fireplace mistakes

If you have an old wood burning fireplace and are looking to upgrade it READ THIS POST FIRST before doing anything. Learn from my mistakes.

When we first moved into our house our fireplace was encased in brick, untouched and very maroon with brass doors – just like the rest of the house (if you want to learn more about our house you can here). So, of course I did what I usually do and dove right into to changing it. Didn’t really think about what we really wanted to make it one day, just knew I hated the brick and it needed to go!

fireplace and living room when we bought our house

For phase one (because we’ve really done about four makeovers now on the fireplace), we did the cheapest and easiest thing you can do and painted the brick white. We kept the mantle that it came with and just decided everything needed a fresh coat to like it. Right? Wrong. That lasted about a hot second when I decided that we needed to paint the brass doors black. So, we SPRAY PAINTED the doors – and some of the carpeting we had in that room at the time. We were in our twenties and eager, what can I say?!? (We later ripped up the carpeting and found the original hardwoods so blessing in disguise, I guess.)

cozy night in with our painted fireplace and candles burning

Note – in all of these phases we have never built an actual fire in the fireplace. We had some flue issues that we didn’t want to pay to fix so its really just been a cosmetic focal point in our living room. We have put candles in it from time to time, but I really wish we would have fully thought about the functionality of it before we did anything. Thus why I am writing this.

Phase one lasted about a year when I decided that I didn’t love the painted brick. In my defense it wasn’t that pretty. The brick had A TON of texture to it and it wasn’t something that got better with paint. Thus, phase two began. We decided to take off the doors and skim coat the fireplace with plaster to make it smooth. We also wanted to update the mantle with a wood one made by a friend. The skim coat was super easy to do and, thankfully, I am still loving it, because phase three was a new mantle about three years later and then phase four was painting it again a warmer white about six months later!

This is where I wish I could go back in time and say to myself, what do you want this fireplace to be at the end of the day.

Now eight years later after buying our house I really wanted to spend the money to make our fireplace functional. I wanted to create that warm and cozy space in the living room where we could sit in front of a fire in the winter. We went through the process of calling the professionals and they all said the same thing – you can’t do anything with heat because of the paint and plaster. No gas insert. No gas logs. Even if we fixed the flue and built fires we would still damage the paint and plaster. I never thought that the plaster would have been issue, but it makes sense. The heat from the fireplace would cause it to dry and crack and later crumble into little pieces on the floor. Paint can do the same, too. We recently walked by a house in our neighborhood that had a painted chimney and the paint was peeling on the outside because of the heat.

So we started looking at electric fireplaces. That is about our only option for a fireplace right now. But honestly, I don’t like them for the room. If we had a really modern home the glass ones would look great, but we don’t. We also looked at the metal front electric fireplaces, but unfortunately the inserts are too big for our opening – go figure! So now what?

current view of the fireplace

I’m looking at a few options to finish the fireplace:

  • create a beautiful set of doors to give it a finished look and continue with our candles
  • build a three inch black matte frame around the opening to give it a finished look and continue with our candles
  • leave it as is and continue with our candles

The candle part really bums me out. I won’t lie. I really wanted to create that cozy space, but we would have to spend some serious money to resurface the front of our fireplace to make it right and I just don’t want to do that – at least not right now.

Lessons learned:

Don’t move too fast. Think things through. Have a plan. Think long term!

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