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Painters and Decorators: When NOT To Paint Your Own Ugly Fireplace

Updated on November 20, 2013
An Outdated Fireplace
An Outdated Fireplace

An Ugly Fireplace Can Be An Asset

Many of us have suffered years of staring at an ugly fireplace that we just can't paint over for one reason or another. Certainly if you rent an apartment, you're subject to all manner of painting restrictions. Truth is though that some heavy looking or just plain uninteresting or ugly fireplaces can actually be an asset. What I mean by that is that it's possible to use the warmth and textural interest that a darkish stone or brick fireplace can bring to your advantage.

When I was doing interior design, a real estate agent I'd worked with contacted me to try and do something with a house that wasn't selling. I remember walking in and immediately feeling oppressed by the fireplace that you see above. "Paint" was the first word that came out of mouth as I pointed to that fireplace. The owner of the property wouldn't hear of it and so I needed to come up with some work around that would help this room.

While the fireplace is still the central element in the room, it now has some other strong elements in the room to help balance it out. This fireplace is now an asset to the room instead of an eyesore.

The Unpainted Asset Unfolds

Using the Fireplace "heaviness" as an asset
Using the Fireplace "heaviness" as an asset

Going Without Interior Painting

One of the best things that I ended up doing for this room was to include the Oriental rug. Oddly enough, it mimics the texture of the fireplace doing a few things simultaneously: before the rug was added, the fireplace overwhelmed the space and flat out dominated the room. Adding the rug provided another large textural element that helped detract from the fireplace's dominance and essentially helped to balance the large textures throughout the entire room adding warmth to boot.

The fact that the walls were light really impacted this strategy and made the rug/fireplace arrangements work by providing contrast and dimension to the whole room. Since the room was fairly large with a vaulted ceiling, I could get away with adding the dark chairs as well.

The large painting on the fireplace helped pull the rooms colors together and the white border inside the frame provided "pop" and a bit more visual drams. The only thing I'd change was that small pix in the corner but they loved it so it stayed. So, if you have an ugly fireplace that you can't paint (actually this one isn't so bad), consider large prints or paintings that can help tone down the fireplace.

Another Fireplace Without Paint

We have a very similar situation in this next fireplace (below) where it couldn't be painted as the house was up for sale. My job, again, was to do something to help this room although the real estate agent had already brought in some pieces as you can see in the first photo.

Here the painting on the fireplace ended up being way too small and essentially drew more attention to the fireplace by making it look a bit odd. Remember, the first rule of good interior design is BALANCE. And "balance" often has to do with "scale" meaning the proportions of all the elements in the room to one another but that's another hub.

LOOK AT THE SECOND PHOTO BELOW to compare the changes that I've made to help balance out the room visually. While I left most of the elements already in place, again, I brought in a larger, color coordinated painting with a white border that helped the overall look and feel of the fireplace. I also brought in a brown/beige lightly shaged rug to help add some texture to the room and coordinate with the overall color palette.

Finally, I removed a number of the small accessories that weren't helping the room at all, just making it look sparsely cluttered. Overall, it's a warm room that's pretty balanced (the desk, corner plant and rug add visual weight to the room counterbalancing the heavy, dark fireplace).

Here the fireplace becomes just a background for the painting that immediately draws your eye. The only thing I would have done differently would be to make that very white border on the painting a beige which would make it "pop" a little less.

Mantels Can Help Ugly Fireplace

In the photo below, they've added a nicely colored but too long mantel to their ugly fireplace. The addition of this very strong linear mantel serves to draw your attention to the fireplace although adding a bit of lightness with the color. Again, we don't want to draw attention to our fireplace as much as try to get it to function as a background for more interesing paintings, mantels and accessories.

In this case, I would change out that mantel and put in two staggered ones instead which would be more balancing and proportionate. I would also accessorize it quite differently. Doing all of that would still draw your eye to this large wall fireplace but two mantels staggered a foot or more apart, overlapping would eliminate the disturbing linear quality and instead make the fireplace just a background. Your eye would be drawn to it but focus on the mantels and the beautiful accessories on them instead.

Better But Could Be Better


Avoid Accentuating Your Ugly Fireplace

Painting this area white only serves to draw attention to this ugly fireplace
Painting this area white only serves to draw attention to this ugly fireplace | Source

Sometimes Paint Doesn't Help

In the photo above, you can easily see that the white paint is a serious mistake and only serves to make the ugly fireplace even more ugly. While you may have an area around your brick that is paintable as it is here, a good rule of thumb is not to paint with too much contrast, ie; keep your colors lighter but close in shade to the fireplace brick or stone color. Smacking a white mantel onto a dark brick fireplace will only serve to make the fireplace more dominant.

In Summary

What I've essentially said in this article is that if you have an ugly fireplace that you can't paint, make the fireplace an asset by making it the background for other things like beautiful paintings, mantels with gorgeous accessories. So, in essence, I'm suggesting you partially cover up the offensive fireplace and distract the eye, making the fireplace just a background instead of an overpowering feature.

In the service of that idea, also consider using plants on or around your mantels to add both color and texture that can please the eye.

Finally, try only using mantel colors that are a few shades lighter than your fireplace to avoid drawing even more attention to your ugly fireplace.

Unpainted fireplaces can actually end up being a considerable asset to a room by just following a few simple guidelines like the ones here. If anyone has any other ideas to contribute, please feel free to do so. We'd love to hear other suggestions.

Great Site for Painters and Decorators

If you'd like some more "out of the box" tips and tricks on interior designing or doing your own home decorating, make sure you check out this site: Supertips For Painters and Decorators


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    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 6 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      A very interesting hub. I can't believe how much of a difference the large picture made to the first fireplace. It really made it quite pretty. Thanks for sharing! I voted it UP! and interesting!