," you might want to temper the effect with a beadboard panel just over the mantelpiece.

Laura Firszt writes for

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