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How To Update A Stone Fireplace

by - Thursday, August 06, 2020

It's been a few weeks since we finished remodelling our basement for the One Room Challenge. I'm happy with all of the changes we made, but none moreso than our decision to update the fireplace. Our stone fireplace makeover happened over a few weeks and was documented on my weekly ORC posts, but I thought I'd create a single post with fireplace makeover ideas and share the step-by-step on how to update a 1970's stone fireplace.

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Ideas To Update A Fireplace

Having a fireplace in your home is certainly a treat. Nothing beats sitting in front of the fire on a chilly winter night with a cup of tea in your hand and warm throw on your lap. But what if your fireplace is an eyesore, dated, and doesn't fit in with the rest of your home... can you modernize a fireplace? How do you update a 1970's fireplace?

If your fireplace functions well, a fireplace makeover is an expensive way to get a whole new look. There are lots of ways to update a stone fireplace or update a brick fireplace. Here are a few options to consider:

1. Paint the stone or brick fireplace

This is a quick and easy budget-friendly option that can be done in an afternoon. For a  farmhouse look, you can opt for the trendy "German Schmear" technique which will allow the colour of your original brick to show through but softened and not appear so stark and uniform.

2. Install a new mantel 

If your brick or tile is in good condition, you might be able to create a whole new look just by replacing the mantel. Opt for a salvaged vintage mantel to add even more character.

3. Install a gas insert

Gas fireplaces are more efficient, require less cleanup, and easier to use than their wood burning counterparts. Installing a gas insert into your existing firebox can give your fireplace a more modern feel, while heating up your room quicker and easier.

4. Retile the surround or the hearth

Tiling or retiling a fireplace requires a few days effort, but it can dramatically change the look of your fireplace. Depending on the tile design, you can incorporate any style from traditional to modern, ornate to minimal.

5. Reface or resurface the fireplace

Cladding the fireplace in a new material, such as pine boards, MDF, or a granite slab, can bring new life to an old fireplace. This is a more labour intensive change but if you want to entirely eliminate any visual remnants of an old, dated fireplace, you might consider this option.
In our situation, there was no way to retain the materials and shape of our 1970's stone fireplace when what we craved was a clean-lined, modern coastal look. We decided to proceed with Option 5, and resurface our fireplace using shiplap, tile, and paint.

Fireplace Makeover DIY

Our floor to ceiling fireplace makeover involved updating every surface, from the stone, to the hearth, surround, and gas insert. Here's the step by step process we followed for our DIY fireplace makeover:

Step 1: Consult With The Professionals

Before any fireplace remodel, you'll want to ensure your fireplace is in good working order. Our fireplace had a gas insert that hadn't been serviced in quite some time so we called in a fireplace technician to clean and service the unit. The technician also confirmed that we could safely move the unit forward 2", so that it would sit in front of the new tile surround. We also had a licensed electrician bring in power to within the framing, for the insert plug and for a new TV which would hang above the fireplace. Bring in the professionals before proceeding with any structural changes.

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Step 2: Construct The Framing

Our new fireplace design involved building a new frame in front of the old stone fireplace. We felt this would be much easier than attempting to remove the old stone, or trying to mortar the old stone and create a new level surface. The three stone shelves were easily knocked off with a hammer and new framing was built using 2"x3" studs.

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The framing sat flush against the face of the stone, and extended two inches beyond the left and right sides of the stone. Proportionally, this would look good against the planned tile surround and gas insert frame. We decided we keep the fireplace simple and would not have a mantel.

Step 3 Create A Chase for Cables

As we planned to have a TV above the fireplace, we used this opportunity to build in a way to hide the TV cable wires. Using plumbing pipes, we created a chase from the middle of the center stud down to the bottom right corner of the fireplace. The plan was to have the cables come out at that location and then feed them down to a media cabinet on the right side of the fireplace. The media cabinet would hold our cable box.

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To feed the cables through the chase, we came up with this solution. We fed a long piece of floral wire with a jingle bell on the end through the chase. We kept some extra wire at the top entry point, and wrapped it around the stud to hold it in place. Once the TV was installed, we would wrap that top end of the floral wire around the TV cables and pull them through the chase, without worrying they would get stuck inside. The openings of the chase would be covered with electrical brush plates to allow the cables to move freely.

Step 4: Install The Substrates

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This fireplace design required two substrates, or layers of material sitting beneath other materials. The first was the plywood substrate to support the TV. Having this backing in the general vicinity of the TV would make installation of the TV easier than trying to secure the TV to individual studs.

The second substrate was the cement backerboard for the tile. The building code requires that you have non-combustible material within the first 6" from the fireplace face. We cut the cement board to fit the surround area and to within 3" of the insert. The gap would be covered by the gas insert cover.

Step 5: Install The Cladding

With everything in place - electrical, wire chase, substrates - we could then close up the structure and add the cladding on top of the framing. 

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For the cladding, we chose to use shiplap that we had leftover from our craft room renovation. At 11 1/2" wide, the shiplap would bring a modern and crisp look to the fireplace. We started with a first full piece lined up along the top of the surround and working our way upwards to the ceiling and downwards to the hearth from there. The left and right edges were mitred to ensure a clean wraparound on the sides. 

Step 6: Paint The Shiplap

After install, we filled any gaps with Dap DryDex and painted the shiplap in Benjamin Moore Simply White, to match the rest of the basement.

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Step 7: Install And Grout The Tile

Tile installation came next. We used Retro Perla, a glazed ceramic tile with an irregular edge. The organic, natural feel of the tiles contrasted nicely against the clean lines of the shiplap.

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We paired the warm grey tile with sanded grout in Snow White by Polyblend. It provided a subtle contrast that wasn't too stark and bright.

Step 8: Paint The Hearth

Next step was to paint the hearth. I wanted to use paint I already had on hand and swatched many different colours. I ended up selecting a colour that was close to the original concrete hearth. The small tester sample was more than enough to paint the hearth. I applied it with a foam roller brush to ensure good coverage and even application.

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Step 9: Finishing Touches

This fireplace makeover wouldn't be complete without a few final touches. 
  • We added baseboard beneath the hearth, to hide the original stone base. The baseboard was cut down to size and painted in Simply White as well. 
  • We spraypainted the gas insert frame with high heat paint in matte black
  • We added a stained wood wrap. Because of the new framing, the tile surround sat recessed and we needed to cover the transition between the tile and shiplap. A simple wood wrap added warmth and tied in the other wood elements around the room.

Step 10: Hang The TV

The last and final step was to mount the TV. Surprisingly, we were able to secure the small cable box behind the TV using velcro straps; we didn't need to use the cable chase after all! We've kept the floral wire and jingle bell in place though, just in case we need that functionality in future.

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It took some time and a lot of steps, but we're thrilled with our updated fireplace! One more fireplace Before and After and you'll see how we took this from dark and dated, to bright and fresh.

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See more of this basement transformation here.

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