All in the family room—painted brick fireplace

This is an older post, but I recently updated the after pictures since I get a lot of interest in old fireplaces spruced up with a fresh coat of paint. Here’s the new after picture, but please keep reading to see what the room looked used to look like. painted brick fireplace When I first fell in love with our house, I fell in love with the great room. It had soaring ceilings, a wall of windows, and great wood floors. In the kitchen, I loved the granite countertops and the wainscoting, and I immediately had a vision for what it could be with a few coats (several gallons) of white paint. By the time we got to the garden level family room, I was wearing love goggles. That’s the only explanation that makes sense to me now. The room has some serious knocks against it. A popcorn ceiling, garden level windows, bad lighting, and, the biggest problem of all, an outdated brick fireplace. And that’s putting it nicely. It’s an orangey-brick fireplace with no mantel that goes three-quarters of the way up one whole wall, which serves to divide the room horizontally and makes it feel shorter than it is. Not so great in a basement family room. Plus, it had a wood-burning stove fireplace insert, which lent the room a rustic cabin feel. Also, the walls were a deep red. The previous owners had built bookshelves over the fireplace, which was a plus—we have a book problem. But it added to the dark, closed-in feeling of the room. Somehow, none of these things registered before we moved in. After we moved in our graduate school furniture, I realized this was the room where we would spend most of our time. It’s the home of kids’ toys, the TV, the place we fold laundry, and where we settle at the end of almost every day. And so, for several years, every sick day and snow day—the days we were truly in that room morning to night—I thought about ways to improve the room. Initially, I tried to go with the dim light and embrace a cozy feel. It worked okay at night, but it felt dreary during the day. It wasn’t much of an improvement over the red. (Sorry about the lame picture. I don’t know why the blue painter’s tape is still stuck on the bookcase.)

Next I tore out two of the bookcases and painted the walls a warm yellow. I was in a yellow phase. It ended up everywhere. It also brightened this room considerably. Plus we found a great sofa on Craigslist and rearranged the furniture. That helped a lot. But I was still trying to find ways to detract from the fireplace. I thought, Maybe I can balance the black chunky square of the fireplace insert if I hang a chunky black mirror right above it. No dice. Plus, after I took out the two book cases, the remaining two were looking out of place up there. I had to remove all the trim to take them out, and didn’t love the fireplace enough to spend a Saturday afternoon cutting it down and replacing it. In meantime, I thought of ways to build a mantle. Remove a few layers of bricks. Remove several feet of bricks from both sides of the fireplace. Resurface with stone. Resurface with drywall. Plaster. You get the idea. I had plans, but nothing that would fit our budget and schedule. We had young children and a growing family. My husband was balancing full time work and a graduate degree. This project was pushed way, way off to the side.

Eventually I tore out the two remaining bookcases, which took some careful patch work on the ceiling. I was able to repurpose the first two as extra shelving in the garage. The second two we disassembled and used the lumber to make shelves in our storage room. Can’t let good wood go to waste, you know. One of my favorite changes was removing the old oak blinds that came with the house. I replaced them with grommet top blue basket weave curtains from World Market. I was hoping the blue would tone down the orange brick of the fireplace. It almost worked. I also got see through shades that let in light but still gave us privacy, which was important since these windows face the road. I also lightened the room yet again and pained the walls white. It was finally beginning to feel like us.

But this spring, once we were done making fires, I took the plunge and painted the fireplace white. First we had to remove the insert. Here’s a close up of the insert.

It was just set in there, so it wasn’t hard. First we removed the surround.

Next we slowly wiggled it out, made sure to stand clear, and tried to control the fall onto the floor. There was no way to lift it. We listed it on Craigslist. As far as inserts go, it was a nice one. We hoped it would find a nice new home somewhere and that someone would pay us to haul it out. It worked. But it sat there for almost a month. 

Next I started painting. I primed it with Kilz. I used a large, 1″ nap roller, a foam roller for the creases, and a brush to really jab the paint into all the little cracks. It took at least three coats of paint. Here’s an after picture with the stove still on the floor. Eventually, we threw a sheet over it because we’re fancy like that.

And here are a few pictures of the room today. I love it! We all do. full-wall painted brick fireplace 80s style painted brick fireplace It feels great all hours of the day and night, and it was not an expensive project to do. Before the cold sets in this winter, we’ll get some fireplace doors and a grate. But for now, the candles are a nice substitute.

Want tips on how to paint your fireplace?

Check out my post on seven easy steps to paint your fireplace in a weekend.


Want to see more fireplace makeovers?

Check out this link that Myra over at My Blessed Life put together.



8 thoughts on “All in the family room—painted brick fireplace

  1. I am about to start this exact project with a very similar fireplace where the brick spans the entire wall. Question for you (first off it looks fantastic!) what colour did you use for the bricks? And did you use the same colour for the walls or a different colour (it’s hard to tell from the pics).


    • Thanks, Jodi! I used the same color shade for the walls and the brick, but I got different paint sheens. I got flat for the bricks and eggshell for the walls. It’s a custom white close to Behr’s Swiss Coffee.

  2. Hey! I hadn’t seen this before! It is beautiful. I’m so glad you took the plunge and did it! Wish I could see it (and you) in person. 😉

    • Thank you for your comments! It took me a long time to tackle this one, but now that it’s done I’ll never look back. I’d love to see you too! And we will share what we’ve learned about doors for when you’re ready to tackle that one. It took us 8.5 years to get to it, so you have lots of time.

  3. I have to find a copy of Franny and Zoey quick so I can come see your home. Anybody have one I can come get today? Your family room is perfect.

    • Susie, thank you for all of your sweet comments! It’s so fun to hear from other people who are into this stuff too. Love it! And, btw, someone else is hosting tomorrow. I’ll send you the address. 🙂

  4. I love this!!! I’m all for painting brick, even when it takes some time to get there. We had to live with ours for a while, too, before we were ready to take the plunge. And I thought I liked the bookcases before you ripped them out, but you were so right! Much lighter without them. 🙂

    • Thank you! I thought I’d want to leave them up too, because I usually LOVE built-ins. And we never have enough room for books. But they were so poorly constructed, they weren’t worth leaving. Plus, they shortened the already short space over the fireplace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s