Making Over a Dated Fireplace

There’s nothing so homey this time of year as the golden glow of a fireplace.   As the air turns crisp, the days grow shorter, and leaves gather in damp clusters on our decks and sidewalks, a warm fire can transform a cold, wet night into a cozy experience.

A roaring fire makes a cocktail party feel livelier, an after-dinner conversation more intimate, and a bedtime story a memory-making moment.  I, a girl who doesn’t know a touchdown from a field goal, can make myself sit through an entire televised football game if there’s a warm fire to sit by (though, admittedly, chips and lots of dip are also major facilitators for this activity). 

Though many homes in our area have fireplaces, not everyone is lucky enough to have the beautiful working hearth we’d all like to come home to.  Given the sheer volume of homes built in the 50’s and 60’s, many have the dated flat orange-brick column marching straight up the wall to the ceiling.  I’ve also encountered my share of the 90’s forest green “marble” tile facades, and the sometimes flimsy looking floating mantles recently popularized by West Elm catalogs.  

Fireplaces should be as lovely to look at as they are to lounge around, and there are several ways you can dress up some of these common not-so-pretty styles to make your fireplace the focal point it deserves to be.  For those of you without a fireplace at all, a new Manhattan-based company builds and installs ventless fireplaces that can be used in almost any space – no gas line or chimney required! 

If you’re willing to enlist the help of a contractor or carpenter, creating a new façade for your fireplace can completely transform a room.   Enclosing the aforementioned 60’s style wall of orange brick with sheetrock and adding moldings, detailed millwork, and a decorative mantle can turn a very dated fireplace into a classic traditional one.   To give a fireplace a more contemporary look, replace colored tiles with a limestone or natural stone tile surround.  Recycled glass tiles, commonly found in kitchen backsplashes these days, can also look fabulous as a fireplace surround and can read contemporary or traditional depending on the style of mantle you use. 

If you’re tackling a fireplace makeover on your own, make sure you don’t attempt anything that could potentially affect the safety of your fireplace.  Adding a bit of extra molding detail to your mantle is a fairly easy way to lend visual significance, but make sure you don’t place any wood molding within 8” of the opening for the fire itself!  Cleaning and painting a dirty brick surround can make a huge difference in your fireplace’s appearance as well; I suggest black paint if you have a white mantle & trim, as it adds a bit of contrast and hides smoke smudges well.  If you’re painting an entire wall of brick, using classic white or a light tan color will help to update your space. 

Hearth Cabinet, a company I discovered at last winter’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair, builds ventless, gasless modular fireplace units that do not need a gas line or chimney and can be installed virtually anywhere.  Based in Manhattan, this local company set out to create fireplaces for city apartments and now manufactures the only ventless fireplaces approved by both the New York City Fire Department and the New York City Department of Buildings.   Their fireplaces burn small alcohol gel fuel cartridges which produce no smoke, and they come in a variety of styles and finishes that will work in any décor.   They are a great way to introduce a fireplace into your home without requiring any overwhelming construction and are fabulous option for adding a fireplace to a room that typically doesn’t have one, like the Master Bathroom.  After all, who wouldn’t like to gaze at a fire while soaking in their tub?

Whether you completely makeover your fireplace, add a new one entirely, or simply draw attention to an already beautiful mantle with a few well placed accents, be sure to take the time to enjoy some warm nights by the fire this winter season.

For more fireplace makeover ideas, visit the author’s blog at www.WestchesterDecorator.blogspot.com. 

[blockquote class=blue]Kitty Burruss is an interior designer living and working in Briarcliff Manor.  She works for Barbara Sternau Interior Design and is author of The Westchester Decorator, a popular design blog.[/blockquote]

 

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About the Author: Kitty Burruss