If you’ve inherited a stone fireplace you don’t love, or you are building a new house, read this before you start! You will forever be decorating around your fireplace, so this isn’t the time to jump in without a design plan for a classic fireplace you’ll love for years to come.
Before You Begin Your Stone Fireplace Makeover
Usually my eDesign department is super busy in the Spring and Fall but this year, we are busier than ever even though the summer! And the fireplace conversation is one I have a lot with my clients!
Many people simply assume that the next upgrade to a plain, yet dated brick fireplace is to add ledge stone. I’m here (as usual) to tell you that you’re simply turning your current bossy coloured fireplace into another bossy one.
You still have to decorate around the colours in the fireplace if you want the room to look the best.
Choosing classic millwork instead of stone
And, it takes a designer eye to create a beautiful stone fireplace. So, unless you have a decorating plan go with it, you’re much better off to install classic millwork instead (similar to the fireplace above). You’ll be happier with it in the long term.
I inherited the classic and timeless millwork mantels in my house and the surround is some kind of cream plastic product. No idea what it is, but I love that I don’t have to think about the colour of the fireplace, or the surround, AT ALL when I decorate.
The photo below shows what a common stone fireplace makeover or upgrade looks like. Compare the above photo to the after one here. It’s easy to see which one is prettier. And way more timeless.
This I know to be true. How? Because this example (above) is WAY MORE COMMON than the beautifully designed stone fireplace. You know, the carefully chosen fireplace where the decor and style of home is kept at the forefront of each (and every) decision.
There’s nothing wrong with a stone fireplace, but it needs to be designed thoughtfully just like anything else that will be such a big feature in your home.
For example, does your fireplace in the great room relate to your kitchen?
Painting the brick fireplace white (like in the photo below) would have been much prettier makeover. It would neutralize the orange and keep it classic looking, and makes it easy to decorate around, year after year.
Related post: Should I Paint my Fireplace?
Considering a fireplace for your new build? Don’t install a new fireplace without reading this first.
Should you paint your brick fireplace black?
Black fireplaces are definitely trending – just like black windows, doors and black tile. However, notice how much styling is happening around this black fireplace example to make it look amazing!
Did you know that black can look really good on an exterior in a very green landscape setting because kelly green is so pretty with black? The same holds true here, with all the ferns hanging out of this one.
Read more: Black Contemporary Exterior eDesign Consultation
Again, if you paint your fireplace black, you’ll need to repeat it in your decorating. However, in this case, it’s easy to change back to white if you don’t love it. So, if you are ok with black being part of your decorating plan, this might be a good option for you.
But Maria, I want to make over my stone fireplace with stone
There’s nothing wrong with stone, but it has to be carefully considered.
Like this contemporary room (below) with the modern Japanese inspired, zen stone fireplace. Perfection.
The pale green beige colour of the stones effortlessly relate to the weathered wood ceiling and even the drapery colour. And, while the combination of the stone and ceiling both lean bit rustic, the fireplace feels like a work of art – it’s even framed. Other decor and accessories are kept simple, allowing the stone to be the star of the show.
Notice (below) how well the gold beige of this fireplace has also been repeated in the decorating. The colour of stone has been carefully considered here from the wood tones, to the leather on the stool, to the lampshade colour, and even to the animal hides on the floor.
The violet upholstery on the sofa and chair lends a lovely and feminine contrast to the earthier gold beige in the room. You can tell a designer has been here.
You can see that the sectional in this white living room is pink beige which relates perfectly to the pink beige, green grey and gold beige fireplace stone. So if you do have existing stone, notice how pretty it is when you decorate around this very bossy fixed element.
Rarely do people keep their rooms exactly the same for more than 7-10 years. Therefore, if you stick to classic finishes in your fireplace, you won’t need to get rid of EVERYTHING when you do embark on a stone fireplace makeover.
So look, if you’re considering ledge stone, I’ve just saved you so much money and the angst of then having to decorate around it. Now all you need is a quart of paint 🙂
And if you have it already in a colour you don’t like, well these days, chalk paint can make it classic and timeless again. Problem solved.
If you’d like help with your new build or renovation, check out those packages here.
Why Stone and Accent Tile are NOT as Important as You Think
The Easy Way to Style a Fireplace Mantel
Maria, your advice is so valuable, and I love the pictures you posted as examples. Thankfully, my fireplaces are just right for my house, so I won’t need to update them. But, I may move one of these days, and need this advice! I’m grateful to be learning so much from you! Thank you for doing what you do 🙂
I agonized over our bossy purple and brown stone corner fireplace that loomed over our whole living room. What I really wanted to do was rip the whole thing out and put in beautiful millwork, as I’ve followed this blog for years and heard Maria say this before and I totally agree! Since we can’t afford that right now, I found the next best thing- Romabio Limewash. My walls are BM Manchester tan and a 50/50 mix of the Romabio Limewash colors Toscano Beige and Cristallo White is a fair match, so my fireplace blends right in. It just looks quiet and textured now. The limewash is matte and easy to work with. You can also wash some of it off soon after painting if you want some faint shades of stone showing through. I loved it so much I limewashed all the fake stone on my exterior to match our Manchester Tan creamy siding. Another thing I liked about the limewash is it will not peel like paint on brick or stone and need to be redone as often.
That is a great solution too! Thanks for your comment! Maria
Do you happen to have a photo of the exterior? We just bought a house with some very dated looking stonework on the bottom half and we can not figure out what to do with it, without spending $$$$ to have it removed.
Maria, no photos of what I believe is the prettiest fireplace around, hacienda style. I love Sol’s one on Grace and Frankie.
I have this monstrosity and I want to take a sledge hammer to it and get a hacienda look instead. Just off white stucco. A tile surround may be nice, but not necessary.
Hi Maria, I have a fireplace that is surrounded in a pink beige marble, including the hearth (the piece of marble flush on the floor in front of the fireplace). The marble surround is framed with painted white millwork & a painted white mantle (millwork color matches the color of trim in the rest of the home). All trim/millwork in the home is painted a semi-gloss white. I’m thinking of painting the marble surround/hearth white as well – I’m assuming it should also be a semi-gloss finish to make it seamless with the millwork?
Fireplaces wear many hats such as a source of energy, or its use as an ornamental storage with surrounds serving as bookcases or worse log storage (space hogs) and finally as decor. The latter is always my priority. Like it or not fireplaces always stand out as either decor or an eyesore, so if the plan is to redo the feature, spend the time and money to make it stand out as decor. Evaluate more than color, look at all of its components, width, height, texture and purpose,In most cases it stands unused other than an object of art that takes up lots of space. Turn it into an art piece, protect it when in use and you will enjoy it winter, spring, summer and fall.
This was a great post and very helpful. I love all the examples you presented. One other problem I see made with fireplaces and surrounds is the scale. I have this problem in my own home and it drives me nuts (small room, with oversized fireplace/mantle and a brick hearth jutting out into the room). Oh how I’d love to rip it out!
I agree, the scale is wrong on so many fireplaces! Thanks for this comment Melissa! Maria
I am amused to find this post. I was recently pondering the huge black surrounds just about every ‘decorator’ seems to be using in tv home renovation programs. Along with black shower screen frames, window frames and tapware. It seems Maria, that you are a mind reader.
In your fireplace (the one with the millwork), there appears to be some grey stone or other material around the fireplace before the white millwork. What is that grey material. Also, if we do millwork, are we restricted to white plastic millwork vs wood. I was unsure if it was plastic to make it less flammable.
I’m actually not sure what the material around my fireplace is, but it is some kind of plastic. And it’s cream. Maria
I just wanted to let you know that the designer who created that all-white painted brick fireplace in the photo above is William McLure. He’s an artist based out of Alabama. He’s a genius.
In your bad before and after example I feel like the proportions are what I find most offensive. I see this a lot where the firebox is just sitting up there with no hearth below it and I feel like it throws off the whole room. (Great in a modern design but not with a traditional shape / size firebox.) Also the mantel is too high. Imagine if they had done something similar to the first picture in your blog, but instead of the black material, just kept the brick and left the hearth in place. Or even if they’d used the stone in that same fashion. That could have been fabulous! While the stone may be bossy from a color standpoint, if you love stone, there’s no reason not to have it if the scale of it works in the space. A massive fireplace can dominate a small room or low ceiling and look out of balance. As far as material choices, I like seeing the exterior finishes repeated on the fireplace inside. I say if you love the stone on the outside of the house, using it again on the fireplace is great. If you have pretty brick on the outside, brick on the fireplace looks great. Painted brick done right can be fabulous. (I remember my mom painting the wood paneling in the living room as well as the brick on the fireplace back in the late 80’s and it made a huge difference.) Regardless of what’s on the outside, you can really never go wrong with nice mill-work! But whatever you do, the proportions are critical. Even a finely crafted and beautiful mantel will be all wrong if it’s too large, too small, placed too high or too low, or sitting above a firebox that is mysteriously floating above the ground without a hearth (something I see far too often). All of your good examples are well designed because they achieved proper proportions, each of them having either a raised hearth or some kind of stone / non-flammable material on the floor in front of the firebox.
Great post! Imagine my surprise when I saw your “how to do it right” picture at the start of this post – this has been my inspiration room for a couple of years now, and I refer to it whenever making renovation or decorating decisions. It says “source unknown” – I found it on Pinterest from a site called homebunch.com, and they list the designer etc.
Maria you always have such good advice. I love all of the examples you have shown! My first choice is the one with the lovely millwork even though it is very traditional. Some of my clients like contemporary fireplace surrounds with marble or even quartz. Then there are those who watch too much HGTV and want encaustic tile which drives me nuts! Lol
Thank you always for your no nonsense approach!
Lucy, I don’t watch HGTV because I don’t get that channel.
But I love encaustic tile, having seen it all over Mexico, some of it 200 years old and still on the floors.
Some people just find the traditional look way too boring to live with day after day. Nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there, sort of thing.
Maria, you mentioned a mortar technique for existing masonry fireplaces awhile back–I feel like it had a specific name (not just “tuck pointing”).
It was a technique where mortar is used to “fill in” between stones a bit more, so that the masonry is not quite so…dimensional, maybe you said?
I’ve tried to find that post again, unsuccessfully, and want to be able to describe it to my chimney guys. I have a 1970s stone fireplace, and while I love millwork fp, I do like the large stones–when the wall color is chosen to coordinate–and don’t want to rip it all out. Thank you!
PS my other fireplace is brick, and I had it painted in SW Dover White 20+ years ago (same as trim color), and still love it. Firmly in the “paint the brick” camp.
Jen, In French this is called an “enduit à pierre vue / enduit à pierres vues”. I’ve tried to find an English translation for this and all the ones I’ve seen are rubbish. I suggest you Google the French term and you will find a lot of examples with pictures to show your builder. What really happens is that your masons cover the wall completely with mortar (lime mortar coloured appropriately to match the stone) and leave only the bits of stone which stick out visible. A lot of the stone will disappear under this treatment, which is the only correct one for old stone walls. If you wish to see a superb example, look up “Hameau de Barboron” https://www.lehameaudebarboron.com/ and look at their photos of the exterior pointing (although I haven’t been able to see them as our internet connection is too slow). There’s a good one on Via Michelin: http://download.viamichelin.com/media/image2/max/-I/X7/-6/aESbm8STatyee2UQ.jpg
Obviously not the drystone wall in the foreground! Hope this helps.
This is a reply to Jen. I think you may be referring to “over-grouting.” If you Google that term, you’ll see some pictures that show examples. Here’s one that I love: https://laurelberninteriors.com/2016/12/14/ugliest-stone-fireplace/patina-farm-stone-fireplace-with-over-grouting-parged-antique-french-limestone/. Good luck with your project!
is the source for first photo 🙂
The millwork design is fine in traditional or transitional homes but would not look appropriate in a modern style house. What are some classic styles that work in more modern homes (not stark concrete modern, but more organic warm modern.) I keep thinking some type of white/off-white stone or tile?
I’m late to the party here, but thanks Maria for posting this and potential saving some fireplaces from awkward, and hideous “makeovers” ! I think that one reason why so many of these stone fireplace “makeovers” look so bad is that the “retrofit” type of stone veneer typically used is too small in scale to look convincingly like a “real” stone fireplace, and the small size contributes to the overall “busy-ness” of the whole look. Most I’ve seen are just plain ugly and, well, artificial looking as well.
A very easy fix is to whitewash the brick with chalkpaint–no primer needed, and no topcoat needed! Over a year ago, I painted my “overpowering” brick fireplace with a whitewash of Annie Sloan chalk paint, watered down about 3 parts water to 1 part paint. A little went a long way. It looks amazing, if I do say so myself, and was so easy to do. It has held up perfectly, and even the hearth is easy to keep clean (and we burn real wood). You can still see the texture and some subtle color variation of the brick coming through, which was intentional. You can decide how transparent or opaque you want it. It is similar to the look of a lime-washed brick facade that has faded over time- a classic look for sure!
Hi this is to show you what happens when I try to
I have a mid century home I just purchased. I have gutted the entire house. This is a house on the water. I moved from a ranch so I have a lot of cowhide rugs, western art, etc. The kitchen will have a green, blue, rust colored island top. The kitchen counter is a light cream. Cabinets are navy blue. It is a big open space with the drop down floor. I am painting cement floors with a cream colored epoxy throughout the house. The walls will be soft white. The push up in living room can either be white or wood shiplap. The fireplace is pink brick. I am replacing fireplace with black iron. Should I paint the fireplace with white or possibly a green? Also bookshelves are brown with glass shelves. Should I paint or stain the wood? What about the 2 ft. Hearth. Mantel? Yellow brick.
Did you ever get a response to this? I was curious what you ended up doing.
My problem is the size of the brick surround between the firebox and the mantle. It is only 4inches wide on the top and 5 inches wide on the side. I want to cover with stone tile but how do I figure out what style would look best? There are so many sizes of tiles! Do I put larger tiles all the way around or smaller sized ones. It’s so confusing….
Do you offer the service of redesigning a fireplace? I have an original gas fireplace opening that we capped in my 1930s home, so it has never been functional other than the mantle for decorating. I would like to put the tv above it, but it would be up too high. I don’t want to just remove the fireplace because it has tile on the floor in front of and I would need to replace with hardwoods and match to my current hardwoods – more $$ than I want to spend. So I’m looking for a design service to help me figure out how to redesign this area in the correct proportions on a very tight budget. TIA, Tammy
Does anyone have any suggestions for a beautiful black or charcoal to use on a fireplace?