How I Made a Faux Fireplace for Free!
My Ugly Heater
My home has no fireplace. Our only source of heat is a tiny, (and dare I say ugly?) propane burning heater that hangs on one end of the wall.
I've lived with this eyesore for three years. There was no way to pretend it was cute. Or even cozy. It lacked all the charm and warmth of a real fireplace. Rather than be something to cuddle around, it was something we tried to ignore as much as possible.
Since it isn't practical to paint the heater, and there is only a narrow space on top to set a decorative (fireproof) knick-knack, the heater has remained a bare chunk of functional metal.
This summer, I decided to remedy the ugly heater problem. We can't build a fireplace, and there isn't a more convenient place to move the gas line. The only solution I could think of, and that fit the budget, was to "go faux".
Here is how I created my own "brick fireplace", for free!
After doing a little research, hoping for inspiration, I struck gold. Or at least I found some good ideas. Since I was on a budget, I wanted everything I used to be something I already had in my house. Here is what I used:
- 7 colors of acrylic craft paint (burgundy, red, brown, black, white, golden yellow, and burnt orange)
- 3 sizes of craft paint brushes (no particular size is correct, these were just the ones I had handy)
- A piece of sea sponge ( I think it is fake too!)
- Narrow wooden molding strips (leftovers from another project)
- Paper towels, paper plates, a bowl of water, and a package of baby wipes.
- Painter's tape
- All purpose cleaner
Would you ever consider decorating your home with a faux painting technique?
Preparing the Wall
Originally the plan was that my husband would take the tiny, but VERY heavy heater down before I started. But I got impatient and started before he got home.
First I traced around the heater, so I would know where it hung on the wall (didn't want it crooked). Then I measured out a few inches and marked off another square. This would all be the "opening", which would be painted solid black. I wanted just enough black to show around the heater to make it (sorta) look inset.
Then I remembered that I forgot to clean the wall. I used my favorite all-purpose cleaner and a store brand "magic eraser" to make sure that dust, grime, fingerprints and crayon marks were eradicated.
Then I marked my pencil lines back again. Duh.
IMPORTANT: Make sure that the gas lines are properly capped off before doing a project like this!
Sure, you can paint the grout lines in AFTER the bricks are painted, but that would be a real pain. Better to paint the whole background first.
I used a paper plate as a tray and started mixing colors until I got a grouty color that I liked. I used black and white to create a pale grey, then a touch of brown and yellow to make it look aged and a little dirty.
- I painted this part on first and let it dry. I made it slightly darker than what I needed, so that I could add a lighter layer over it as a wash.
- Then I lightened the paint left in the tray, and added a tad more brown. It had to be much lighter, so that it wouldn't dry the same color.
- Next I "dry sponged" this over the first coat. To do this, dab a sponge into the paint, then dab off excess paint on a paper towel. Sponge over the base, pushing down and rubbing occasionally in a circular motion.
- While the paint was still damp, I took a baby wipe and wiped (gently!) in the opposite direction lightly of the sponging strokes, which pulled up some of the color to make a stone look.
- For the final grout step, I spattered flecks of brown, dark grey, black and white over the entire area using an old, stiff toothbrush. (messy, but fun!)
When you are creating fake brick, here are some things to remember:
- Bricks are not solid in color
- Bricks are not always uniform in size
- Older bricks often have more texture than new bricks
- Grout lines are not always perfectly even
- Real bricks often have grout stains on them
Marking The "Bricks"
The area where I live LOVES bricks. We have a brick plant just down the road. Oklahoma City is famous for its historic Bricktown area. We still have brick streets that aren't part of any preservation district. They are everyday streets.
So when I went to draw my bricks on, I wanted to mimic the older bricks, so they would blend better with the age of the house. Older bricks are less uniform than modern bricks. I started with a yardstick, then switched to drawing the bricks on by hand with a light pencil.
I had to make them slightly smaller than real bricks, since the area is a bit cramped. But then there are several small buildings here that are made of short or busted brick too. I didn't worry about having them work out perfectly, or having them the exact same size. Real handmade bricks are not the same size.
Building the Bricks
Now the first fun part of the adventure. I opened the can of spackle and started building bricks. This was messy, and in retrospect would have been a lot easier with plaster. But I already had spackle.
- The first part of this process was to smear the spackle on the wall, careful to overlap all the pencil lines. I didn't want it too thick, but it had to be thick enough to cover the grout background. Most of the bricks are less than 1/8 inch thick. The exception was the small squares over the "hole". I made them thicker to increase the illusion of overhang.
- One brick at a time, I smeared on the spackle. Then I dabbed it with my finger to raise a rough texture. Next, I patted the resulting "points" down with a baby wipe. On some I used a damp sea sponge.
I had to be careful not to smooth the texture too much, or leave it too pointy. Once the texture was "brickish" enough, I used a pencil to gouge out a few deeper holes in the surface. The trick here was to get a rough texture, without getting something that looked like ceiling plaster.
Experiment with different items for texture. (I did. But I liked the finger and baby wipe technique best. Some things to try:
- Kitchen scrubbie
- Paper towel
- Stiff brush
- Rough fabric (lint free!)
- A piece of real brick or rough stone
TIP: If you want bricks with very smooth edges, use a metal ruler held against your pencil line while applying spackle or plaster.
Base Painting the Bricks
Once the spackle was dry, it was time to paint! I fretted over which color I wanted my bricks, and finally decided on several tones ranging from brown to red.
There was a little trial and error during this part. Just painting one a solid color and sponging a second coat over does not make it look real enough. So, I placed all the colors onto the tray so that I could pick them up with my brush easily. In this way, each brick has some of the colors.
It isn't easy to get the paint in all the nooks and crannies created by the spackle. So I tried diluting the paint a bit. Perfect! Now the paint not only soaked into the bricks better, and covered all the holes, it helped the colors blend better.
To get even better blends, I used a damp paper towel to dab at the sections of paint to help run them together better. Note: Do not overdilute paint or it won't soak in at all.
As each brick began to dry, I took a dry paint brush, dipped it into a bit of white paint, brushed most of it off on a paper towel, then used the brush to dab over the bricks lightly. Then I did the same with dark grey paint. If you look very closely at old bricks, you will see flecks of white, grey and brown. I am sure there is a scientific name and reason behind this. I just think of it as ''brick freckles''.
- Place all colors on a tray
- Keep a small bowl of water nearby
- Dilute main color by wetting paint brush
- Blend in a few secondary colors
- Dab onto the bricks, swirling brush to get the thin paint into all areas
- Pick up different colors with brush and work into different areas
- Use a brown to darken the main color and wash this anywhere you need a shadow
- Dab at paint with a dry paper towel to help blend the paint smoothly
- Dry brush white and grey accent marks over bricks
Once the bricks were ''freckled'' and completely dry, it was time for detail work
Use brown, not black when making shadowy areas! Shadows are not really solid black, but more of a darker shade of background color!
Avery fine craft brush will help keep you from making shadows that are thick.
Since the bricks are flat, they needed a bit of shadowing to help them pop from the wall. I used diluted (VERY diluted) brown paint to create bottom and side shadows. You don't want thick paint here, or it will look like you just painted thick paint on. For lighter colored bricks I darkened the base color with brown and used that.
Then I mixed up a slightly darker shade of grey than the actual grout and brushed this around the edges of the bricks so they look as though they are raised slightly from the grout. The last step was using darkened shades of the brick colors to create shadowy areas on the bricks themselves.
For this step, I just looked at the texture of each brick and where there were slightly raised or depressed areas, I highlighted them with the "shadow" paint. I worked very carefully here to keep from making these places look like plain old splotches.
Since the area is small, I kept the center of the fireplace small. A larger area could be painted to look as though it were three-dimensional and open. Do use flat black for a center like ours. Glossy paint would ruin the illusion of an opening.
As soon as the bricks had dried from the final paint touches, and I had painted the center area with several coats of flat black paint, my husband cut three pieces of trim to frame the new fireplace. I quickly painted these brown and dried them with the hair dryer. (I was impatient to see the finished product!)
The trim was nothing fancy. Just flat pieces of molding that we butted together in a square. Later we may add fancier trim with mitered corners.
I bounced around excitedly until he finally agreed to hang the trim and the heater, even though it was 2 am by that time. At last we could stand back and admire our new fireplace.
A Final Word
I still don't consider this a "done"project. I want a narrow mantel shelf hung over the top piece of trim with fancy brackets. And the bricks will receive a coat of clear sealant. Even though sealant will take away some of the realistic rough texture, it will be worth it to keep them from getting scratched. Plus they will be easier to clean.
Looking back, there are definitely a few things I would do differently:
- Buy more shades of brown paint to provide more options for tone
- Use dry wall plaster for the texturing
- Go ahead and make the bricks a bit thicker
- Invest in a more decorative bit of molding for the trim
- Move the project ever so much to the right to make some breathing room near the corner of the wall for the mantel.
- Maybe create an arched "opening" for the heater for more architectural interest
Still, I am pretty satisfied with the result. It is perfect for now, and later it can easily be removed with a sander if we want to change the room up.
In fact, we like it so much that the next project involves painting one end of our floor to look like a stone patio! Hopefully, I will be able to share that project as well.