In our whole house renovation, part of the project included opening up the family room to be an extension of the kitchen for an open dining room / hearth room space. I loved the idea of a hearth room in the kitchen/dining area, but the existing fireplace would need a serious fireplace renovation along with the rest of the house’s renovating projects!
Here’s the nitty gritty of this fireplace renovation with the before, the overall goals in both function and design, and the completed project…
First, the before:
When we purchased the house in the fall of 2017, this fireplace was surrounded by a built-in closet on the left and built-in shelves on the right.
The actual fireplace was an open fireplace with only a free-standing screen across the front of it. This type of fireplace is a terrible design for actually heating a house. Because of the open design, the fire will pull air from the room, (causing a cold draft from every crevice in the house to bring in outside air) and then sends the warm air up the chimney.
Our friend Jeff, from Energysavers in N. St. Paul came out and measured for a new wood-burning fireplace insert. My husband loves to chop wood, which I’m so glad he does, because I love a wood burning fire! We live in the Midwest, NW Wisconsin, where there are always many trees each year that need to be cut up and moved. Most likely they fell in a storm, but in our case last year, we had to have several ash trees cut down in our yard because they had been infected with the Emerald Ash Borer and were getting sick. (you can read about those 13 trees in this post)
We knew that we wanted a Lopi, the same brand fireplace insert we had put in our last house. We are pretty impressed with how energy efficient they are.
However, once the fireplace was installed there was an issue:
There winded up being a gap between the back of the insert and the face of the brick.
Jeff was super prompt at having a custom made metal collar surround fitted for it:
I like the depth that extra collar provided even better than if it were the original flat design.
If you notice on that picture above you can see the hearth tile is different than it was in the ‘before’ photo. I typically try to have things planned and materials available, during the project, but I completely spaced this one out! All of a sudden it dawned on me, (like a day or 2 before the fireplace was scheduled to be installed) I needed to pick out, purchase, pick-up and have the hearth tile installed… BEFORE the fireplace insert install took place. We were so distracted with the entire house being torn apart, I nearly missed that detail. Once the fireplace was installed, it would have been a really hard job, if not impossible, to get the tile out from under it and replaced with the new tile.
That meant I needed to drop everything and run to the tile store.
I had no idea what I did want. I just knew what I didn’t… I didn’t want anything with a pattern. I wanted the hearth to look handsome but not to demand any attention with a pattern. I also knew that since this is a wood burning fireplace, there is a certain amount of mess that goes with that. Soot is a reality…
I looked around the tile shop… mostly perplexed. (sometimes it is helpful to have their employee assist with selections, and sometimes… not so much. I usually can’t think when they’re making their suggestions. I typically just need to get lost in my own thoughts while I quietly visualize a design) I didn’t want anything that looked modern, I was going for a Colonial Revival style. I didn’t want anything small and busy. I didn’t want anything that competed with the scale of the brick that was existing on the fireplace, it needed to be easy to clean…
Then I spied a very simple black slate tile. It even had a black bullnose coordinating trim piece. That was perfect! The guys dropped everything as soon as I came back with the tile and got it installed ASAP… just in time for the fireplace insert installer the next day. Whew!
Next my design plan:
I studied pictures of antique fireplaces in Colonial style houses for classic style inspiration to design the chase on our fireplace.
The design I finally settled on maintained the existing brick on the lower section all around the fireplace. (fortunately for us, when the built-in closets came down, it was fully bricked on both sides!) For the top section, I wanted to incorporate some beadboard. (here is the affiliate link for the beadboard I used in several places throughout the whole house renovation) The rest of the dining room hearth room and kitchen has a wide Pickwick paneling 5′ high on the walls, it would have felt redundant to repeat that on the fireplace chase. But, I do have beadboard in several places so I wanted to pull that profile onto the fireplace for a contrast to the Pickwick. (here you can read the dining room progress about the Pickwick paneling)
In each room of the house on the main level my goal was to build in character in an otherwise very nondescript space. This fireplace was going to be that interesting character for this room.
Once the existing mantel was taken down, it became very apparent that the brick was getting sooty from the smoke. I tried to clean it off, but the porous brick wouldn’t clean up at all. That was a good education for me to realize that I needed to paint the brick that was exposed so that it could easily be cleaned!
I first primed the brick with this bonding primer. (affiliate link)
It is water clean-up, goes on really smooth, dries in the same amount of time as any latex paint, and adheres really well… hence the ‘bonding’ part. In fact, it is so good at adhering, you can use it on pretty much anything to get fantastic adhesion. The label says: PVC, vinyl, fiberglass, glazed block, tile, pre-coated siding and galvanized metals etc.
Painting this brick was not easy.
I don’t know if you can tell in the picture, but the mortar is set back in quite a bit from the brick. To get the primer and eventually paint in there was hard. It was a matter of loading up the brush and mostly jabbing it up, down and sideways… By the end, my wrist was killing me!
Yes, I should have painted before the fireplace insert was installed too, fortunately it wasn’t too hard to tape it off and paint around it. I’m still just happy I realized about the tile before the fireplace went in… a little awkward painting I can do. (good painter’s tape that doesn’t leave a residue, seals well, yet releases is a must… here’s my favorite!)
I used 2 coats of a satin latex, (because it was still wet when I snapped that picture it looks more shiny in the picture than it does now, dry) The color is an off-black color. It’s the same color I used around the corner in the hallway on the built-in library we made out of an extra closet. (here’s the link to see that library project) This color is a neutral, anything will go with it. It doesn’t demand attention like a bright or intense color would. The entire main floor of our house is painted white with a few touches of black or off-black like this. The pops of colors are introduced in our furnishings, artwork, draperies etc. on this neutral background.
It was finally time to build the chase around the top of the fireplace.
Based on my sketch for the finished design, our carpenter Dan, built the frame necessary to achieve that design. He created an allowance to get the wires inside the gap for the antique light sconces. (We carefully measured the light fixtures well before the chase design was started)
Dan and I had talked over the exact design plan for this chase. We carefully discussed the width for each divided panel, the importance of the beadboard being centered inside of each space, (the grooves being even on each side), the length and clearance needed for the wood-burning fireplace, the space needed and exact placement for the antique wall sconces, all BEFORE he started constructing it.
I wanted this to be done to a very exact design I had in my head. If it was constructed differently I would only have myself to blame if I hadn’t clearly explained that vision to him. That’s something I really appreciate about working with Dan, he is very respectful of my design plan. During the final fireplace renovation design meeting, Dan was good about writing notes both on his paper and on the wall itself. He wants to be creating exactly what I’m visualizing, he’s happy when his client is happy.
Plus, I was gone the day he built this, so there wouldn’t be the ability to pause and have me take a look and decide from there.
By this point in the design plan, I had opted not to use the beam for a mantel like I had originally sketched, but instead to have Dan build a mantel shelf. We did have some big beams left over from the front porch addition (here’s the post on the front porch addition) we considered using, but to support a beam that large on an existing fireplace was a little daunting, plus we installed beams on the ceiling in the hearth room and kitchen, so I didn’t want it to feel ‘too beamed out’. There is always a balance between offering a balanced design in doing some repetitive materials, and over-doing it, creating a boring or too busy look.
The day Dan built the chase and mantel he also built the mantel brackets. Though I hadn’t sketched it out, we had talked quite a bit about the design. There were several weeks, (months) between the time the fireplace insert went in and the chase was built… I had lots of time to contemplate and discuss the finished look and how to achieve proper support for the mantel shelf with brackets. I was having a hard time finding pre-made brackets in the right dimensions that had a Colonial look but weren’t crazy expensive. The ones he made were the perfect touch for the Colonial Revival design I wanted to achieve.
Just a few more trim boards to go and then I could caulk all the joints and seams, prime and paint 2 coats of paint. This is the paint that I used on all the trim and walls in our entire house renovation. (affiliate link) I have been super thrilled with it. It goes on super smooth and seems very durable so far. I highly recommend it. I also am thrilled that I used ‘off-the-shelf’ white. No mixing necessary. No worries for mis-matches, if I bought too much, I can return it, because it’s not custom colored, and I can easily remember what color if I need more.
So here is the finished fireplace renovation in the dining room/ hearth room/ kitchen:
The fireplace color scheme, with the dark on the bottom and light on the top, is sort of opposite of the color scheme the walls in that space have. Having the brick be dark around the fireplace worked great for the soot issues as well! (the ‘stuff’ on the mantel is just what I have up there for this season, including the winter scene picture… at Christmas it looked very different, and in the summer it will change again, all except those antique toleware wall sconces)
I’m so happy with the fireplace renovation finished design and function.
We use the fireplace every single day. It is an important entity in our home, truly helping to heat the space and save on the gas bill, offering a cozy gathering place, but it also offers that piece of interesting character in the room I was aiming for. Those plaid chairs in front of the fireplace are where my husband and I have our morning coffee. During the winter they cozily face the fireplace, but in the summer they face out toward the room. (here you can read here about the issues with the chair leg floor protectors I had and a simple tip to clean up the sticky residue left from them)
Here is a link to read everything I’ve written on our whole house renovation up to date. (you can always find it at the top of this page under ‘Houses: Mid-Century to Colonial Revival’
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