Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Family Room's Fireplace Update

My mom was in town last week and helped me get a ton done. (Thanks again mom! This house wouldn’t be anywhere near this done without you!) She tore down tons of wallpaper. I got some other stuff done too. But the biggest change for the house last week was the fireplace’s new look.

This was our family room’s fireplace on the day we bought the house.

And now…This is my view!
Edit in 2016: I didn’t really write this up as a tutorial. But I’ve been getting more questions on it as it gets more hits, so I thought I’d try to explain a bit better. I’ve tweaked my write up a bit, trying to be more clear. But this isn’t a tutorial even still. When I did this, I read other people’s white washing brick tutorials (I may have read every one on the internet, feeling worried about this, but it turns out it’s not that complicated) and followed those. The only thing I did different than what I was seeing, is that I didn’t use white paint. I used close-to-white paint. I used a paint color named “grey beige” (that’s literally the name) created by the company Olympic. (View it here.)

It’s a long room with paneled side walls and un-matching brick on either end. 
The brick opposite the fireplace is the house’s original exterior brick, since this room is an addition. I actually really love the original brick -- it has lots of character. (Gotta be honest, this picture makes it look creepy -- in person it just looks nicely weathered.) But when they built the fireplace they didn’t try their hardest to match the brick to the fireplace -- the brick is redder and darker, with nearly black mortar. The original brick has grey mortar. I didn’t notice this for nearly a week of living here. But once I noticed it, it bothered me. A lot.

After I got the room painted it was driving me batty! I HAD to do something about it. I mentioned before that I want to basically cover up most the brick on the fireplace later on. But I just couldn’t take living with the unmatchingness until then. 

I thought about it long and hard. Considered just painting it white. But then thought no, it still won’t match then. So I thought white-wash. 

I being me, I researched. Most people just used watered down white paint. (Makes sense.) But me being me, and hoping to get both bricks to tie in together, I wanted to use some color, not straight white. I went to Lowes grabbed endless paint chips and held them up on both walls for like a week.

Eventually I picked the color “Gray Beige” by Olympic because I thought it would bring in the best chance of coordination, especially in the mortar tones. I knew I’d never achieve matching. But I wanted coordination for sure.
(I personally like Valspar’s paint, the price point is pretty good and the quality is great. So I always get the colors I pick out mixed in that brand of paint.  I buy it at Lowes.) 

I got the eggshell finish -- I didn’t want any real shine - since I wanted a natural look. And since this is paint plus primer kind of paint I used something like a 1:4 paint to water mix, since this paint is very thick undiluted. (Most tutorials I’ve seen say they do 50/50 mix --  I’m betting my mix is close to what half paint and half water would be like in standard paint that isn’t paint+primer.)
If you are nervous about this process, just make your mix very watery and then your bricks won’t change as dramatically. Then you can always go back and do a second, or even third coat.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like my washed bricks, so as a fallback I knew I could just completely paint them. I seriously hated them as is, so I knew I would feel good no matter where I ended up.

My other obstacle was not ruining the carpet with the really runny paint/water mix. Young House Love said they used rosin paper during their process.  So I picked some up at Home Depot (it’s in the paint section) and crossed my fingers. 

It took forever to get everything prepped. (I wrapped the mantle up in the paper too.)

I took off the fireplace doors. That one took google’s help. I thought these might be somehow permanently attached, but there are screws up at the top and bottom you can loosen. (See the black rectangle near the top of the inside-brick? The screw’s in there.

Then I finally got to start.
I didn’t do anything special. I just painted the watered down paint on.
I had to really get into the cracks between the bricks because I did not want my mortar color to remain.
I would start by going around each brick fully coating the black mortar. Then I would fully coat each brick.
I did not wipe anything off at all.
It’s actually very straightforward and not tricky at all.
It will look pretty white (I should say, grey-beige) at first. And as the brick soaks it in, the brick tone will show through.

After it dries, if you want it to show less and looked more dramatically lighten go back and give it a second coat.
I stopped after my first coat, I was happy there.

I don’t know why, but all the bogs I read that did this white-washing process said it went really fast, but for me it took FOREVER!!!!

Maybe because I am really picky and therefore slower? Or maybe because this is a huge full wall of brick plus the out-jutting and threshold? Maybe because they weren’t trying to change the mortar like i was?  (I think a lot of people have lighter mortar and don’t need to focus down in there.) Either way it took me a full evening into late night, and then the most of the next day too.

I also should say this white washing brick really ate up my paint brush. 
R.I.P first Prudy brush, you served me well.  
Use a cheap brush for this. NOT your Prudy.

That Rosin paper kept all the paint on it, and non of it seeped onto my carpet. 
I may have ruined that chair in the process. (I was planning on getting rid of it anyway. But I’m kinda annoyed I did that, I should have just used the ladder right next to me.)

Looking better!

For reference -- this is the brick across the room. I think we are pulling it all together! Not identical or anything, but friends for sure.

Ok so I finally got it done, and didn’t feel happy.

The mantle looked too orange now. I stuck some stuff up there to see if it would help. But it just didn’t seem right.

After talking to my mom and debating painting it white or something, she voted staining it dark. I was kinda gun shy since my botched stained floor incident. But I told myself, if it turns out horrible I can always paint it later.

So I got out the not-used-up stain from the floor (which is Minwax’s Dark Walnut) and took a deep breath.

I wasn’t sure about it all until it was done. I was still super nervous. All said and done, I think it was an awesome choice.

The top and sides were no problem, but doing the underside was hard. I ended up using q-tips to get close to the brick without staining them!

Last step was spray painting that fireplace door. ( Did that a day or two later.)
I lightly sanded it  and then covered all the windows on both side (that was kinda time consuming) and then took it out to the back yard. I sprayed both front and back because I thought when I open the doors I didn’t wanna see gold on the back of the doors.

Let it dry all day and reinstalled it.

Then I found a bunch of unused decorations and set them up on the mantel.

 Its starting to feel like a home in here! 

I told Blake it used to seem more like a camp than a home.

Here’s a (poorly done) pano of the room after being painted and before the fireplace makeover.
It just felt horrible to me.

Now it feels great!

One more flash back -- for full effect:

(Not sure if that dresser will stay there -- it was a freebee that I just set in a free spot -- but I’m liking there now that I don’t hate the wall behind it.)

As good as it looks, it did take me a couple days to really accept it.
It was a big change. And I’ve lived here long enough now that I’ve gotten used to the stuff I first hated. So changing it feels a little hard now. (Make me understand how people get into design ruts.)

 it did make the room feel smaller.
The brick used to make the wall feel far (far!) away because it was so dark.
 It made the room seem endless.
The white brought the fireplace forward quite a bit.

This is a big room -- so it’s fine. 
And before it felt like a endless hole of a space -- so it’s actually nice now.
 It feels finished, instead of endless. 
I just had to get used to it.

After a couple days, and styled mantle I love it. I love it more every day.

It really does feel like a place to live now instead of a room to exist in.

And some close ups:

Let our life here move forward in prettiness!


  1. Beautiful! Another room gorgeously done by Lydia!

  2. Wow - looks great! I was considering whitewashing my fireplace, but now am contemplating the gray/beige wash. I also love what you did with the back of that door - chalkboard idea is ingenious

    1. Aw Thank you Anne! The gray beige works great, and really it’s not something most people would think twice about when they see it -- they’d just see it as “white.”But for our space it was perfect. And we LOVE our chalkboard door. My girls draw on it all the time. We decorate it for holidays -- we had our Christmas countdown on it. :) It was just an ugly metal door when we moved in. I thought might as well liven it up. :) Plus if we wipe it all off, it just looks like a black door -- which Pinterest claims is super fancy. ;) So all around upgrade for a boring door.

    2. I took the plunge and did it!! I love the end result. Thanks for the inspiration!
      http://scurwenheart.blogspot.com/2015/01/fireplace-makeover.html - I posted some pics.

    3. The transformation is Amazing...Pat yourself on the back and thanks for sharing....

  3. Lydia,
    The fireplace looks great, awesome job. I'm thinking of doing our fireplace as well. One question, when you applied the paint to the bricks and mortar, did you wipe or blot it with a cloth afterwards? Thanks.

    1. That’s a good question…I had wondered about that too before I started.
      The brick and mortar are really “thirsty” so they suck the paint right down into themselves -- so no need to blot or wipe.

    2. Thanks. I compared your pictures to others that did wipe or blot the paint on the brick and yours looked a little different. I love the look of your fireplace, it's the look I was looking for. It appears to have a more solid color look to it, but not a painted look. That's why I was wondering if you wiped it. To me it looks like when it was wiped, it brought out some of the red/brown of the bricks, which isn't what I wanted to do. I love how yours looks like a new color. I found your blog by searching painting fireplaces and I was really impressed. You gave me the courage to take a chance to make my fireplace look better at a more reasonable cost. Thanks again.

    3. Aw thanks, Cherie! I hope yours turns out great!!

  4. Wow, your fireplace is just amazing! I love that you dedicated a whole wall to it, as it highlighted everything and became the center of your living room. And the new color of the brick has this relaxing tone to it. And your entire space looks a whole lot lighter and welcoming. Thank you for sharing your work!

    Lindsey Mckenzie @ BuchananFireAndOutDoor

  5. I love this - we're buying our first home that has a hideous brick fireplace. What color are the walls adjacent to it? I love that color too!

    1. Thanks Mallory. Sounds like a fun project to me. :) I’d love to see some before and after photos someday!
      The walls in here color is Martha Stewart’s Bedford Grey, which I had mixed into Valspar satin paint from Lowes. (I get their cheapest Valspar -- I really like the quality.) In this room it reads green-grey. This room has one east facing window, and the one wall still has red brick -- so I think those two things give it a green hue. I have this same paint it in a bedroom upstairs with windows to the west and north (and nothing red in there) and it reads a cool true grey.

    2. Ok, so d-day is in two week. My husband is headed out of two for a few nights so we both agreed it would be safer for him not be home (in case I mess up and need a scapegoat haha). I'll take some after shots for sure, but here's a before shot of what I'm working with. How thick did you paint it on initially? Your look is exactly what we want and I'm worried about applying too much. Thanks for your help!


    3. Oh that’s gonna look great, I can tell.
      I watered down the paint to what’s kind of like milk consistency (Of course not exactly, it’s hard to put verbiage to it.) And then I just coated each brick once over with that.
      There isn’t an exact science to it. And I think it’s less about how you apply it, and more about how watered down your paint is. If you are scared, water it down a lot and then if it’s too see--through afterwards, give it a second coat. (But you can water it down so much it’s just not gonna stick to the brush.) It all sounds complicated when typing, but it’s not. You’ll see.
      I wasn’t scared to go too thick on mine since I hated it so badly to start with - I threw caution to the wind and attacked because I knew it could only get better from there. I was also fixated on my mortar lines because mine were black. So I spent a ton of time getting in there. But yours are already grey -- so this will be simple.

  6. Beautiful makeover. I stumbled across your post looking for mantle decorating inspiration on Pinterest. Can you tell me where you got that "love" figurine? I'm looking for a similar piece. Thanks!

    1. Thank you Rachel. It’s from Hobby Lobby a few years back -- but I think they still sell them.

  7. Your fireplace looks amazing! It gives it an elegant sophisticated look. I was wondering what products did you use? I got that you got the Olympic's Gray Beige paint, rosin paper. Did you use anything else besides a brush? I'm trying to whitewash my fireplace and wanted to make sure I get everything I need. Thanks!

    1. Thank you. I just watered down the paint and brushed it on with a brush. There's really no special instructions. No extra or fancy products.

  8. Hi, Looks Amazing!!! What exactly do you mean by you used "Olympic’s “Gray Beige” (mixed in Valspar)"?. What Valspar mix did you use, just a white? What was the mixture ratio?

    1. Thank you.
      Olympic is a brand of paint. It is sold at Lowes. The color that I used is named (on the paint chip) is "grey beige." (http://www.olympic.com/color/paint-colors/gray-beige-d14-2)
      I like valspar brand paint (sold at Lowes) so I had the color mixed in that paint. The store gets you the right base color...if that's what you are asking ("just a white")
      Valspar paint is extra thick because it's paint plus primer. So I used 1:4 paint to water. If it didn't have primer its probably be 50/50 water and paint. Basically You just want very liquidity paint. There no magic number. The more water the more the brick will show through.

  9. Ahhhh... I should have figured out that's what you meant. I typically use Behr so I'm not familiar with Valspar. Thank you so much for taking the time and explaining. I ran across this on pinterest and it caught my eye, being that it was a little different than white washing. I really do love it and I'm attempting mine this weekend :)

    1. You're welcome. Hope yours turns out great! Link pics if you can! I'd love to see it!

  10. I have never seen anyone with those brick jut outs on their fireplace like mine! Mine has an extra one in kind of the middle lol a bit lower. Do you know how your wood mantle is set into your fireplace? I want to put a mantle on mine like yours!

    1. Hmm, it sounds like you're fireplace probably had a mantle there before if it had the supports built into the brick.
      Unfortunately I can't tell you how mine is attached. We didn't place ours, it came with the house.

  11. I enjoyed reading your work. I'll come back for more

    Keep up the good work :) from, Home Buys Plus

  12. I think we are pulling it all together! Not identical or anything, but friends for sure.gas fitters calgary

  13. This is beautiful! I’m about to white wash our fireplace. Can u tell me what color your walls are? I love that color with your brick. Thank you!!

    1. Thank you ❤️
      The walls are Martha Steward Bedford Grey. (Mixed in Valspar from Lowes.) I have it in two rooms, in this east facing room, against the bricks, it reads as somewhat green. In the west face facing upstairs bedroom it's a very pure grey without showing the green.

  14. Was the inside of your fireplace brick as well? If so, did you paint it? Just wondering how to go about that and if you needed to clean prior to painting.

    1. Hi Kristen,
      Yes, the inside of my fireplace is brick. But I didn't paint it. It's just dark from soot. And that worked for me.
      If you wanted to paint I'm sure cleaning it would be needed. And I'm sure you would want to use high heat paint. But I don't have any personal experience with it.

  15. I came across your post searching for white washing brick. Your room looks really nice!! I am wondering the reason for mixing Valspar into the Martha Steward Bedford Grey and I guess also to clarify--is the valspar white? Thank you!!

    1. Thank you!
      Martha Stewards' paint line created the color Bedford Grey. However I didn't buy from her line of paint. I bought Valspar's brand of paint from Lowes and requested Martha Stewards' color Bedford Grey at the the of purchase.
      Occasionally the tone of paint can be slightly different if mixed in another brand's paint due to paint formulas (but its usually not something noticeable. I just note it incase.)

  16. I really like what you guys are up too. This kind of clever work and reporting! Keep up the excellent works guys I've added you guys to my personal blogroll. precast stone mantels

  17. We did it and love it! Thanks for your help!


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