July 25, 2024


Interior spice

Our Ugly Brick Fireplace – He Vetoes Painting It!

Our Ugly Brick Fireplace – He Vetoes Painting It!


Our Ugly Brick Fireplace – He Vetoes Painting It!


Dear Laurel,

Please don’t ream me out. I’m just a meek little housewife with three kids— and a husband. He’s good to me and makes a good living; no complaints.

So what’s the problem? It’s our new home, and it has not one but TWO of the ugliest fireplaces God ever created. One is ugly brick, and one is ugly stone.


Table of Contents

I know what you’re thinking.


Why did we buy a home with two ugly fireplaces? That’s a very good question, Laurel. It was June, and we lost out on the home we really wanted.

However, we had to live in that neighborhood because of the school district. It was June. The closing was in August.


There are parts of the home that I like a lot. It’s got a great layout and lots of light. I think there’s a lot of potential.


The other thing is, I lied.


I do have one complaint about the husband. He says that he likes the brick and the stone or is not interested in making any changes to it.

He thinks that we need to use that money for the kids’ education. Well, yes, that’s true. I’m not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to remove the stone and brick. That would be nuts.

However, isn’t there something we can do to make it look good? Could we paint it? I’m afraid to mention anything to h until I’m armed with a solid plan.

Thanks so much,

Sabrina Brykschitz




Hi Everyone,

First of all, thank you so much for the absolutely darling comments regarding the 10-year blogiversary of Laurel Home. I am overwhelmed and incredibly grateful for your love and support.

Second, if you’re interested, there’s a 10% (or more) discount on all of my rockin’ interior design guides. More info at the end of the post.

Third, Sabrina Brykschitz ;] is a fictitious character. She’s an amalgam of situations I’ve encountered over the years or read about.

And I know that a lot of you are interested in having a  post about what to do with an ugly brick fireplace.


However, this is a very broad topic as there are several things to consider:



  • Style of the home
  • Age of the home
  • Location of the home
  • Size of the fireplace and the surrounding brick/stone


Since there is much to cover, I’m only going to talk about The Ugly Brick Fireplace today.


For this post, I will assume that you are looking for a traditional or classic contemporary style and that your home was built in the last 60 years or so.

But, there are so many styles of homes, and most of us don’t have a brick with a lot of character.


rustic exposed brick fireplace mantel and wall | Logan Killan Design

Logan Killan Interiors

Like this one.


And we don’t have the 20-foot ceiling either.

Please note that this is definitely not a working fireplace as the hearth is made of wood!?!

Here’s what I would do if I had an ugly brick fireplace that needed to change.

Walk around your home and see it as one entire composition.

The fireplace is only one part, but it has to work with the home as a whole.

For instance, if you have a rustic home that’s primarily stained wood and a brick fireplace, and you paint it white, it will look bloody weird.

In fact, white-painted brick with an oversized wood mantel looks horrible, IMO.


Important info before I go on.

I realize that some have firm opinions about whether to paint brick or not. That’s fine, but what’s not fine (by me, that is) is to insult folks with absolutes, like “it’s gross to paint brick.” Stuff like that.

But sometimes folks, although well-intentioned, make mistakes, and I’ll be getting to that in a sec.

Let’s look at other situations where the brick is left in its natural red brick color.


Mia Maestro craftsman home with a brick fireplace and wood stained trim and fireplace surround

Mia Maestro’s Home in Lonny

It certainly looks appropriate in this craftsman-style home. One thing I tried to find is a great-looking room that has walls painted in a coordinating, rusty-bricky-reddish color. That is often a great solution if one has a husband that refuses to budge. The brick will virtually disappear.

However, there are lots of colors that look great with red brick. You can see some of them here.

Of course, I live on the land with thousands of houses made of red brick. You can see some lovely examples in this post about the fantastic doors of Beacon Hill.

Also, this post about exterior painted brick is a favorite of mine.

And, then there’s 12 of the best colors to go with red brick.


Katy Skelton - exposed brick fireplace

Katy Skelton

This exposed brick looks appropriate in this Brooklyn Apartment. The old apartment that I lived in on the upper west side of Manhattan in the 80s had an exposed brick wall and high ceilings. I rather liked the character it gave to the renovated building.



hallys deli London via we heart


But I think it’s also cool to paint old brick.


Here’s a whole page of whitewashed brick fireplaces on Pinterest.

And there are hundreds more out there.


There are two techniques for getting the whitewashed look.


  • The diluted paint method – Just what it says.
  • Lime Wash – A complex technique that is typically done on exterior brick and stone but I believe can also be done in interiors.


A good overview of lime-washing, whitewashing, and German Smear

(No, that last one does not involve cream cheese. haha)

This is an excellent post on Sand and Sisal with a pretty outcome after whitewashing the red brick.

But, for the most part, I think that if you’re going to paint the ugly brick fireplace, then regular paint is a good choice.


A slight bit of antiquing is okay. I think that if it’s a genuinely old home, one has more liberty with the antiquing. But that’s not what most of us have.

Most of us have something like this.


ugly brick fireplace


Let’s Talk About What To Do With Our Ugly Brick Fireplace


The easiest and cheapest thing to do is paint.

If it’s raw brick, you will need a wonderful primer.

Cathy Dickson, who commented here, recommends Zinsser Bull’s Eye 1-2-3, and I have heard other good things about it. She follows up with Benjamin Moore Cloud White in the matte formulation.

She’s done this many times as she’s a house flipper and says it always looks terrific.


An excellent post on A Beautiful Mess about how to paint brick and stone.


Re: paint sheen.


That is another bugaboo. I usually prefer a flatter finish (matte or eggshell), but if you don’t, that’s cool. I prefer an oil-based paint if it’s satin or semi-gloss however, but that isn’t easy to come by these days.

If anyone has had a lot of experience painting brick fireplace mantels and recommends a type and/or brand of paint, that would be wonderful. We’re all here to learn and make our homes more beautiful.


After painting comes the next bit of expense, which is a mantel.


There are lots of posts where I share my favorite fireplace mantels. You can see them all, here.


There are some problems here, and some are a safety issue. I don’t think the whitewashed brick is working with the more formal mantel and trim. The mantel’s proportions are off. The crown should not fan out that much and not be so heavy.

For good fireplace proportions, please go here.


But actually what should happen is that the legs of the mantel should be out further.


There is supposed to be a minimum of 6″ of non-flammable brick, metal, or stone between the firebox and mantel.


After that, I would tile the inset or use a black honed granite slab or soapstone. This makes it look a lot less like a mantel just slapped up in front of a brick wall.


Christy Ford – photo Patrick Cline


This is a great example of a slab of honed granite or soapstone, maybe in this case.

I love that and have specified it often.


ugly brick fireplace with a lovely wood mantel


A lovely addition is this return if the brick comes out from the wall a few inches.

This one would’ve looked amazing if the brick was painted the same color as the wall. And then if I would add a black honed granite around the firebox.

beautiful white-washed brick - painted white brick with wood piece on the top of the mantel - designed by Ron Marvin

Ron Marvin


This is a clever way of dealing with a low brick mantel.

An elegant crown/shelf is the perfect addition.


beautiful painted brick and old stone fireplace mantel designed by Michelle Willis Adams

Michelle Willis Adams

An old stone fireplace is wonderful over this old painted brick. This is undoubtedly in an urban setting like San Francisco or maybe New York. It’s one of my favorites.


However, in most cases, I think that the most beautiful way to deal with the brick is to build over it.


Many examples I’ll be showing are DIY.


Satori Design For Living

They did a terrific job and included an excellent tutorial about how they covered up their ugly brick.


Dillard Jones Builders

This is a case where it depends on what else is going on. I think it’s a great job. My personal preference would be to have all of the brick painted white with a slab of honed granite for the top of the hearth with a 1″ overhang, if possible.


Donna Moylan via Lonny

An exquisite mantel, beautifully in scale with brick painted black. There is a special paint that’s heat-resistant for inside the firebox. It looks like the hearth might be painted too. Not sure.


Giannetti Home - beautiful painted brick fireplace and wood mantel to match the walls

One of my favorites from Brooke and Steve Giannetti.


designed by Melinda Woodruff - beautiful brick fireplace with built-in book cases and shiplap

Melinda Woodruff

I love the look of this dramatic fireplace with built-in bookshelves and shiplap.


beautiful white painted brick fireplace

Front + Main

This is from a home in Milwaukee. When I lived there in the late ’70s, I had a friend who had this exact configuration. Fond memories!


classic white fireplace surround over a brick fireplace and rustic beams

This is one of my favorites. It’s a beautiful blend of traditional and rusticity. (source unknown)


Laurel,  do you always have to paint the brick fireplace white?


Not at all!

I love the look of painting everything in one color.


cure for an ugly brick fireplace benjaminmoore knoxville gray hc 160 Good HousekeepingGood Housekeeping

Above is an excellent example of the brick fireplace, trim, and walls that are all painted Benjamin Moore Knoxville Gray hc 160.


Paint and Paper tone on tone fireplace mantel and wall.

Paint and Paper via Ideal Home UK

While this isn’t a brick fireplace, it could’ve been.


There was a request to have some black painted brick. While there are some around the firebox, this is handsome in this setting.


beautiful paneled fireplace surround over a brick fireplace

This fireplace surround is gorgeous!


I will leave you with one super successful makeover for an ugly brick fireplace. I took the liberty of creating a graphic of her lovely work. So please be sure to follow @allthingsali.j on Instagram.


Ali is a young mom with a lovely Insta feed featuring beautifully edited classic contemporary interiors.


@allthingsali.j on instagram before and after ugly brick fireplace mantel makeover@allthingsali.j on Instagram


ugly brick fireplace

Please pin this graphic to your Pinterest boards!


Well, I hope that gave y’all some ideas for dealing with a not-so-great brick fireplace. There are many options for keeping the brick, painting it, and building over it.



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