Disguising a Brick Fireplace
We recently moved to a 1960s, contemporary-style house that has a big eyesore in the living room: a floor-to-ceiling, red brick fireplace, with a brick shelf at mantelpiece height that sticks out about eight inches. We use the fireplace, so can we paint the brick? Or is there another inexpensive way to make it less ugly? — Betsy B., Harrison
A brick fireplace was considered quite the architectural embellishment in many Arts and Crafts houses, and possibly in your house when it was built. But tastes change. Interior designer Kim Freeman in Ossining feels your pain. “It sounds awful,” she says, with the depth of feeling that only someone with a similarly daunting brick fireplace can muster. “Paint is the quick fix,” she agrees. “But I hated my big, brick fireplace, so I painted it, and I hated it still. Brick is brick. It’s just going to look like white brick instead of red brick.”
Still, you could begin by painting it to see if that does the trick. Clean the brick with a stiff brush and vacuum it to get any loose bits off. Then, choose a primer and paint that are heat-resistant. If you paint the brick the same color as the walls, the whole thing should loom less.
“Another option would be to clad the brick in heat-resistant Sheetrock to give it a smooth surface,” Freeman suggests. “I’d knock the shelf off,” she adds. As for a mantel, she thinks clean, uninterrupted lines are better in a contemporary setting. “If you have some kind of fabulous artwork or a collection that won’t melt and is worthy, it could go on a mantel,” she concedes, in which case, consider one made of “a two-inch-thick, painted shelf — something that makes a very clean, slim line. It could be a piece of stone.”
Speaking of stone, Freeman believes it’s worth spending the bucks to transform your eyesore into a dramatic focal point. “I’d put some kind of stone facing over the brick. You could make it look sensational with a little money,” she says. “Look at fifties and sixties houses — that Frank Sinatra-Palm Springs type of house with wonderful stone. It definitely fits the period.” To get an idea of the cost of various types of stone facing, she recommends you take measurements and a picture to a specialist like Bedford Stone & Masonry Supply for an estimate. But be warned: “Stone is not a handyman special, do-it-yourself thing,” she advises. You need a mason. To see Freeman’s handsomely Pocono-stone-clad fireplace, check under Press at her website www.freemandesigngroup.net. (Her home also appeared in Westchester Home magazine a while back.)
Whatever you decide, make sure to check fire codes and do it safely. “You can’t fool around with a fireplace,” Freeman warns.