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Fireplace Upgrades – Dramatic Changes with Small Investments

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A new fireplace surround creates a dramatic focal point

A new fireplace surround creates a dramatic focal point

Upgrading your fireplace surround can be an inexpensive way to make a big impact.  This article shows before and after shots of 6 fireplaces and explains what we did.
Fireplace Before

Fireplace Before

Twenty years ago, a previous homeowner had added this fireplace in the master bedroom.  They used a firebox that uses a fan to circulate warm air in the room.  They used a simple row of tiles to trim-out the box, and a slab of slate directly on the floor.  For the remodel, above, we kept the firebox (and thoroughly cleaned it).  We removed the tile and slate hearth.  We purchased an unfinished oak surround from Home Depot.  We stained the wood an ebony (same as the floor) and used a hand-rubbed boiled linseed oil finish.  We sized the inside of the wood fireplace surround so that there would be a more generous tile reveal — especially on the top to better fill the wall space.  After we worked with the homeowner to make the selections, she did the tile work staining, oil finish & tile work herself to save money.

In addition to the changes to the fireplace itself, we made several other changes in the room that increase the “presence” of the fireplace.  We used a light color on the wall to create a contrast with the dark floor and fireplace surround.  We removed the sheers that covered the crisp architecture of the windows.  Added a 3-part crown molding and replaced the sconces.

Fireplace w/ New Glass Tiles & Concrete Hearth

Fireplace w/ New Glass Tiles & Concrete Hearth

Fireplace Before Changes

Fireplace Before Changes

For the fireplace, above, we covered the brick with glass subway tile that matches tile used in the kitchen,  The glass tile with the same proportions as the brick was used in the same pattern as the brick.  We also replaced the fireplace glass doors and the hearth — again using material used elsewhere in the house.  In this case, we painted the wall a deeper color to contrast with the white painted wooden fireplace surround.  Usually, if you want to create a focal point, you want that focal point to contrast with the surrounding colors.

Modernized Fireplace

Modernized Fireplace

Traditional Fireplace Before Changes

Traditional Fireplace Before Changes

While the previous remodeled fireplaces have been fairly traditional, in this one we moved from traditional to modern to coordinate with stainless steel railing and european style cabinets.  We removed the wood surround and the marble hearth.  We built a new “box” from plywood and durock and covered all surfaces including the hearth with large-format porcelain tile.  Brushed metal edging was used in lieu of bullnose tile for a more modern look.  The 3 inch deep mantle is just deep enough to use as a picture ledge.  We installed a new gas insert in the old firebox.

Fireplace w/ built-in bookcases

Fireplace w/ built-in bookcases

Fireplace Before Changes

Fireplace Before Changes

The original fireplace had a very modest trim.  In this case, red brick surrounded by a simple mitered wood trim.  We left the trim in place and painted the brick.  Then we built 2 small bookcases under the windows on either side of the fireplace.  The cap of the bookcases forms a continuous mantle across the entire wall.  While normally, bookcases surrounding a fireplace are in line with or behind the front of the fireplace, the treatment, above, creates a simple
formality that works well in this house.  To keep costs down, the bookcases were purchased unfinished and then simply trimmed out by a finish carpenter.

Fireplace w/ New Mantle

Fireplace w/ New Mantle

Fireplace Before Changes

Fireplace Before Changes

The homeowners felt that this fireplace in a 1950′s split-level lacked character.  A fireplace and wood alcove were both inserted into a painted brick wall.  We removed the brass glass doors putting more emphasis on the stone trim surrounding the firebox.  We replaced the doors with a simple black metal screen.  We installed a mantle above the fireplace that wrapped around the corner and we furred-out the brick so we could install drywall.  A custom glass mural creates a dramatic focal point above the new mantle.

Stone Fireplace with Salvaged Old-Growth Redwood Mantle

Stone Fireplace with Salvaged Old-Growth Redwood Mantle

Fireplace Before

Fireplace Before

This stunning stone fireplace required little change except to replace the simple wood mantle with a rough-hewn salvaged old-growth redwood mantle.  The finish is a simple oil finish.  We used a wall color that better accents the stone.  The owner’s artwork also sets off the re-vitalized fireplace to advantage.

While in many cases, the changes to the fireplace were part of larger remodeling efforts, you can see from the photographs that the simple changes we made to these fireplaces create a dramatic change in the tone of the space.  All of these changes were relatively inexpensive and many could be largely handled by a homeowner to save money.
All images courtesy of Braitman Design/Build
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About the Author

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I'm the owner and principal of Braitman Design/Build. We remodel older homes within the urban and close-in suburban areas of Washington, DC. In addition to our full service Design/Build Practice We welcome small design projects and small home improvement projects. And consult with homeowners across the country who want to design and manage the remodeling process themselves. Finally, my work is informed by my experience as an exhibiting sculptor and designer. I truly work at the intersection of art, architecture and design. Please see for yourself the extraordinary result when architecture, design and art are seamless parts of the whole. Please also visit my sculpture website: www.jackiebraitman.com

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