How to easily revamp an outdated fireplace

You fell in love with your new home because of its commanding focal point: a cozy fireplace where you envisioned spending fall and winter evenings warming by the fire. But what if you love the flames but hate the crumbling brick, the dated brass hardware or the dirty stone?

Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to glam up a tired fireplace to suit your design style. We asked two designers for tips — ranging from super-affordable to worth-the-splurge — to give your fireplace a much-needed facelift.


Give it a fresh coat of paint

As long as your fireplace is in good shape structurally and is safe to use, the easiest and most budget-friendly option to transform both the tile and mantel lies in a can of paint, says Chilliwack, British Columbia-based colour designer Maria Killam.

“When my sister and her husband bought a house, there was this really ugly 1970s orange, black and white brick fireplace, and I said, ‘We need to paint that right away!’ but they didn’t,” recalls Killam. “For years, nobody wanted to be in that room. Then, we finally redid the room and painted the fireplace white and it was absolutely transformational. White works best for a fireplace because it usually can be an extension of your trim colour.”

Whether you go the all-white or all-black route, or you choose contrasting colours to make it pop, don’t forget to refinish your mantel, too, says Courtney Turk, president of Courtney Turk Interiors in Ottawa.

“If your mantel is made of solid wood, sand it down until any finishes are removed on the surface; this will help the paint adhere and last a lot longer,” says Turk. “With your tile surround, be sure to use a primer before applying your latex paint in your desired colour.”

To freshen up stone fireplaces, Killam leaves the latex paint behind.

“Chalk paint does miraculous things today; you can create this multi-dimensional look that’s whitish-grayish instead of just a solid painted stone,” she says.


Cover a faded fireplace with another material

For a mid-range budgetary option, consider refacing your fireplace. You’ll get a completely new look without the huge mess and expense of a total tear-down. Try cladding the fireplace in reclaimed wood or cream millwork to add warm texture, or incorporate concrete to bring an industrial, contemporary vibe to the space. You can also purchase masonry veneers which look like brick or stone but are much thinner and lighter. 

“When it comes to stone or millwork for your fireplace, call in the pros or someone handy,” advises Turk. “Stone and tile require a wet saw to cut, which can be tricky.”

To cut down on costs, put up 12”x12” tiles or an even border of stone around the fireplace, she adds.

“If you want a great DIY alternative, try using shiplap for the upper portion of the wall above your mantel. It’s relatively straightforward to install, and can easily transform a dated fireplace into something more modern and refined. Be sure to paint the shiplap and fireplace surround the same colour so that it flows as one cohesive unit.”

If you go the wood route, consult your local municipality — most building codes advise against installing combustible material within six inches of a working fireplace.

Other inexpensive refacing options include drywall, ceramic or porcelain tiles, stucco, concrete, or veneered stones — all can be affixed directly to your existing fireplace for a simple solution.


Start from scratch

If your fireplace is traditional and your overall design scheme is ultra-modern, a can of paint probably won’t cut it. Sometimes a sledgehammer is the only choice, says Turk.

“Depending on your personal style, I would suggest a full demo to create the fireplace of your dreams,” she says. “That may be a sleek marble surround or farmhouse shiplap incorporated with a live edge mantel.”

Other splurge-worthy materials include quartz, granite or exotic wood, as well as extending the entire fireplace up to the ceiling. You can also apply any of these tips to your outdoor fireplace, if you’re lucky enough to have one.


Give your fireplace mantel some love, too

An updated fireplace won’t sing until you’ve also styled your mantel, says Turk.

“Start with an anchor or large piece to ground the space and layer with asymmetrical vases and artwork,” she suggests. “Elevate the rest of the mantel with stacked books to create visual interest and finish off with some fresh greenery to complete the look.”

Killam suggests arranging a few picture frames, too.

“Don’t be afraid to get a bunch of accessories; you don’t know what’s going to look good until you bring it home and you can always return the rest.”

You can also dress up your fireplace with a spiffy new screen, or as Killam suggests, paint a dated brass screen or hardware using high heat black paint.

No matter what your budget or style is, there’s a fireplace revamp that matches, so have some fun with this important design element.