I Can’t Stand My Ugly Stone Fireplace – What Can I Do?

freaking-out-over-your-paint-colors

 

Dear Laurel,

I loved your post about the ugly brick fireplace.

Well, I have an ugly stone fireplace.

 

ugly stone fireplaceAmy’s ugly stone fireplace

It might not be the worst one you’ve ever seen, but I can’t stand it. I’ve considered painting it, and in an unprecedented situation, lol, my husband is open to that idea.

It seems to me there was another post where you spoke about some special finishes for brick, but I can’t find it. Can you do similar techniques for stone as you do brick?

Best,

Amy

 

***

 

Hi Everyone,

This is based on a real note I received a while back, and it’s a great topic. That’s because, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of double-story family rooms. Now, I know that many of you have them. I know this because they are as common as cornflakes. And, indeed, getting rid of one of the cavernous spaces will most likely not work.

It’s also not like all of them are bad. But, that’s not the topic of this post.

This is the topic.

 

two story stone fireplace
The ubiquitous late 20th century and beyond the ugly stone fireplace.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, for one thing, it’s a big dark thing and in a room with white walls. And, it will be challenging to balance out that element.

The divided light windows are based on traditional and classical style windows. The stone is rustic.

In my opinion, it’s too much.

However, it’s not the ugliest stone fireplace I’ve ever seen.

Please see below for a collection of far uglier stone fireplace surrounds.

 

This overbearing (IMO) monstrosity.

this – with matching fugly 70’s wall paneling

 

ugliest stone fireplace

Close Encounters of the worst kind.

 

Richard Dreyfus is always so excellent.

Perplexing, ain’t it?

Giraffes looking confused

Hey, you guys lookin’ at me? I swear I didn’t do it! Please, don’t kill the messenger!

 

Bowling ball cemetery, I guess.

 

Please do not pin these to Pinterest unless it’s to a board entitled “Don’t Do This.”

 

Of course, many homes have a perfectly appropriate stone fireplace in these situations, and possibly others.

 

  • In an antique home– usually.
  • In a home that is genuinely rustic, through and through.

 

My parents built a rustic home in 1980 on the shores of Lake Michigan, just north of Milwaukee. The living room was two stories with floor-to-ceiling windows. In the center of the room was a magnificent Lannon stone fireplace that formed the entire core of their hexagonal-shaped home. Lannon stone is an indigenous stone to Wisconsin.

It was quite impressive as the staircase to the second floor wrapped around their stone fireplace.

 

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of their fireplace. However, above is the look of the stone to give you an idea. The home, as this one is, was contemporary and rustic. In this situation, it felt appropriate.

 

Below are some other natural stone fireplaces that do feel like they belong

 

Ruthie Sommers

The home is rustic, and the stone fireplace is a natural extension. I also like the juxtaposition of her furnishings against the rusticity.

Remember James Farmer’s successful rustic showhouse, but with traditional furnishings? He’s amazing.

 

Please do check out the post in the link above. There are several examples of stone fireplaces that I think do work beautifully, including one by Gil Schafer.

 

His is not fully stone, but I love what he did.

Let’s look at an interesting example of a stone fireplace that’s not terrible but I think could be better.

 

rustic-stone-fireplace-with-white-walls

 

The first thing I notice is that the stone fireplace looks too cramped between the two doors.

 

Otherwise, the stone fireplace above isn’t terrible, but I think it would be much better if the walls were painted in a tone to coordinate with the stone, like maybe more of a deeper warm gray. That would be stunning with the white furniture.

 

Benjamin Moore Chelsea Gray hc 168

Maybe a color like Chelsea Gray or Kendall Charcoal.

 

Kendall Charcoal hc-166

 

Or, I think it would look great to paint the window muntins and door frames black. The walls could still be white, a pale gray, or a deep gray, in that case. And, then on the walls, I would add some art to balance that out. I also think a darker floor or a rug with deep colors to go over the seagrass, might be good, as well.

 

But, at least this stone fireplace isn’t going up 20 feet as in “2001, A Space Odyssey” monolithic fashion.

 

2001 A space odyssey monolith

Right?

 

There rarely is one solution, as long as all of the elements come together harmoniously.

 

Below are some more fantastic homes with beautiful rustic stone fireplaces.

 

Mallory Mathison - rustic kitchen - white cabinetryMallory Mathison – rustic kitchen – white cabinetry

 

James F Connor - architect interior design -Tammy Connor

And, this wonderful home by Tammy Connor has a beautiful old stone fireplace.

 

But now we need to get back to what to do if our home’s style doesn’t work with the stone fireplace someone else put in.

 

A logical idea for a quick and relatively cheap solution is to paint the stone.

But, is that a good idea?

Let’s check this next one out and see what we think.

 

Cool! These folks painted their fireplace, to look like a giant piece of gorilla dung.

I mean, could it possibly be any uglier?

Or, weirder?

 

Gorilla dung from the side. But, wow! This is a beautiful room, with a lot of potential, otherwise.

 

Okay, not to be discouraged from painting because I think painting IS a viable solution.

 

Of course, painting your ugly stone fireplace brown is probably not going to help.

Some of you may recall that I posted gorilla dung images before. Nancy Keyes kindly sent them to me and shared her incredible makeover.

Below is the after.

 

Nancy Keyes' formerly brown stone fireplace, now painted a pristine whiteYes, she painted it white. Here, you can see that she rendered the formerly horrid brown fireplace, virtually invisible.

 

Above is an oft-posted image of Nancy’s seriously gorgeous living room.  Here’s the proof that a white room need not be boring, nor does it have to look antiseptic. This one image is like an entire course on how to do it.

 

Below are two graphics of the before and after you can pin to your Pinterest boards.

 

stone fireplace makeover before and afterand

Stone fireplace makeover, before and after

dung-be-gone

 

So, yes, one viable option for the ugly stone fireplace is to paint it.

 

Just white it out. Or, it could also be painted to match the walls, whatever color that is, if that works for your space.

Below are some excellent examples of people who painted their natural stone fireplace white or a neutral color.

For more of Nancy’s exquisite designs, including her fabulous kitchen and her before and after home exterior in Atlanta, please check out these three posts:

 

Astonishing Makeovers Before and After

An Amazing Home Exterior Transformation Before and After

A Kitchen Renovation Has Charm to Burn!

And also please follow Nancy’s gorgeous Instagram page. Wait until you see her incredible garden, too!

Below are some other successful stone fireplace transformations with paint

 

lovely white painted stone fireplace disappears creating a white-on-white textured contemporary space

See how the stone almost disappears? It’s just a wonderful texture in this contemporary white-on-white room. Sorry, couldn’t find the original source.

 

Coastal Collective Company

This is a terrific before and after. I think the paint job here is superb. And there’s an excellent tutorial by Anneke McConnell detailing how she did it.

Anneke linked to Amy Howard Chalk style Paint, but she also recommends Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

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I think this is an excellent job here, and the stone looks much better. Again. Gray stone looks great with gray walls. (source unknown, despite the watermark)

 

So, Laurel, is that it? Just paint over the ugly stone fireplace in white or a light to a medium neutral paint color?

 

Oh no. There are many other options, so let’s look at them.

 

House Updated

 

You could tear the damned thing down!

However, it’s massively expensive, toxic, and potentially dangerous. Plus, this is only a small mantel. So, that one is probably off the table. But, it would be possible, and you’d have to vacate the premises.

 

Rather than tear it down, I think, if possible, it would be better to build over the stone.

 

stone fireplace can be built over!

via DIY Network (but probably better to hire a pro)

 

But, aside from painting and building over the stone, let’s look at other interesting options for dealing with an ugly stone fireplace.

 

Patina Farm – Home of Steve and Brooke Giannetti

This is from Brooke and Steve Giannetti’s magnificent dream home that they built 80 miles north of Los Angeles several years ago.

 

Patina Farm.

 

patina farm parged stone fireplace and exteriorCan you believe this is a new house?

 

The Giannettis started with French Limestone, and I believe it was then acid washed.

Now, get ready.

 

Patina Farm over-grouting or parging technique makes new stone look old and softer.

 

They had it “over-grouted” to give it the look of a stone wall that had been there for centuries. They use this incredible technique all over their unique and rustically beautiful home.

 

Over-grouting is also known as parging.

 

(my Grammarly insists on it being “parking.”)

Typically, parging is done to repair cracked or damaged masonry and may not be applied so artfully. Here, the type of grout or mortar used gives a chalky appearance of an old-world wall.

As you can imagine, in the years following this fantastic new build, over-grouting has become quite a trend.

Brooke’s blog Velvet and Linen has an excellent section about how they built their home from design concept to completion.

In addition to the technique of over-grouting, or parging,

 

There is white-washing and lime washing.

 

Oh, and something called a German shmear, or schmear if you’re hungry for a bagel and cream cheese.

 

***So, if you’re interested in learning more about parging, lime and white washing and German Shmear, please check out one of my favorite posts about painted brick. There is a ton of helpful information in this post, including products one can use.***

True, these techniques are over brick, but I don’t think the process is significantly different if going over stone.

 

This links to an excellent post I discovered on Pinterest.

 

One thing I love about Pinterest is the “More Like This” dozens of images to follow the one at the top.

 

So, if you check out that lovely on Pinterest, you’ll see many gorgeous examples of painted, lime, and white-washed, parged, shmeared, and over-grouted stone walls and fireplaces, both inside and out.

I hope you guys learned something new in this post. I know that I did.

xo,

PS: Please definitely check out the HOT SALES. This is a huge shopping week coming up with Amazon Prime Day(s) on the 12th – 13th of July. And, Friday, the 15th, is early access to the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.

 

This is one not to be missed as these are not the end-of-season left-overs.

 

Nope. They put almost everything on sale, including their new items for fall/winter. There are some fantastic deals to be had. However, you need a Nordy’s charge card to get early access.

 

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27 Responses

    1. Thanks so much for the update, Kj. For some reason, my subscription to her blog has gone south. I’ll have to resubscribe. Tennessee, of course, is very different from California. I saw the renderings, and as expected, they are creating another idyllic homestead. Gosh, at first I thought the cabinet was “it.” That garden is beyond exquisite. But, ummmm… no, not the house; it’s only the cabin that they will be living in while THE HOUSE is being built. The house rendering is so gorgeous, it almost makes me feel sick!

      They’re such awesome people, too!

  1. OMG I laughed my you know what off reading this post. You made my day. What ugly fireplaces!!! I laughed so hard I cried!!!Thank you for so much fun!

  2. Thanks. I do check your hotsale link at end of post, but this one was not highlighted and wouldn’t go any further.

    1. Hi Dee,

      My apologies! You’re right, I forgot to put in the link which I just added. If that happens again, you can always find the HOT SALES in the main menu on a computer or in the “burger” menu on your phone.

  3. I think stone fireplaces are everything lovely in a home. Artistic but symmetrical, warm and subtle, full of hidden conversations and years of life. Of course, you picked hideous pictures but if you want a warm welcoming family room, get an Italian stone mason (the only ones who really can do it right and NOT a brick mason), NO manmade stones and let he/she make it a work of art that you want to touch, take pictures in front of, and even tho its warm to look at, you’ll still want to build a fire.

  4. I love when you make me laugh! Lots of great information here. I never get tired of seeing Nancy Keyes’ home, so thank you for including the pics of and links to her home. I’m grateful that our current home has an “appropriate” fireplace. Our previous home had a lot of red brick surrounding the fireplace, and I always wanted to paint it, but never did. I also put my vote in for GL to send you some pics of his work. I always appreciate his comments!

  5. Thanks for the giggles. Close Encounters looks like a volcano erupted underneath their house, sending boulders bulging upward. What were they thinking? And I’ve seen a few of those bowling ball fireplaces too. These poor people haven’t a clue.

  6. Thank you for this! The stone fireplaces with big, irregular stones are hardest to prettify and least talked about. Gorilla dung oh my gosh!!! ROTFL! We recently bought a somewhat rustic house (in the Missouri Ozarks) that had a major addition in the 70s including a wide, double height great room with a tall stone fireplace. It’s all done in better proportions than many I’ve seen, thankfully. Turns out the pinkish and orangey “stone” on the fireplace is fake dyed cement, thank goodness, because it makes my husband fine with painting over it or similar. I’ve looked at stone makeover pictures for months now and the squared off types or just smaller irregular stones are way easier style to work with for an update. But filling in deep mortar lines to be flush and then limewashing everything seems to be the best bet for modernizing and softening what we’ve got – and that’s my plan.

  7. Except for the Giannetti’s fireplace, which is beautiful, I’m not really a fan. If those were my fireplaces, I would most likely build a wood surround with bookshelves on either side, or demolish them.

    (California has outlawed wood burning fireplaces in new construction. They have even outlawed gas fireplaces, for heaven’s sake! Everyone is so environmentally conscious here, personally I think it’s just over regulation.)

    Why did the builders not build the firebox flush with the walls? It would be a blank canvas, but then there would be more flexibility depending upon the homeowner’s taste?

    I did love your pictures of the beautiful giraffes though, Laurel!

  8. This post was most enjoyed! I almost spit my coffee ☕️ out !!
    A friend has an in your face stone fireplace, all the way to ceiling!! I always feel like I’m sitting in a WELL !
    Excellent humor in your post as always! Much appreciated!!

  9. Thank for a helpful and amusing post. You certainly nailed the comparisons with the Devil’s Tower and the giraffes. I love your idea for Amy to build over the existing stone, if possible. Depending on the style of the home, that ugly fireplace would become lovely with moulding, marble, soapstone, or tile to complement the home’s style.

  10. I had a stone fireplace that was not to my liking, though it was typical for the era in Central Texas and not overly hideous. I used Romabio limewash over the limestone bricks and I’m absolutely in love with it. It gives it a more contemporary look without losing all the character. And the lime wash still allows the natural Stone to breathe. I used it all over the exterior of my house too, and I have people stopping to take pictures of my house frequently.

  11. Well, I got lucky with my ugly stone fireplace (which I was lucky enough to have Laurel make the subject of a mantel post after I put too bossy of a mantel on it). It came down in a heap when my husband wiggled it, so we ended up replacing it with the “bossy” mantel, and then as luck would have it, my house was hit by a tornado, and the entire chimney (and mantel) needs to come down and be replaced, so I can afford to fix it pursuant to Laurel’s suggestions! How’s that for a silver lining in a tornado cloud?

  12. Yes, please, GL. I always appreciate your comments and would love to have a visual sense of how your approach works out.

  13. Great post on how to turn a bad design into something lovely. Another frequent bad design I see is inappropriate/overuse of interior pillars which seemed to be “the thing” in the 90s. A similar post of the best way to handle them would be excellent. Florida real estate listings are full of them.
    Gorilla dung . . . You are a hoot!

  14. Hi Laurel,
    I don’t think I could buy a house with a horrible fireplace. Unless it had potential to be easily fixed. Thanks for showing us which ones we could work with.
    “Gorilla dung” 🤣

  15. Would you just paint the wall with the fireplace a warm gray? And leave the other walls white? (maybe a stupid question. Can I say I’m asking for a friend???)

  16. Here’s an opinionated opinion! The thing about all these stone fireplaces is that the ones where the lines run horizontally and vertically work or can be made to work, whereas the ones with random lines don’t work and never will — rubble walls were never meant to be left visible.
    The Patina Farm example is lovely (although I have problems with the question of “authenticity”): concrete structure dressed in thin limestone with a lime mortar (coloured to match the stones) which is level with the stones (neither standing proud nor leaving indented lines), a method I know as “enduit à pierres vues”, which we used for our entire house, the biggest difficulty being to find an artisan who was prepared to work with lime plaster.
    Any of your examples with the right type of lines could be done like this. The dark grey stone in the white room could be treated thus, and this example has a good mantel which is just a plain beam (see one side of PF version), whereas the other example straight after the bowling ball horror needs that fancy mantel removing and replacing with a beam that goes all the way across — it would look so much better.
    Amy’s problem is more difficult. If I was stuck with that I’d build over the upper part with thin plasterboard, probably changing the angle to make the top wider as I did so, and I’d plaster over the lower part (provided the stone is a bit porous), not trying to make it smooth but trying to create horizontal and vertical lines, and then a matte paint to imitate the PF finish. I’d leave the floor piece as is.
    Some months ago (ahem!) I started plastering the base of my fake stone fireplace to create this stone effect (I was just using up some spare plaster from repair works, to see if it would stick — it does), so if you’d like photos of the process I can send them.

  17. When I read your statement that you’d seen worse stone fireplaces than the complainant’s, I rolled my eyes and said to myself, “I’d like to SEE worse!” Am currently reverse-rolling eyes and trying to erase memory of those you showed. Who knew?!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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