before and afterDIY

Before & After: A Kitschy Midcentury Fireplace Goes From Shabby to Chic

by Maxwell Tielman

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

Although in design parlance, the term “midcentury” oftentimes connotes thoughtfully designed Modernist homes and furniture, the fact of the matter is that there was a ton of really ugly stuff in the mid-twentieth century, too. From cheaply assembled suburban homes to gaudy urban bachelor pads, the era of modern construction contains a few things that “Modernism” would surely like to forget. When confronted with bringing her 1960s ranch house into the twenty-first century, interior designer and blogger Rita Brownstein knew that some of its hallmark kitsch-tastic elements needed to go—starting with the living room’s sorely dated fireplace. Rather than gutting the whole feature, however, Rita opted for a cheap yet wonderfully chic alternative—a stained wood disguise, laid over the original brick wall. The end result, despite costing a mere $160, looks modern, unfussy, and beautifully up-to-date! Check out all of the photos of this quick n’ easy transformation after the jump! —Max

UPDATE: Anyone looking to replicate this look should consult their local and national fire safety guidelines before building to ensure proper and safe installation. Wooden fronts, as stipulated by the National Fire Code, should be a minimum of 6 inches away from the fireplace opening.

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

Design*Sponge | Fireplace Before & After

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  • You mean I can spray paint my super ugly fireplace doors? What a great revelation! Thanks for the tip!

  • Gorgeous transformation BUT if it’s a functional fireplace, you can’t have wood within 12″ of the fireplace opening. (Code might vary a little by area in terms of the inch restriction but logic still stands.)

  • What type of stain did you use, Max? I’ve got a bookcase that I’m working on, but the stain didn’t work so well…I love how yours turned out!

  • What stain did you use, Max? I’m working on a bookshelf, but the stain isn’t working so well…I love how yours turned out!

  • this looks fabulous, really inspirational. – I am wondering how it conforms to current building codes? I can’t imagine flammable wood so close to a flame is within code, but I could be totally wrong!! I know that where I live you can’t have anything wood behind the stove (I was chastised by an inspector for having a wood spice rack on the counter behind the stove).

  • I concur with other individuals on here. If this is supposed to be a functioning fireplace I would suggest cutting back the wood paneling so it meets code. Frame out the opening and paint the bricks grey. If you despise the look of the brick you could use slate or have a piece of thick gauged sheet metal custom made to meet your needs. Good luck!

  • Rita,

    I’ve driven without a seatbelt a few times and haven’t gone flying the windshield. Does this mean I should never wear my seatbelt? The strip of metal is not enough to help this meet code.

  • National Fire Code

    The National Fire Code exists to protect homeowners, to avoid creating unsafe situations that can result in a fire burning your home and possibly causing the loss of life. The National Fire Code dictates that any combustible material (e.g., wood mantel or similar trim) must be at least six inches from the firebox opening and an additional inch of clearance is needed for every 1/8 inch the combustible material or trim protrudes.

    This is The National Fire Code. Local codes take precedence unless they are absent. If that is the case, you are required to use the National Fire Code.

    D*S I would strongly suggest removing this post. I would not want individuals to pin and post the idea and think that it is safe to build for their home.

  • Hi Rita – I checked out your website, which is super beautiful – love all the muted colors!

    Did you consider painting the floor tiles in the room as well?

    For my own project I can’t decide if painting floor tiles would look weird. The painted bricks in your project look great, just curious about what terracotta tiles wold look like and how durable they would be if covered in paint. Thoughts???

  • Great transformation, but I have to count myself with those who have voiced their concern about the safety of having wood immediately adjacent to the fireplace opening. Not to be a wet blanket, but this post would benefit by having a disclaimer and links to resources to find the appropriate setbacks. There’s nothing wrong about encouraging people to DIY; just make sure they have enough info to do it safely.

  • Perfect timing for me, I have a dirty fireplace front that I need to take care of and now I know what to do. Thanks.

  • I love it too, but the fire safety was my frist thought. Looking further, I see that the wood stops at the hearth. If youre going to rework it, consider bringing the wood all the way down to the floor for a more finished look. Really awesome transformation!

  • And just a suggestion: how about a gray concrete addition? Have your carpenter frame out a form and pour concrete into it. Make it so that when you remove the form, the wood ends abut the concrete. The slab can either be flush with the wood surface or extend a bit further.

  • Fire safety and Code were the first things I thought of when viewing the photo’s. If you wanted the wood look, have you seen the ceramic tiles tiles that look like wood? I am so glad you decided not to make a mantel and keep it original and simple.

  • rarely have i seen constructive criticism (fire code info) in a comment section taken for what it is, in this case genuine concern for safety. thank you, rita, for not being defensive and reactionary, and for letting us all know you will rework this attractive idea with the fire code in mind. and man, that matte black spray paint made a world of difference!

  • Ah, I’m in love with it! This might be a dumb question, but anything special we should know about putting screws into brick? Do you just go at it?

    I love the finished look!

  • I have been reading Rita’s blog for about a year and was so excited to see it featured here. I love this fireplace transformation and didn’t give the fire-code issue a consideration when I first read about it. My own living room fireplace has a carved-wood surround and mantel with four inches of marble around the opening. (My house was built in the 30s.) I’ve never had a problem with it, but this is certainly food for thought. Check out the rest of Rita’s blog; it’s full of beautiful and interesting ideas.

  • We used a very similar technique to do an open living/dining room ceiling. I blogged about in a post on October 19,2013 under the heading of, “A Case of the Blues”. In it I went into a step-by-step tutorial on how to stain the wood. For anyone interested here’s the site: http://www.pleasantlivinghome.blogspot.com. Like minds…

  • I love that you painted your fireplace doors! I need to do that! Also I love the wall, but I would be too worried about the fire code. We are planning on doing an adjacent wall in out living room. Just As soon as we finish a couple of other things…

  • ATTENTION PEOPLE CONCERNED ABOUT THE WOOD BEING CLOSE TO THE FIRE: I checked out this post because I have been planning on doing something very similar, only instead of using wood planks, I plan on using Hardi-planks. They will require more finesse when it comes to paint treatment, but I’ve already done a few samples and they look great and since they are made of cement, they are perfectly safe up next to the firebox.

    • Rich — can you give an update on your project now that five years has passed? Did you paint (color)or stain (to mimic wood grain)? Which Hardie Plank did you use (trim vs siding)? Looking at various sites, can you get un-primed (no color) boards? Was the installation any different than outlined here? Do you have photos that can be shared?

  • How did you remove the fireplace doors? Your fireplace is a lot like ours except instead of the step we have a stone ledge that is high enough to serve as a bench. It is almost the length of the wall. But I don’t like the doors.

  • This is really nice but I feel like it should have a warning on it. It would be great for a non working fireplace

  • I’m a little sad that the mid century fireplace was covered up. Admittedly the red brick isn’t the most modern. But could it have been painted? Definitely trendy though.

  • i would love to see the After After! I bet she and her carpenter came up with a great solution. Live and learn.

  • A building inspector in my home town saw this post and mentioned that wood so close to a firebox will be heating and cooling down each time the fireplace is used; this process will eventually render the boards above the firebox to be tinder dry and combustible at a much lower temperature than other wood would normally burn. In his opinion, although this looks beautiful, it is a house fire in the making.

  • I have the same fireplace! Mine does have three brick brackets that stick out from the face of the brick. It is waterstained (bad flashing around the chimney on the roof) and dirty. I painted it white, but I really like the wood. I am considering covering it with a custom made cover, but will use tile around the firebox opening.

  • As the song says, “DIfferent strokes for different folks. It shows you that you do not have to rip out a fireplace if you’re looking for an Updated look. We live in a 50″s Ranch. Had the same exact Red Fireplace Brick running the full length of a long wall. We did convert the fireplace to gas, so no soot or clean up issues. I also painted the Gold trim Black with a high heat paint (no doors, just metal mesh screen on pull). We painted entire wall in a Matte finish paint & it has lasted 20+ years with some very minor touch ups.

  • This looks great! Found this on Pintrist. Great idea about going code, maybe a 6″ subway tile around to match the gray brick hearth. (Unless you’ve already done something, this was a while ago) Maybe you can stain the grout in between the red tile to gray or black. Replacing all that tile would be quite a task! Lol

  • Loooove this Amazing idea… what stain and colors did you use? I want exactly the look you have

    thank you! Happy decorating

  • Awesome job! I wonder whether it would be possible to mount a large tv on a wood-panel-over-brick fireplace like this?

    • Niki

      The post says they were nailed to a wooden frame. You can see this in the photos.