Projects & Improvements

Before and After: A Ho-Hum Brick Fireplace Gets Transformed into an English Cottage Stunner

published Jul 1, 2022
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Though she’s in the process of preparing for a major overhaul of her 1940s farmhouse, content creator and author Kennesha Poe-Buycks of Restoration House wanted to address her living room sooner rather than later. “I thought to myself, ‘What can we do that wouldn’t cost a ton but offer a big visual impact in the space?'” she says. “The fireplace, since it was such a focal point in the room, seemed the obvious choice.”

Prior to the redo, Poe-Buycks fireplace didn’t fully jibe with age of her home. Specifically, while lovely, the slate blue painted brick looked a little too modern in style and made the room appear a bit darker. Even though she had spruced up the mantel with vessels to distract from her television — and added a pretty plant to the hearth — the setup wasn’t doing the space any favors. For that reason, Poe-Buycks decided to focus on upgrading the fireplace but with period charm at the core of the project. She knew she was going to update the firebox with a gas insert and worked with a contractor to source and install that component of the redo after demo. With that in place, Poe-Buycks then turned her attention to the fireplace hearth and surround, and her home’s age and history came into play for inspiration.

“In an attempt to restore [the home] to its original character and pay a nod to my affinity for English cottage style, we went with a mortared wall front for the re-facing,” Poe-Buycks says. While she didn’t want to splurge on whole stones, limestone veneer from a local stone yard offered a more affordable material that could also be installed in a quicker and easier fashion, especially since she and her husband would be doing the framing work and surface installation themselves.

To make the fireplace look more authentic though, Poe-Buycks took matters into her own hands, literally. “It was really important to me that even though we used cut veneers, they didn’t look like veneer,” she says. “We broke many of them into more organic shapes and carefully laid them out in a pattern that felt more natural.” The couple used mortar for the joinery, stacking the pieces from the hearth at the bottom of the surround to its very top.

Poe-Buycks knew she wanted a mantel to break up the surface and help situate her television and sound bar. She choose a slab-style wooden ledge in a darker finish to contrast with the lighter limestone veneer pieces and mortar. This perch is the perfect spot should she want to add smaller objects here in the future. She also placed a rattan basket on the hearth for yet another hit of texture in this spot.

The new firebox and surround set Poe-Buycks back a total of $800, which would have been way more had she and her husband not completed most of the labor themselves. The project wasn’t an overnight success though, and had some setbacks. The couple ran into a supply chain delay with their insert and the limestone veneer, and a few challenges also arose with installation. “The hardest part was learning how to place the stone — getting the mortar consistency right — and deciding on the mortar color,” she shares. “We ultimately went with white mortar, and I love that we decided not to dye it.”

From start to finish, the project took about four months due to the aforementioned product delays, but it was the perfect reno kick off for Poe-Buycks, who looks forward to completing more work in line with the history of her home. “I love English cottage style, so as we continue renovations, we’ll integrate both our personal design aesthetic with some of the original style of millwork and finishes indicative of that time period in the home,” Poe-Buycks adds.

Now that the hard work is done, Poe-Buycks feels perfectly at home in her newly styled living room. “With the addition of the stone and new insert, the space is much more inviting and cozy,” she says. “We spent a lot more time in the space this past winter, and now I can’t wait for the fall!”