How to Restore an Ugly Fireplace

The first project in our home was to remodel an ugly fireplace. Here are step-by-step instructions on demolition, construction, tiling, and painting.

In 2006 my wife and I moved into our new house. Well, it was new to us anyway. It is actually a 20 year old house, and though not new, it wasn’t a run-down dump either. Let’s just say the various previous owners had many different tastes. (Christmas tree wallpaper in one bathroom!!) The house had very good bones however and we viewed it as good canvas to work on and make it what we wanted.

So the first thing that absolutely to go was the hideous fireplace. This fireplace was not an original feature of the house. Previous owners actually put this monstrosity here. I guess they wanted to have a lodgey feel, which again would explain the Christmas tree wallpaper and forest green walls. But here is the fireplace in all its river-rock glory. It would be bad enough if it was constructed well, but this was not. There were quite a few loose stones.

First part of the project was to do the demolition. This is my wife looking sexy in the safety goggles and getting out all her aggression with the sledge hammer.

And this is me father and I. I don’t look as sexy in the goggles as my wife. As you can hopefully tell from the photo, there was a ton of mortar, cement and brick to hammer and chisel through. And behind all that adhered to the walls are the original concrete blocks that formed the fireplace surround. I took those off the wall and recycled them into my backyard garden to put potted plants on. They look nice, almost like from Roman ruins or something.

Also what you can’t see is that the previous owners had drilled bolts through the metal front of the firebox in order to attach the wire mesh that the mortar adhered the bricks to. Wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with, since I didn’t want to replace the whole firebox.

Here is a photo after all the demo has been done and I have started restoring. Here are some steps I took:

  • To solve the problem of the holes poked through the fron of the firebox, I used Bondo to fill in the holes and any dents or scratches. Then after sanding with fine grit sandpaper and then wet sanding again, I spray painted the firebox with High-Heat spray-paint made for painting wood stoves.
  • I patched the wall wherever there was damage from pulling off the old stones
  • Attached cement backerboard around the fireplace where the new tile will go. Make sure you know what your local building codes are for how much space around your fireplace there needs to be. The wood mantle can’t be too close to the firebox for fear of combustion.
  • Purchased a pre-formed mantle from lowes.
  • The columns for the mantle I made myself out of 1 inch pine boards cut to form three-sided columns. I didn’t want to use solid wood here. You can see how I constructed the column by looking at the one on the floor. These columns were then bolted in place to the wall with winged toggle-bolts.
  • I left the concrete hearth on the floor as this was going to be too big of a job to demolish and remove it. I added some leveling compound to the top to level it and prepare for tiling.

Below is the fireplace after tiling. Some other notes are:

  1. Tile is Turkish slate. I used a wet tile saw to cut the tiles. You have to be careful cutting slate sometimes because it can have flaky areas that crumble if you push too hard through the saw.
  2. I was able to mail-order some new glass doors for the fireplace since the old ones were trashed. These were retro-fit doors since the company that made the firebox is no longer in business after 20 years. They fit well though.
  3. I bought some decorative grape appliqué’s and glued them on the columns and across the mantle. We like wine and thought it would add a bit to the Venetian feel we are going for here in fireplace room.

Another view of the fireplace, almost finished.

Below is the room after the first coat of Venetian Plaster on the walls. Venetian Plaster gives the room a nice texture and old-world feeling. This is a time consuming process, but is fairly easy to do yourself. Home Depot has Venetian Plaster in cans. It is made by BEHR paint. You apply several coats with a trowel, then optionally sand or rub it with a smooth trowel to burnish it and get somewhat of a smooth, shiny finish.

And below are two views of the finished room. The mantle is now painted brown and I added crown moulding.

Hope you enjoyed the article. Please leave some comments or feel free to ask any questions. And please view more of my projects as I complete them. Some of my other projects are here:

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Published in: Home Improvement


RSSComments: 16  |  Post a Comment
  1. buy a new tv

  2. lose the fan, but I compliment you on your new fireplace! You’re a talented writer AND handyman :) Your hard work pays off.

  3. Thanks for the comments. Give me a break on the TV though. We have plasmas in the other rooms – as budget allows the TV will be replaced in this room as well.

    And as for the fan, yes that will be going too, though will be replaced with a more modern one. It’s hot here and we need the fans. Also helps clear the air when I have a mishap in the kitchen!!

  4. I don’t care about the fan or the TV. :) I gathered that this isn’t about your tv or fan.

    Your fireplace project is a wonderful example of home improvement! Thank you for the details and photos…now, my fireplace project doesn’t seem so impossible!

  5. Looks great! What did you do on the sides of the backerboard where it meets the firebox? Did you tile the edeges so you can’t see the edge of the backerboard?

  6. Lovely tiles, thanks for letting us in on the project.

  7. Typically, stone fireplaces are installed in larger rooms, not a smaller room like this. If it is a smaller room, the stones need to be much smaller. The new fireplace looks great, but I would still prefer the river rock with new glass doors. What you refer to as \\\”monstrosity\\\” and \\\”lodgey\\\”, I refer to as \\\”warm and inviting\\\”. Additionally, river rock has a much higher resale value and is currently being installed in many newer homes. Since you obviously do not like lodgey look, I assume you will want to replace the wood floor, again I would disagree.

    Also, the mirror is fantastic, but with the outdated ceiling fan, TV, drapes (ugh!) and merlot couches, I am starting to wonder about your taste.

  8. Thanks dude good job

  9. This is almost funny. The fireplace I have is so very similar to your ‘new’ one….and I am counting down the days til I can have it refaced with river rock. I never thought of it before…but I guess I like monstrosities. =))

    I still think you did a great job…and thank goodness we all have different taste.

  10. Smart Interior – Thanks for the comments. A few points: You’re absolutely right, the stones might look better in a larger room. But this room is small. We didn’t install the rocks, they were previous owner. And while lodge style may be fine for some, and especially in a mountain/alpine area, it didn’t really fit in a Spanish style home near the ocean. Though some may like river rock, I doubt they like poorly installed river rock where mortar is crumbling and has potential to fall off and hurt your child. And yes, floors and furniture will be replaced as soon as the little ones grow up. No sense spending money on new floors and furniture only to have them destroyed immediately. In any event, whether you like my taste or not, that wasn’t the point of the article – the point was to show that if you don’t like something, you can change it, and have fun doing a project yourself.

    Annie, yes that is funny. Hope your new fireplace refacing goes well!

  11. So pretty! A great improvement from what you started with. Totally inspiring…I\’m dealing with my own ugly lava rock wall and this has given me hope that I too someday may have a beautiful living room. Absolutely love it.

  12. Great job, inspiring. Thanks for posting this. We have a 30 year old [dead-dried out] moss rock behemoth living in our small family room in the basement. Small dark-ish room, huge rocks and BLACK morter/grout between the rocks. I guess I just found something for my older kids to do over Christmas!

  13. I loved your original one!

  14. The River Rock looked better!

  15. I also liked the river rock better, with a new door/screen.

  16. I too preferred the river rock. I think it went well with the wood floors. The turkish tiles look fine also.

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