DIY home improvement is a very satisfying activity. Once a project is done, it makes your life better every day.
About a month ago, I left my home, a small town in northern California, and moved to a small town in North Carolina. I have been lucky enough to rent a grand old house that dates from 1910. It has fabulous old hardwood floors, gorgeous high ceilings, and four old fireplaces, all of which are closed off.
This seems to be typical of old houses in this area. I suspect that it is mostly because the residents preferred more modern heating methods rather than because the fireplaces didn’t work. My daughter has a house in the same town with a similar treatment to her fireplaces. It seems that they just fell out of fashion.
Distressed Beachwood With Metal Ornament
I love the old mantelpieces, but often it seems little effort was made to make the unused fireplaces attractive. Usually, they are boarded up with plywood or blocked off with bricks. When I searched for decorating ideas on the Internet, I saw some good ideas for things to do with an empty fireplace, but not many for fireplaces where there is no opening.
Since I am renting, and decorating on a shoestring, I am not willing to open up the fireplaces to see what’s in them. I might be opening the proverbial can of worms. I have begun rehabbing the fireplaces in my house, and I will share my decorating solutions with you.
This was my first idea. The fireplace shown below is in my mom's bedroom. It had a plain piece of plywood, painted white like the mantelpiece itself, covering the opening. My original idea was to use real distressed wood, but I didn’t have a handy source of it, and it is expensive to buy. I got this distressed beach wood contact paper from Amazon, and I already had the pretty wall ornament, so the whole thing only cost me $10. I think it turned out well.
The fireplaces in the living room and my bedroom both had the openings filled with cement and had a hole for a stovepipe. They both had terra cotta tiles set around where the firebox would have been.
Vinyl Tile Stickers for a Pop of Color
I didn’t much like the tiles around the fireplaces, even though they were a little better than a blank board. I considered covering the whole opening, as I had done with the first fireplace. Then I discovered some tile stickers that you can use to cover tiles you don’t like. They come in many sizes and patterns. The ones I ordered were 6"x6" and fit the tiles I was covering perfectly. They are an assortment of patterns, and once they were installed, they looked much more like real tiles than I expected.
If you don’t already have tiles, the stickers can be used to make it look like you do. There is also stick on backsplash made for kitchens so you could put something like subway tile, or whatever pattern you like over the whole thing. I must say, I am pretty impressed with what you can do with some stick on vinyl. The other nice thing about it is that it comes off as easily as it goes on. That’s nice if you are a renter, and the owner doesn’t want things changed.
Below is the mantle in my bedroom. I repainted it. Someone had started to stain it a very dark color and never finished. They must have realized that it wasn’t going to look good. The room is painted a dark red with white trim. Therefore, I went ahead and painted it white. That’s what color all the other mantelpieces in the house already were.
I also added the tile stickers around where the opening would have been. Too bad I didn’t take a photo of what it looked like before I painted it. It is a dramatic transformation.
The Flue Stops
As I mentioned before, both of the tiled fireplaces had a hole for a stovepipe. One of them had a cover over it, but the other one didn’t. I was going to buy one online, but I wasn’t sure what it was called. I used a number of different search terms before I found what I was looking for. It is called a flue stop. They are priced at $8.99 and up.
I ended up finding another one in the house, so I didn’t have to buy one, but the decorations on them were all scratched up, and they didn't go with the tiles anyway, so I cut circles out of two of my tile stickers and put them on my flue stops.
The picture below shows how the flue stop attaches. It has two little springy things that hold it in.
A Few More Ideas
I have not done anything with the fourth fireplace yet. It is in a room we are currently using for storage. It looks quite similar to the first fireplace that was in my mom's room. Here are some ideas that I am considering.
- Cover it with shutters, or cabinet doors
- Put a blackboard where the fireplace would go. I think that would be good if you had kids in the house.
- Cover it with a cool fabric, or create a quilted piece for it
- Use a funky old window with frosted glass, or put photos behind the glass
- Put a piece of furniture in front of the fireplace, maybe a small bookshelf or secretary desk
- Get a cool decorative fireplace screen
- Put an electric wood stove in front of it
Below I have used PhotoShop to do some mock-ups of some of these ideas, just to get an idea of how they might look. I love the first one with the screen.
Mock Ups of Fireplace Ideas
I'd love to hear any suggestions anyone has for what to do with closed off fireplaces. There seems to be an abundance of them in North Carolina. Have you ever lived with a closed off fireplace?
© 2018 Sherry Hewins
MarshaMusselman1 on November 13, 2018:
I'm impressed with what you've accomplished and they all look lovely.
Mercedus Long from Maryland on August 17, 2018:
Wow you certainly found a creative way to tackle those fireplaces. I really like the firescreen and the tile decorations.
Great job on this. I look forward to seeing other projects you've done in your home
Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on July 18, 2018:
Thanks for the suggestions FlourishAnyway.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 18, 2018:
I like the tile stickers. They sound like a great idea for decorating. The ones that you've used are very pretty.
FlourishAnyway from USA on July 17, 2018:
What an interesting problem. I like your last idea best, the one with the fireplace screen. I might paint the insert black instead of white so that there is the illusion of empty space. There are also some very nice colorful stained glass fireplace screens. I have one in my own living room.
Sherry Hewins (author) from Sierra Foothills, CA on July 17, 2018:
Shauna, I like the fireplace screen too. It's kind of fun trying things out with pictures before going to the trouble of doing them.
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on July 17, 2018:
Sherry, you came up with some beautiful ideas. I love the one in your mom's room. I also like the tile stickers, but I think I'd do something more with the white space in the middle. It seems a tad out of place considering the intrigue of the tile patterns surrounding it.
As for the ideas you show at the end of this article, I like the first two the best. I think if I were to go the bookshelf route, I'd change the color of either the fireplace or the book shelf so that they complement each other. I really like the first one.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 16, 2018:
I have never lived in a home with a closed off fireplace but I certainly like the ideas of what you did with yours. Your suggestions at the end of this piece were also good ones.