Before and After: A Living Room’s Chic Redo Disguises Its Old ’80s Brick Fireplace

published Jul 15, 2023
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Some big brick fireplaces make for beautiful features in homes, and others are more like eyesores. It ultimately depends on the year the home was built, how well the brick has been maintained, and the style the original mason selected for the home — plus, of course, personal taste.

Interior design blogger Kyla Herbes (@houseofhipstersblog) had mixed feelings about the massive brick beast in her living room. She appreciated the architectural detail, but there was something about it that always felt off. “At the house inspection before the final sale of the home, the previous owner was in the residence, and he said to me, ‘I hope you do something with the fireplace, at least the mantel,’” Kyla recalls. “Maybe that stuck with me?”

Credit: Kyla Herbes

One thing that irked Kyla was that the plywood shelves looked so thin in comparison to the chunky ‘80s brick. “The mantel was a chunky ledge made of wood that had zero thought put into it,” she says. “The built-ins were only 7 inches deep, and the shelving was painted plywood that had started to bow. The brick felt heavy with the decor styled in the built-ins, no matter how much I edited.” 

For years, she struggled with what to do with the brick until her neighbor, George, who also happens to be a builder and general contractor, moved in next door. Ultimately, George and Kyla concluded that for structural support reasons and to prevent having to buy a new firebox, the brick would have to stay. But that didn’t mean the look couldn’t change!

George introduced Kyla to some pros who demoed the shelves and mantel (that took less than 30 minutes total, Kyla recalls) and added a limestone-and-mortar surround in front of the existing brick with drywall up top. 

Credit: Kyla Herbes

“The masons were craftsmen of the trade,” Kyla says. “So precise and exact with their work. Every time a piece of stone was laid, it was quadruple-checked with a level and then quadruple checked again … nothing could be off, as the limestone is basically a facade placed over the old brick.”

Kyla says that although the project was not cheap, the type of limestone she was drawn to from the start was on the less expensive side. In total, the limestone took the pros three or four days to install. Kyla says the bold transformation was better than anything she could have done herself. “Could I have painted it? Yes. Could I have done German smear? Yes. But I wanted to go bigger with this fireplace. It’s not for everyone, but this was the perfect solution for me,” she says.

Credit: Kyla Herbes

After the new fireplace surround was installed, the shelves were taken down, and fresh drywall above the fireplace was up, Kyla chose a new paint color, which was way harder than expected, as not everything meshed with the limestone. She ended up painting the walls with something way more neutral: Sherwin-Williams’ Natural Linen. “Finding a new neutral paint took a lot of time,” Kyla says. “Swatch after swatch was placed on the limestone trying to determine the undertone.”

After she did find the right paint, the room still felt empty — that is, until the perfect furniture pieces came together. “When the stone was initially installed, I missed my built-ins … the wall that was so heavy and busy was suddenly sterile,” Kyla says. “So many inspirational photos had something flanking either side of a fireplace.”

For Kyla, the perfect pieces to surround the fireplace were found while scrolling Facebook Marketplace. She found two matching arched cabinets for $300 total that also happened to complement the nearby kitchen — kismet! “The key feature of the cabinets was the arched top because the stone surround had so many squares,” Kyla says. “I needed to break up the 90-degree corners with round accents.”

Credit: Kyla Herbes

Kyla’s $500 sofa was an estate sale find, and so were her $200 accent chairs. She incorporated more round and organic accents like a wicker coffee table, bouclé ottoman, a cool globe floor lamp from a local vintage shop, a melted disco ball sculpture, and bubble-shaped candle holders

Kyla completed the room with a Serena & Lily side table and a Loloi rug. She’s still not totally content with the fact that she no longer has built-ins, but she’s getting used to it, and she’s swapping decor until she gets things just right in the space — and maybe even after that, too. (Can any perpetual rearrangers and DIYers relate?) “The cabinets work for now, and don’t worry — I’m not painting them. At least not yet,” she says. 

Mostly, Kyla loves that the new elegant and airy space she once dreamed of is now a reality. “I love the new look,” she says. “It’s fresh, bright, and not as heavy. It’s a space I’m proud of, and it makes me smile.”