See How These Homeowners Used Their Unusable Fireplace (and Saved Thousands of Dollars!)

published Apr 13, 2024
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White brick fireplace in living room.

When Palmer Schallon and Melissa Arcaro of PSAMA Design moved into their bungalow in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood, they wanted to update many rooms. (This included aligning their modern, all-white kitchen more closely with the home’s interior style.) 

Their unusable living room fireplace was one of the things that needed a big refresh. “It hadn’t been used in years. We discovered it would cost thousands of dollars to get it functioning again,” Melissa writes. 

Luckily there are several ways to decorate an unused fireplace. These otherwise vacant nooks make great at-home libraries and can double as ample storage space. And while these are great options, the couple wanted to do something different.

Credit: Marc Mauldin

“I really wanted to create some kind of a scene. Palmer was a little resistant at first, but he sat with it for a bit and finally came around,” Melissa shares. “He threw out the idea of recreating our wedding, which I thought was excellent, and having the base be a love altar. Our living room is where a lot of our time is spent with each other and guests, so we liked the idea of it being something that brought us a lot of joy.”

So the couple set out to reimagine the focal point of their living room. They started by going from the outside in. It wasn’t just the actual fireplace that needed updating — the original mantel area was clad in red brick painted white — but it didn’t match their vintage aesthetic. 

Palmer selected handmade tide pool-colored zellige tiles in two shapes (square and rectangular) for the mantel. The tiles are made in Morocco and they have imperfections, like cracks and depressions, that make them unique. “Each one is special and flawed,” Melissa shares. 

Next, it was time to create the artwork devoted to their wedding in the fireplace. Palmer and Melissa had been together for around 20 years, and they decided to tie the knot in 2020. Because it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, guests could only attend the wedding virtually. So they turned an alley outside of their home into an homage to their friends, family, and love. 

The couple lived in California then, so Palmer created a 12-foot papier-mâché sculpture to honor Salvation Mountain. And even though friends and family couldn’t physically be there, their presence was still felt. “Because we weren’t inviting guests, I created a mountain collage of our friends and family as our background and painted a blue backdrop on the graffiti wall for sky,” Melissa explains. 

It was a sentimental and stunning event, so it’s no surprise that the couple wanted to revisit it every day by viewing it in their living room. They decided upon a diorama of sorts to honor the special day. Palmer created a frame using wood around the fireplace, a miniature version of the Salvation Mountain sculpture, and a photo-copied version of their friends and family. 

“There’s a light switch to the left side that can be switched on that helps brighten it up a bit and adds just a little drama,” Melissa shares. “At the base, we created a love altar where we have some items that are special to us.”

Some of the notable items include, but aren’t limited to, an Institute of Contemporary Art button that says, “Art is for everyone,” puppets to represent the couple, and a handmade handkerchief from Melissa’s grandma. Melissa and Palmer know this isn’t necessarily a traditional way to fill their unused fireplace, but it’s more sentimental and creates conversation with their guests. 

Credit: Marc Mauldin

“Something we both really like about the piece is that it doesn’t tell a straight story. I don’t think most people would see it and think … wedding,” Melissa shares. “It draws people in to examine a bit more and ask questions. The more you ask, the more you find out how much of us is crammed into one little space.” 

The fireplace revamp project took around two weeks and cost around $2,600. However, the collaboration between Melissa and Palmer and the conversations it’s likely sparked since its completion are priceless. If you love the sentimentality of this project, you’ll want to see the rest of their thoughtful space in the full home tour