dear d*s

dear d*s: disguising a fireplace + vintage bike sources

by Grace Bonney

question: i am writing because i desperately need help with something in my living room. yesterday we had our beautiful fireplace covered by our landlady (that’s london for you). where once we had different colored candles in our black fireplace (as it wasn’t a working one) we now have a huge wooden piece of block (image here) covering an incredibly large amount of it almost to the mantel. i want to cover it, but i don’t want something too overwhelming in the space because our living room is quite small. what should i do? – sarah b

answer: hi sarah! so sorry to hear your landlord covered up your fireplace. no fun at all. especially with such a flimsy looking piece of wood. grrr. but not to fear, there are a few great options for this. since your carpet is blue, you don’t want to go too crazy with anything that might clash but here are a few ideas. hope they come in handy!:

  • wallpaper: d*s diy editor kate pruitt covered her fireplace with a sheet of wallpaper placed over foam board. you could cover your entire fireplace, or just apply paper (or gift wrap- cheaper!) with decorative patterns that match your carpet.
  • fabric: i’m of the belief that a piece of fabric almost always makes everything better. instead of paper, you could cover your wood piece with a piece of staple gunned fabric, or create a thin upholstered panel to cover the entire non-working fireplace- and add some extra insulation. you could even add a ribbon trim to mimic the shape of the fireplace.
  • mirrors: mirror tiles are always an option, but since you already have a mirror on top, i would avoid overkill with the reflective surfaces. but it could look cool to move the mirror from above and instead apply mirrored tiles to the wood piece and antique them with a technique like this. an aged mirror would look lovely under a mantle decorated with florals.
  • chalkboard paint: this might seem a little out there. but i once saw a non-working fireplace painted with chalkboard paint over a wood front at a friend’s home in georgia. she drew a rotating series of playful log or stacked book images on the wood to create a faux-fireplace scene. not for everyone, but still fun.
  • decals: i’m not a fan of decals, but if you pained this wood piece to get rid of the neutral brown tone, you could apply any number of decals. but rather than a pre-made set- try this fun tutorial to make your own.
  • decorative screen: a screen would be a fun and easy fix to cover the entire section of wood. you can buy a pre-made version, or build your own, covering it with a fabric or paper of your choice

CLICK HERE for a great list of vintage-style bike resources after the jump!

question: i am looking to buy a vintage-inspired bicycle to replace my old bike. i love the look of some of the ones featured in your “living in” column and was wondering if you can let me know where i may be able to find a cute vintage-inspired bike on a budget. -heidi

answer: hi heidi! since you referenced amy merrick‘s column, i started with her for your question. amy answered, “the best brick and mortar store is landmark bicycles– they sell great old cruisers for girls, a million types of baskets, etc. online and budget friendly, try beach bikes. the photos aren’t great but the bikes would be cute in a different context.” here are a few more resources i found online, hope they help!

  • craigslist: i checked CL in 8 different major cities and found tons of vintage-style bikes for sale. they may not be antiques, but they’ll definitely give you the look for less money (nyc had dozens under $200)
  • ebay: it goes without saying there are always a few steals to be had here that will ship to you
  • online boutiques: electra bikes, chubby‘s, worksman cycles
  • overstock.com: i found a few vintage style reproduction bikes for under $200 here
  • UO bikes: urban outfitters lets you build a custom bike under $400. many have a decidedly retro feel
  • ebay canada: vintage frames at affordable prices, since heidi is in canada

Suggested For You


  • Why not have a poster printed of a log fire, and glue it to the board with Spray Mount? Not only would it be a hoot, but it would acknowledge and even celebrate a problem that many apartment dwellers face.

  • what is it with london landlords and fireplaces? we live in a flat that could never possibly have a fireplace, and the landlord stuck a fireplace surround to the wall, like just for fun. there’s nothing in the gap but wall space and the surround is faux-victorian while the rest of the flat’s built-in work is quite obviously post-war. so random!
    i like the chalkboard paint idea…or maybe blowing up a favourite photograph with a bit of distressing so the board isn’t quite so jarring.

  • Shimelle made me laugh. I used to have one of those awful fake fireplace surrounds in my London apartment too.

    I like the wallpaper idea. And if you leaned a few different sized, artfully arranged canvases or framed pictures up against it it could even look like it was supposed to be that way!

  • I would paint it white to match the surrounding mantle and make it look a little more “on purpose” with a base board across it. All white to make it disappear.

  • If you have kids, you could cover the fireplace with a white magnetic board (IKEA has some)and use pretty magnets on it like those farm scenes from Djeco.

  • Recommending those UO bikes is like recommending particle board furniture from Walmart. The frames are cheap & heavy steel. If you want a nice singlespeed/fixed gear, please check out what your local bike shop has or can build up for you.

    • gwen

      a friend of mine has one of their bikes and i don’t think they’re terribly flimsy. she rides it to work in the city every day without a problem- it’s def not an incredibly high quality bike, but that’s why we provided other options.


  • paint it white (to blend with the molding), paint it black (to lend the illusion of the space that was there), or mirror it, which would definitely open up a small room!

    though Julie’s idea cracks me up…!

  • how about a small collection of framed art? You could lean the frames in front of (and covering) the board and then sort of layer them. It would look very artsy.

  • also, regarding the bikes, try looking up Flying Pigeons. I have one and they’re really great, super inexpensive, old school style, but built to last.

  • I would paint it white, too, but after applying either bead board or some other kind of wood paneling to the face of the board.

  • Thanks, Grace (and my apologies for the tone of my hastily written comment, which upon re-reading was rather harsh). I’m admittedly a bike geek, and after many years of riding, maintaining, and building up my own bikes, I still prefer to buy from a local shop than to buy online. I’ve also spent a lot of time mentoring new riders, and having a proper fitting & a good relationship with a shop can mean the difference between loving or hating one’s bike.

    Plus, this time of year shops begin to discount their ’09 models, and may have ’08 models on closeout for even less. For the same price point as the UO model, you could get a pretty nice bike…plus a free year of maintenance, and often you can have components like handlebars or saddle swapped out at little to no cost.

    • gwen

      no worries- the person who wrote in this question is in canada, so she specifically asked for web options. and seeing that most of our readers are spread across the globe i figured web options were the most helpful to the group as a whole :)


  • My husband painted the anti-draft cover for our fireplace with chalkboard paint. It has a cream frame (the fireplace is brick) which matches the wooden mantle.
    Of course, chalkboard paint is my husband’s solution to everything – the plumbing access panel in the stairs, inconveniently at eyelevel on the landing, is now a chalkboard.

  • If you’re looking to splurge, price-wise, you can’t do better than Jitensha Cycle (based in Berkeley, CA). The owner custom builds new steel-frame bikes in a throwback style (with great details like vintage fenders, seats, and other components). The bikes are breathtaking, if you can afford them!

  • Any visitors we have always think my bike is really ancient. It’s just the most popular kind here in Holland and not ancient at all. It’s called an Oma fiets [Granny bike!].

    I see a lot of them advertised outside of the NL as “Dutch bikes”

    I got a large wicker basket that’s great for shopping or taking my puppy out :-)

  • after thinking about all the options, I would say the chalkboard paint is your best bet…

    and now I will give the best explanation for why…

    first its obvious it was covered up, so putting a screen in front of it would not only excentuate your problem but it takes up valuable floorplace..

    you dont want lots of color, because the eye will thus be drawn to it, if you were doing a quick glance around the room you would stop at it, which isnt the best.

    Piant it the chalkboard paint because its black, which to our senses fits with an insert for a fireplace.

    what you should do then is trompe l’oeil with chalk. Make a few lines a couple of inches from the bottom and sides so to give the look like its receding, then draw some fun logs, and use some orange, yellow and red chalk for the flames! it would be quirky but also chic.

  • I would paint it white and then start searching for a painting to prop on the floor in front of it, something with a large decorative frame. OR-
    Julie’s idea, if you’re more whimsical!

  • I think it needs some texture, which you could create with shapes cut from thin wood (don’t know what’s available in GB), which are then glued on. You could also create texture by writing out a poem in a lovely, loose script, with something like “scribbles” 3-D paint. After it’s dry, paint over the board, and the 3-D script, with glossy white paint, to match the mantle.

  • how very serendipitous! i just wrote a little piece about a new bike shop called bowery lane bicycles: vintage-inspired and made in the usa! i would definitely check them out, too!

  • Here are a few Canadian sources for bikes: MEC Gear Swap (online)
    and in Ottawa:
    – re: Cycles Bicycle Co-op on Bronson Avenue
    – Cyclelogik (www.cyclelogik.com)

  • honestly steer clear of Flying Pigeons. they are made in china, really crappy quality and you’re lucky if you get one season out of them before they basically fall apart. totally worthless. go for a real vintage bicycle found on craigslist or local yard sales if you have the means to.

  • Can anyone recommend a company selling budget-friendly vintage/retro inspired bikes in the UK or perhaps that ship over here? Just saw a friends photos from her time in Amsterdam and am definately inspired by all of the bicycles she managed to snap!

  • Bowery Lane Bicycles are very inexpensive less than $600, ship to Europe (where they’re selling like hot cakes) and are high quality steel…no plastic crap.

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