Affordable and Creative Ways to Upgrade An Old Apartment Fireplace

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You’ve finally found the apartment of your dreams, and it has a fireplace! It doesn’t matter if it’s a working fireplace or an older one that’s been sealed off for years — fulfilled dreams are almost always immune to specifics. But then you move in and realize it doesn’t quite fit with your décor. In fact, it may be somewhat of an eyesore.

No problem! For a small investment, a modicum of labor, and a big helping of creativity, you can transform that fireplace into the star of the room. Better yet, you can do it while keeping your style and vision non-permanent and rental-friendly.

Mantel Madness

In most cases, the problem lies with the mantel and not the fireplace per se. An unattractive mantel can ruin the whole image, but it’s an easy fix.

First, give the mantel a deep cleaning. You might even discover that it’s made of a precious hardwood, stone, or marble that’s been just hidden by dirt or paint. Remove it to uncover its concealed beauty.

Create a display using framed photos and art of different sizes. Arrange old and new knickknacks on the mantel in a way that sparks conversation. Wax romantic or spiritual with an array of different-shaped candles in assorted holders.

For a few dollars more, you can consider getting a new mantel altogether. Most landlords won’t object to a tasteful upgrade. Check auction sites, yard sales, and salvage yards for great deals on unique mantels that you can easily install to give your fireplace a fabulous facelift. Visit stone and marble stores to score some remnants at greatly reduced prices.

Paint by Wonder

If you haven’t been to a paint store lately, it’s time to visit a few. It’s not your father’s paint store anymore. Apart from your basic flat and glossy finishes, you’ll also find things like textured paint, distressed finishing options, metallic paint, and chalk paint (not chalkboard, it’s a soft, muted application). In fact, there are so many options out there, it feels like a new type of paint or stain is emerging every month or so. Ask a staff member or professional for tips on your specific project.

Don’t rush to pick your favorite color for your mantel, surrounding walls, or fireplace. If you can, get yourself some tiny sample bottles, swipe a few colors on a board, and hold them up to the fireplace and mantel to see if they pop. Stand back to see how the colors and textures work with the room as a whole.

Against The Wall

Fireplace Art

If you’re trying to create a cohesive look for the entire room, it’s important to give your walls a little attention too. The wall space right above the fireplace is particularly important. Use a large painting or photograph, a colorful textile, wall hanging, or rug, or an old, oversized beveled mirror to turn that space into a strong focal point.

Remember that all walls in a room don’t have to be the same color. A landlord generally won’t mind if you paint a couple walls as long as you restore them to their original color before you vacate the premises. Large rooms can handle darker colors on two or three walls, and high ceilings are perfect for pastels. Any of these color combinations, when coupled with a renovated fireplace or mantel, can transform your apartment into a veritable showcase.

Fabulous Façades

Sometimes, the mantel is the only part of the fireplace you like — it’s the fireplace itself or the hearth that needs help. Again, these changes are easier and more affordable to make than you might think.

There are many paint options for brick, concrete, and stone, but landlords are more likely to object to such permanent alterations. However, contact paper has come a long way in recent years. You are no longer limited to the floral patterns long used to line drawers and cabinets. There are now hundreds of options you can use to transform old fireplace façades or hearths into showstopping surfaces that no one would ever guess were made using contact paper. Better yet, you can use removable contact paper, which won’t mar the original surfaces.

For more tactile upgrades, consider tile, tin, or granite façades. With careful application, these materials can be removed at will without compromising the original fireplace or hearth surfaces.

Repurpose the Space

If your apartment has a non-working fireplace, or you simply choose not to burn wood in it, you can use the firebox (the part of the fireplace where the wood goes) and electric fireplace logs to create a fake fire. You won’t feel any comforting heat from the apparatus, but the faux flames generate a nice glow and give the room a soothing ambiance.

That firebox can also be transformed into an attractive arena for large candles, logs stacked on andirons, a few twinkle lights, or an assortment of plants and flowers displayed in decorative pots or vases.

Extra storage space is another good use for the firebox. Stow floor pillows in the box, or fill it with crates of old vinyl records. Shelving units for books or curio displays are perfect for large fireboxes.

Fireplaces add charm and personality to any room. With just a little bit of work and funding, it’s easy to make yours reflect your unique tastes.

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