What to do with this fireplace

January 1, 2014
Recently bought a 60's ranch and the family room is typical - lots of dark paneling and a fireplace that spans almost an entire wall. Consequently, room is very dark. Going to remove paneling and need some ideas on what to do with the fireplace. Considering downsizing it.

Comments (137)

  • oldhouseguru
    Don't worry about what is trendy. Consider the architectural style of your home and the quality of materials and construction. Focus on preserving or improving design integrity and aim for harmonious improvements that won't get dated quickly.

    With the renewed appreciation for mid-century design these monolithic fireplace walls are back in vogue and you have an original in what looks like perfect condition. This was costly to install to begin with and would be considered a major design feature and asset in a modernist home from the 1950s through the 70s.

    I suggest you live with the fireplace as long as possible before making decisions that could be costly or irreversable and might be regretted later. Decorate and furnish the rest of the room first. Play with arranging art objects within the fireplace wall - perhaps a tall boldly colored pottery vase, a big starburst mirror or clock or a metal wall sculpture. You may find that the fireplace wall grows on you. These fireplaces are often assymmetrical; balance is achieved through architectural mass and judicious placement of accessories. Less is more here I've attached a picture of my own editing work - in - progress in my 1966 modernist home. When I purchase the home the former owners had updated with a wooden mantel shelf and brackets bolted to the fireplace. I brought my traditional furnishings and mindset with me (second picture). When the mantel fell off after a guest leaned on it I saw instantly that it looked better without it. My partner found the large metal sunburst clock at an estate sale and I hung it 'justified right' after holding it in many positions. The main ridge beam enters the fireplace off center and the clock playfully counterbalances it in my eyes, making the composition work better. .

    If it really bothers you the least costly change is of course to paint. If you do choose to paint it know that a lot of labor is involved and you will be commiting to cyclical repainting. if you plan to sell the house painted brick may be a turn off for some buyers. I would also suggest that while a few of current trends may eventually become classic many will just become dated and at worst be an obviously unsuccessful attempt to cover up the past. Proceed with caution on any removal or reworking of major original architectural features! Just think how bad some old remodeling choices look to us now and remember many once agreed that they were the thing to do!
  • rosiew
    A response to travis interiors: In the South and many other parts of the country, firewood should not be stored inside because of all the creatures that burrow into it - beetles and lots more that you don't want in your home.
  • PRO
    Pam Ozment Designs
    Brick has been painted since the 1600's. I would certainly not worry that painting brick is trendy or in danger of dating your look. I have painted dozens of fireplaces, and nobody has ever regretted it later.
    Ultimately it's your house, do what feels right for you.
  • Terri
    I am going to paint my paneling as soon as it warms up a bit. Leaving the fireplace as is
  • oldhouseguru
    The former owners painted my walnut veneer paneling an antique white which definitely lightens up my space. I love the hunting lodge look for a couple of days vacation but too dark for me to live with it full time, especially when it is plywood paneling. Terri, I like the steep angle of your ceiling and the beams on it. They may gain great emphasis along with the brick when the walls are light for contrast.
  • Terri
    That is exactly what I was thinking too :)
  • Murlie K
    Hello, The first thing that struck me was the amount of unused wall space the brick occupies. Why not consider adding floor to ceiling cabinetry along each side of the fireplace (deep enough to envelope the hearth), and wrapping back along the side edge of the fireplace and then toward the door to the other room. The cabinet on the right (facing the fireplace) could incorporate the existing wood storage box. The remaining actual fireplace would be narrow and inset, thus having a defined shape and size to paint or face with some other material.
  • jenbilek
    looks like the brick is neutral which is good - paint the paneling and remove the brass fireplace cover. You could also paint/stain the shelves and the mantel wood depending on what you choose to do with the walls. I have 2 similar fireplaces in my home, one in my living room and one In a sunroom. Initially, I chose to paint the one in the sunroom (in 1994)and I have regretted it since because the brick was a nice neutral color like yours. I never painted my inside fireplace. It's also neutral like yours, but each brick has a different shade to it making it look textural. I know it is tempting to paint your fireplace, but I would recommend waiting at least a year to live with the space first. I do love the white painted fireplace look, but only to cover a red fireplace. Looks like you have nice floors too!
  • suzettecro
    Looks like a wonderful room in which little boys can get in a lot of trouble!
  • Adrian Vandenberg
    paint brick off white
    paint fireplace trim flat black
    install large dark stained mantel offset to left side, over old mantel
    install tv over bookcase on right side
    paint panelling light colour
    stain floor dark
  • dancingdog
    If you have the patience, I would buy some paint ( something that will work on stone) several different colors, some blue, mauve, brown and paint several ( not all) of the brinks, spacing here and there to add more color into the room. Then a painting or flat screen TV, your preference over the brick, next to the fireplace. Perhaps sand and re-stain the mantel in a mahogany color. Add in some pillows in your favorite colors on the brick bench. Definitely, get rid of or paint the paneling in a lighter color. Add in some warm leather or just tan touches with a splash of color here and there and you will have a classic look that will be comfortable for many years.
  • essen12
    If the paneling is real wood, try white washing it before removing. That would lighten it. If you like you could use light grey tones. Don't paint the fireplace!
  • arowlz1
    Here is a before and after of how I updated mine. I used MDF to trim around the firebox. and tiled the hearth. I think painted brick looks very harsh so I bought cans of spray texture used to patch ceilings and sprayed the brick above the mantle to soften it before painting.
  • rosiew
    arowlz1, your new look is fab. Know y'all are loving it!!
  • PRO
    Dani Zeghbib (ZEG-beeb)
    I would think long and hard before painting that midcentury brick. Once you paint brick, you can never unpaint it, and there is value (both aesthetic and $) in natural brick. Plus this particular bond is interesting--with roman bricks and regular bricks and bricks turned to their sides. For some ideas and other opinions about your fireplace, you might want to check out

    As for the paneling, of course it's a personal aesthetic choice, but please check this out before painting the paneling.

    If you don't like it, I suggest taking it out and donating or selling it to a midcentury enthusiast, because it is *impossible* to get new wood that's of the same quality as what they harvested in the early 1960's. Many people would be VERY eager to snatch up that paneling and use it in their home or in their woodworking projects.

    Lastly, I personally think painted paneling looks . . . lazy. Either take it out, or leave it, but don't paint it.
  • Sam Hill
    Plaster over, replace mantelpiece, add modern fire cube thing.
  • PRO
    Robin Lechner Designs
    Cover the brick with MDF panels painted in a dark color. Replace the fireplace surround with a sleek metallic frame. I don't know where you're planning to place your TV and media equipment, but I recently renovated a wall where I added the fireplace, TV, media cabinet, bar, under shelf LED light strips, and mirrors for sparkle. The overall effect is dramatic and elegant. Before and After photos are attached.
  • dmann3268
    Leave it like it is and decorate in mid-century retro. A lot of these above suggestions are flat-out trendy and hard to change five years down the road. You've got a classic. Don't muck it up.
  • essen12
    I agree with dmann3268. Your brick is fab.
  • caclark51 - thanks for enlightening me on the different types of bricks. The roman are the longer, thinner bricks - yes? That is an interesting design feature that would be diminished if the bricks were painted.
  • JJ-Amanda Palmer
    I would use veneer stone (or similar) in the middle to make a regular size fireplace and then paint the rest of the brick
  • Sharon Smith
    Our neighbors just covered their fireplace very beautifully with veneer stone. I have just finished painting my interior with Sherwin-Williams Super Paint eggshell finish. It even covered red paint! It goes on so smoothly and does such a good job covering I think you would be happy with it.
  • PRO
    Get out of that vast middle ground and do something really unique!
  • nechamaj
    No one has mentioned yet removing the brick!
    That wall is so deep, can the brick expanse on the sides of the FP be removed to allow for built ins instead? You can still leave the center of the wall for the fireplace and decorate it however you choose....
  • islandmuse
    I like the fireplace/paneling/floor treatment in this photo:
  • essen12
    I suggest you just get a feel of how you will live in the house before you do something drastic like paint brick, rip out paneling, rip out some of the brick, or put up mosaics. Many of these are trendy solutions that you may dislike in a few years.
  • Simone Bostic
    I agree with getting a feel for the house first. In my case I went with painting the fireplace and changing the wood stove and the surround to black. I would paint the paneling if it is too dark. If you don't like it then rip it out. I would not touch the structure of the fireplace as it is in keeping with the style of your home.
  • queene0318
    i agree with (wishingwell120) paint and paint. For an instant/clost effective face lift pait the paneling and brick. They dont have to be painted the same color. One can accent the other. Paint walls light off white, brick grey stone color Area rug, pillows with pop of color.
  • PRO
    Daybreak Workroom,

    " with any finish overused and poorly rendered it fell from favor and is now (sadly) scorned."

    This is one of the best descriptions I have ever read of what makes certain items, colors or styles fall off-trend. I think sometimes we all tend to look at rooms and not even see the rooms themselves--we just know that cringe-y feeling we get when we think of all the ways an idea has been poorly executed, ripped off, or done on the cheap by people who didn't know how to make it work. And that's what we "see."

    Keeping DBW's thought in mind, when looking at an home like Carole's with the MCM fireplace, it's really important to ask "Did this design work in its original context? How?" The answer can really inform choices about what to do next.

    So in this case, instead of going "Eww, orange fp and old paneling!" we can get to "hmm, the room feels dark and monochromatic...maybe some more lights and punchy furniture would do the trick." At which point, you get to the question of lightening up the paneling or removing it.

    Does that make sense?
  • Denise Mauzy
    Yes, myexecutiveranch, that makes PERFECT sense! That's the problem we were facing with our rec room. It's approx 30' long by 13'wide, with the fireplace on an angle at one end. We've had a heck of a time figuring out what to do with that, but we are finally on our way (still not certain, though). The best thing we did was remove all stuff that will not stay in the room (sofa, love seat, recliner and all wall hangings). We are finally going in a positive decorating direction!
  • mosaicone
    So many nice comments. First answer if you want to keep the period look. There are ways to keep a period look without keeping things as they are. If you want the look but some updating, just paint the fireplace and walls (that will update without trying to look like something else). I believe the bottom cubby in the brick is for the wood storage. Some period artwork would be nice in the wood shelves. Removal of the paneling is purely personal. It will keep the period look even if you paint it. There were plenty of nice plain walls in the 60's--so if you can't stand this look replace with wallboard. Something I haven't read is about covering all the brick with a wood horizontal paneling. This would also keep the period look. OK, I can't stand the brass colored fireplace screen! I did the same with mine, painting with matte black high temp. black paint.
  • Cindy
    I also think you should at least settle in before painting the brick. We had dark paneling and nice light-colored brick like yours. We painted the paneling, not the brick. Once you add other things to the room, the brick won't be the only thing to look at. We did simple shelving with books, plants, a chair, ... Now we think the texture of the brick adds to the room. (Excuse the rolled up rug in front of hearth and other junk.)
  • Brown Dog
    I see potential! I would add bookcases on either side of the fireplace, sitting on top of the hearth and from floor (hearth) to ceiling. Have them permanently attached to look like they were always there. The bookcase on the right side would cover the big square "holes". I would either have cabinet doors on the bottom of the book shelves with open shelves up top or doors top and bottom if you need storage space. Paint all the brickwork white to match the cabinets, remove the current mantle and replace with a big chunky wood beam-like mantle that spans from one book shelf to the other. And have the mantle supported from behind, avoid brackets underneath. Add a great piece of art above the mantle. Painting the panelling a fresh light colour will give it new life and will compliment your great hardwood.
  • PRO
    Cordell Carpet
    Painting the brick and paneling a white or off-white will open the space up. Hanging pictures on the fireplace will help it seem more like a wall. Benjamin Moore Cloud White is a popular colour. You can have a false mantle made to create a more modern look as well.
  • dixie_fried
    I might get boo'ed off the web for posting this.
    I bought my '56 tri-level the day before Thanksgiving 2013. And though I love a lot of the period features of the house, I could not bear how dark the living room is. The red brick surrounded by the dark paneling couldn't even be cheered by the gigantic windows in the room. Lack of overhead lighting does nothing to remedy the situation.
    I managed to whitewash the brick and paint the brass firebox in less than 4 hours last week. 2/3 paint to 1/3 water (+/-). Just an extra dab here and there for interest. It isn't stark white, and reads grey to me.
    I have a mantle shelf waiting to be painted black and hung.
    The dark paneling will be white, and the television will sit in the small inset to the left of the fireplace.
    I seem to have made every decision opposite to the suggestions of others, but painting the brick and the brass have made me smile every single day since I finished.
    Here's to rebellion!
    ETA: still unsure about how to deal with the ugly brown hearth--it's not an oversight.
  • chookchook2
    That looks brighter, Dixie.
  • Katie Gooding
    Dixie, I just might have painted that one too...that thing was making a statement, I hope it was a huge room! (This from t
    a save the 60s at all cost kind of a poster)
  • rosiew
    dixie fried, why not paint the hearth to match the rest of the brick? Test the temp the hearth gets to when gas logs are burning. Heat rises. My ugly marble hearth barely gets warm. Your wall and fireplace surround look fabulous. Great transformation!!
  • dixie_fried
    Thanks for the positive responses!
    The hearth has some sort of shiny finish to it. Paint won't currently stick to it, and I'm not sure if deglosser will work to make it paintable. If I do get it conditioned to take paint, I'm not sure what color to paint it. White won't stay white, and who knows how black will look. I'm even considering tearing the whole hearth out with the carpet. There's gorgeous wood flooring underneath.
    The next dilemma would be what to replace the hearth with.
  • rosiew
    Looks like the hearth is glazed finish. There are primers for this. Don't know safety issues here - it's not like a log is going to roll out or sparks cause a prob. Why would it get dirty? Love the idea of ripping out the carpet!!!
  • Jessie Lee Miller
    Hello, it's been a year since you started this thread. Have you had a chance to make an update to the fireplace? I would be interested in hearing what you decided. I have a similar 1960s fireplace that I am considering whitewashing. Thanks!
  • mcmlover

    Hi, I didn't post the fireplace question but I did have a fireplace that looked like this one. Since my style is MCM I put wall tiles in pattern and painted it white. No mantle. It looks like a piece of art.

  • Jessie Lee Miller
    Interesting @mcmlover. I bet it looks nice. My fireplace is two-sided and had a significant presence in both our den and kitchen. Our house leans traditional. I have a preference for whitewashed brick but I am afraid of the irreversible commitment.
  • Paula Lewis

    I like the brick fireplace.

    It is cozy and homey looking.

    If the paneling is solid wood and sturdy, then keep it.

    But it looks like 70s paneling and if replacing it with drywall was in the budget, then I would do it.

    What style are you going for?

  • spatialthinking
    Since you're removing the wall between the kitchen and this room, I'd do that first and see where it leaves you in terms of light and color with the fireplace/paneling before making any big decisions.

    Agree with suggestions to paint the paneling and replace fireplace ledge brick with either a single slab of stone or single slab of wood, with the mantel to match. And modernize the screen.
  • brendawalsh14
    I would recommend painting the brick white to compliment a grey treatment of paint on the walls. Barn board is really in. I'd beef up the shelf and existing wood with a substantial barn board treatment, a weathered look of sorts. The floors are beautiful -wouldn't touch them. Best of luck. Hope you enjoy your results!
  • BobbieH

    I second the idea that whitewashing the brick before painting it is the way to go. It's a more gradual transition and you can always paint it later if you decided it's not white enough. But personally I LOVE the whitewashed look.

  • lindshammer
    I whitewashed our dull 80s brick and my husband sprayed our brass insert w the high heat rustoleum. Helped lighten our space tremendously. I still would like to add a slide-on decorative wooden mantel over the existing brick mantle at some point. Whitewashing was messy, but I liked the outcome! I couldn't have done this if I wasn't replacing our existing flooring: it splattered everywhere (I'm a messy painter anyway though)
  • PRO
    Waterloo Craftsmen
    I had the same situation and covered it over.
  • ckvnkb
    I had same room.I packed out wall with 2x4 to the edge of fireplace and the whole wall ledger stone. Then make a wood mantle to stretch entire length of fire place and wood storage. Make wood storage a tv receiver cabinet.

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268