Faux Fireplace, a Great Idea or a Disaster?

Dear Laurel,

It’s nearly October and well, you know what that means.

The holidays are coming…

You know… Chestnuts roasting on an open uhhh…


Okay, that was dumb.

Laurel,  like you, I live in a one-bedroom apartment in an old building. Alas, there’s no fireplace. And, no possibility of having a fireplace.

A real fireplace, that is.

And, I don’t think I can do gas; well, at least not easily.

That leaves doing either just a mantel, but that’s not really what I want.

Or, I could do one of those electric fireplaces? And, that would make it a totally faux fireplace with faux logs, faux embers, faux flames, faux crackle…

But, a very real electric bill.  haha


Is there a way to do a faux fireplace that’s elegant and affordable? Or, is elegant faux fireplace an oxymoron?


My absolute top number that I’ll spend is $2,500 from start to finish. But, that’s only if you think it’s a good idea and not too horribly ersatz. (‘faux’ real) I mean, I realize that when there’s a roaring fake “fire,” it’s not going to be anything like a real roaring fire. But, I think with a beautiful mantel, I can stage it for the holidays. And, maybe it could be nice?

Please say yes.


Faulecia Stone

PS: Ideally, I would like a TV over this, but of course, don’t want to push my luck. Oh, please do a blog post about this!




There’s nothing like being asked to do a post about a topic I know nothing about. haha Actually, it happens a fair amount.

While I do know a lot of things, about interior design, I definitely don’t know everything. However, throughout the 20 years I took on clients, there were dozens of times I needed to create or take care of something I had never done before. And, knew nothing about. That’s how one learns. And, quickly too!


So, you probably can already tell that I know bupkis about doing a faux fireplace.


Oh, by the way, that isn’t a real dear laurel letter but someone quite a while back did want me to write about the topic of faux fireplaces.

The first question is:


Is doing a faux fireplace super tacky?


And, I don’t mean the mantel, but the fake logs, embers, flames, etc.  That is, is the idea of having a fake fire really horrible?

I dunno. I think there’s far more horrible; because, if one has a really beautiful mantel and architectural features and it’s BUILT so that it looks like a REAL fireplace, then sure. Why not? In fact, it could be seen as a whimsical conversation piece when it’s on.

But, please no roasting marshmallows over it!

However, if y’all want to see the unbelievably tacky.  I have a good one for you, if you click here. And, it’s just around the corner from where I live. Wait until you see what some folks have done with this circa 1900 Sanford White gem.

There is an obvious addition to the original home. I am not sure how they could’ve made this architectural gem any uglier. In addition, somebody paid good money for this place– as is!


Okay, back to the subject at hand. First let’s look at some real fireplaces before we examine how best to create a faux fireplace.


Kuiken brothers - gorgeous fireplace mantels - mouldings - correct classical proportions

Remember the Kuiken Bros. with their amazing mantels and mouldings? We looked at them when we were discussing perfect fireplace mantel proportions.


Mark D Sikes - southern living showhouse - gorgeous tone on tone living room - fireplace mantel decorating

I love what Mark D Sikes did with this fireplace wall in a show house he did a few years ago.


living-room-McGrath-ii-english-country-house-style-white fireplace mantel decor

A beautiful new-trad living room by McGrath II. This fireplace fits on the built-out wall perfectly. It should never be larger than the built out wall. And, usually, I prefer if there are few inches of breathing room. Please note that because of perspective, the shelf is always going to appear farther out than it really is.



This is an example of a perfectly executed mantel from a photo I took two years ago on my trip to England. For more of this amazing home, click here.


via @stevecordony instagram - @ralphlaurenhome showroom palazzo Ralph Lauren Milan - marble fireplace mantel
One of my favorite posts from two months ago.


When it comes to creating a faux fireplace, we have two choices.



or Gel.

The most popular company that makes these is called Real Flame.

BTW, Wayfair has great prices on all of the Real Flame products.


Okay, they talk about the Gel, (you can watch a video here) which comes in cans and is a lot like those things they put under chafing  dishes to keep the food warm. However, it’s apparently a different faux fireplace insert from the electric insert. And, I could not find out, despite a good hour of searching, where they sell them.

Here’s the Real Flame website. I’ll give you a gold star (no, two gold stars!) if you can tell me how to get an insert that uses the gel instead of electricity.


I’m surprised that they don’t have signs all over the place shouting out, DO NOT USE THE GEL CANS IN OUR ELECTRIC FIREPLACES OR ELSE YOU MIGHT DIE!!!


I mean,  I don’t think you can use the gel in the electric fireplaces. Therefore, let’s just faux-get about the gel fireplaces.

Oh, you knew it was coming. Please forgive me; I couldn’t resist.


So, let’s stick with Real Flame ELECTRIC faux fireplaces, for the most part.


I actually love several of the mantels, but we’ll get into some of the drawbacks and benefits in a sec.

The other option is to go totally ala carte. You can just get the electric faux fireplace insert and build out the entire thing from scratch like these folks did.

But, that’s a LOT of back breaking work. And, the electric fireplaces from Magic Flame are great looking and all well under $1,000.00.


Now, it’s time to look at some of these electric faux fireplaces from Real Flame.


beautiful real flam Harlan fireplace mantel in white - faux fireplace electric insert

Well, we might as well start out with my favorite. How pretty is that!  I love this mantel. The proportions are lovely, and no, the flame could never be construed for a real fire. But, it does look similar to a gas fireplace.


Laurel, doesn’t it use a lot of electricity?


No, actually not more than a small appliance. That’s what they said. And, you have the choice of using it as a source of heat or turning the heat completely off.

Let me keep going, okay? I will link to lots of information that should answer a lot of your questions.

I’d like to start out by talking about what I don’t think you should do with a faux fireplace.

And, that is doing something weird to make it shout out




Unfortunately, like a lot of things in the home furnishings industry, there’s the good, the bad,

And the really bad.


Actually, this one doesn’t need to shout out, FAKE. A wimpy whisper will do. Whenever something looks like it should be shrunk down and put in a dollhouse, I suggest running as far away from it as possible. It’s not even attached to the wall. And, that crown is a big no-no.


But, believe it or not, there’s worse. A LOT of worse.


wtf - fireplace in media cabinet - faux fireplace - yathink?
Please tell me what genius dreamed up this idea.

“Hey, Joe. I’ve got it. We’ll put the fireplace IN the media cabinet. The media cabinet that looks like a barn door. hehe. They’ll love it!”

Please do not pin these bad examples unless the description clearly points out that what’s here is horrible!

Okay, so what DO we do instead? Let’s look at another beautiful electric faux fireplace from Real Flame.



Maxwell Grand Electric Fireplace in Blackwash by RealFlame

Handsome! Kind of like the boyfriend I wish I had, but don’t. :/


One thing that makes this fireplace look special is what is not happening in the one below.


It’s not that it’s bad because it looks like it’s falling apart. Or, wasn’t put together correctly. The larger issue is that it looks like it was just stuck to the wall. There is no build-out that is typical for most fireplaces.

We saw that in the real fireplaces above. And, also the faux fireplaces from Real Flame.

Plus, the one above has no hearth.

Shameful, is what it is.


Fireplace wall built out. Original source unknown - faux fireplace
What I think is ideal is to have someone do a little build-out of the wall behind the faux fireplace. Something like the one above would be incredibly lovely. And, actually, it’s possible that this is a faux fireplace. Just one without any insert. Could you put one in? I don’t know. Maybe.


But, there is one big problem with the ready-made electric fireplaces looking real.


A real mantel, not counting the shelf and base mouldings is usually not more than an inch or two thick. If you scroll back up, you’ll see that in the real mantels.

These babies have a box that’s about eight-nine inches in depth, not including the shelf. The Harlan shelf is 13″ deep. That part is good if you want to display things up there.


However, real fireplaces sometimes do come out that far and sometimes do not have the wall built out.


ranch house_Fireplace_schoolhouse.com - plaid jack chairs

We can see that in these two examples above and below from Schoolhouse Lighting.


ranch house schoolhouse.com - great lighting - living roomThat is, if these are real fireplaces. Who knows?

However, by building out the wall, we can also create a niche for our flat screen TV.


via fireplacerus.net - faux fireplace with builtinssource unknown


And, then we can have built-ins made. Or, we could do two free-standing cabinets, of some sort.


long living room wall - chests

Remember the post about the long uninterrupted living room wall? Here, in this moodboard, you can see that indicated that the fireplace wall should be built out. If you don’t remember this post, or you’d like to review, it click here.

And, for a ton of ideas about what to do if you want to put your TV over the fireplace and have it concealed beautifully, click here.


Let’s bring down that first faux fireplace


beautiful real flam Harlan fireplace mantel in white - faux fireplace electric insert
I did do some digging and they say that you cannot embed these electric fireplaces into the wall. I thought that might be a solution to make them look less deep. However, the moulding should never go behind the faux fireplace. It needs to stop right at the edge, just the same as it would for a real fireplace.

Umm. No. The moulding in a real fireplace would not look like this.  (I like the mantel; however, I do wish I could understand what is going on with that bizarre, peeling surround. Is that supposed to be like tree bark? Me confused.)

Therefore, the mantel should sit flush against the wall. I am sure there’s a way to secure it firmly. And, actually, it’s now the law that it must be secured. It’s not the law that it must be flush. That is, unless you ask me. haha


Let’s take a look at the little hearth. The problem is, it’s too little. It should extend out about a foot in front of the mantel.


What I would do to fix this is get a piece of wood about 10″ by the length of the current hearth. I would nail it and/or glue it firmly to the piece that’s there and calk and sand. And then paint the whole thing a matte or eggshell black. Maybe the front edge should have a bevel to make it less of a tripping hazard.


These mantels can be painted, I’m quite sure, if you’d like to change something.


If you don’t want a TV over the faux fireplace, then of course, there could be a mirror or artwork.


What else can we do?

Well, these fireplaces do have glass in front and that has to be there. If it gets damaged, it needs to be repaired before it can be used.

But, you could still do a nice fireplace screen for realism.

OR, how about an antique fireplace fender.


over mantel gilt mirror England home

I’m not talking about the English kind, like the one above. I’m sure that they are quite expensive. This was taken on my trip to England two years ago!



Ash Tree Cottage

I’m talking about this charming kind of fender. I found a whole slew of them on Etsy and they are quite reasonable priced.


fender in front of faux fireplace
Here ya go. Well, with the current furnishings, that neo-cassical style fender looks a little fancy.


Greek Key fender
Oh, me like this one. It’s actually bigger than I made it. But, you get the idea.

Okay, those are my ideas and thoughts about doing a faux fireplace. I think it’s possible to do it and have it look quite nice. I’ve fantasized about doing this very thing in my apartment. But, geeezzz, I’m having trouble getting my super over here just to fix the bathroom!


Doesn’t he know who you are, Laurel?


I don’t know. Who am I? ;]

Enough silliness. Below is a widget I made with nine lovely electric faux fireplaces.



Now that you’ve seen all of this. If you didn’t have a fireplace and wanted one, and couldn’t do gas. Or, didn’t want to do gas, would you do an electric faux fireplace?

And, does anyone have one? And, if you do, how do you like it?

In the meantime, if you’d like to see some other beautiful mantel inspiration please check out these older posts:

The Most Beautiful White Mantels

The Most Gorgeous Stone Mantels Ever

Smoulding, Sexy, Dark Mantels

The Ultimate Guilde To Fireplace Mantel Decorating


Okay, that should keep you busy for a while. ;]

But, please do check out the hot sales. There are over 40 new things to see this weekend!



78 Responses

  1. Laurel! I love your site. 🙂
    I was hoping you’d talk about Dimplex Revillusion. They have built-in fireboxes and other products. I live in a newer ranch home with 8’ ceilings that severely lacks architectural details that I’m drawn to. Boo. At some point the plan is to install (pay a professional carpenter that is) an electric (only option) insert and have the rest of the fp and built ins made. Trying to research correct proportions was somewhat of a nightmare when I was sketching up ideas. I saw the Dimplex Revillusion in person and thought it was pretty darn amazing. I visually disliked all the other electric fireplaces I researched. You can buy glass doors that open on it too. They make full surrounds but I didn’t care for them. They were squatty in height. If you haven’t, sometime look up the Dimplex. They have one that creates steam too but I actually didn’t think that was as realistic looking. Love all you do. Keep up the wonderful work!

  2. Dear Laurel,
    I have an older house (1890) but no fireplaces – the house was heated with the “modern” woodstove, so I have great chimneys. Is there a way to make woodstoves look classic? (I use one for backup heat here in the great white north).

  3. Although I’m lucky enough to have two working fireplaces in an Edwardian-era house (one gas, one wood), I love our two decorative fireplaces just as much – probably because a lot of fireplaces from the Edwardian era seem to have been designed more with aesthetics than heat in mind. After seeing Jessie D. Miller’s one room challenge a few years back, that also changed my mind about the power of a gorgeous mantel filled with candles: http://www.jessiedmiller.com/portfolio#/sappington-villa/. If I didn’t have any ‘real’ fireplaces, that’s probably what I’d do – probably because I’ve come to realise that they can sometimes require alternative heat sources anyway.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Erin. Beautiful bedroom. I just wish the draperies weren’t butted up against the mantel. And, I hate to criticize anyone’s beautiful work like that. But, in this case, it’s a matter of safety. That is, if it was a real fireplace. I don’t think a spark from a candle would land on the fabric, but it’s the idea, that fabric and fire don’t mix. And, there should be an inch or two of breathing space, anyway, be it a wall or the draperies.

  4. Hahaha, I hear you, Laurel – this was an issue in the houses we lived in before we built this one.
    Sooooo…. here he has TWO dedicated cubbyholes in our walk-in closet: one for ‘not dirty enough’ farm clothes, and one for similar nice/office clothes.
    We also have a fairly large laundry room with hanging rods for drying/airing.
    AND we have an airing cupboard outside.
    AND we have a hanging rod outside of that cupboard, for airing/drying clothes.
    So no excuses… except that DH expects his wife to take care of all laundry-related issues… I don’t think the concept of ‘airing clothes’ has ever entered his mind, unfortunately. Nor the concept of putting away clean items that I have put on his bed (after collecting, sorting, washing, drying and ironing them). He just puts those on the chair, too! 🙂
    As you see: it might be ESSENTIAL to get rid of that chair!!

  5. I’ve had an electric, faux fireplace (definitely faux, ersatz Victorian but I love it! for the last four years. I knew it was something not up to “Laurel standards” But many people who visit do a double take. And it’s all I use to heat my 500 square ft studio apartment in winter.

    Like a previous reader said, it has a remote which adjusts the amount of heat and the height of the flames. And the controls are also on the front of the heating unit.

    Another thing to note is that the wooden part of the mantel comes in over 100 pieces so it’s a bear to assemble.

    My mantel is golden oak and a couple of the seams don’t match in color. I need to try some Restor-a-floor to even out the color.

    Laurel you’re a delight to read. Currently, I’m reading new posts as they come out and reading older posts back from the beginning. It’s fun to see how much you’ve grown as a writer, plus how much you’ve relaxed allowing your humor to show through even more. Thank you for all you do and for all the research it takes.


    1. Thanks so much Juli. I cringe when I go and read old posts. I do fix some of them up, however. And, some get a complete overhaul with mostly new material and then republished. I always think those posts will take less time. But, maybe only by an hour or two at the most.

      And no worries about not being up to “Laurel standards,” I have numerous spots in my own home that are positively cringe-worthy by anyone’s standards!

  6. I’ve loved your style and enjoy the humor in your posts. However, I missed a past post July 2019 where you creatively explain bad architecture; Love it, so thank you again!

  7. Hello Laurel, I am not sure about this. I know about going into someone’s house and recognizing a bowl or a print being the same as one’s own, but recognizing the identical flames in the fireplace? The charm seems to ebb away.

    Moreover, in Taiwan fireplaces are rare, so a fake one wouldn’t have the same effect, anyway. There must be some additional way to create a focal point–one that isn’t too over the top.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I hear ya! The blog that was linked to earlier, (Sorry, I can’t see it from the comment area) has two stunning mantels with covers. But, they work in his place because it’s already the right style place.

  8. Oiii! So timely, you read my mind. Our house, built in 1918, has a few real fireplaces. I was wondering if it was tacky to do one of the gas inserts in there. I will read through comments for sure. My ideas for posts. 1) non-down fill alternatives or cruelty free 2) those power loom/synthetic vintage style rugs — are there ones you approve of? I’m not looking for answers! Only ideas for posts!

    1. Hi Beth,

      I’ve plum run out of Steam. There is a post where Laura put one of those rugs in the front room with a pipe organ. And, it’s very pretty. So, please search “pipe organ” in the sidebar search box and it should pop up. There is a down alternative fill that’s actually pretty good. I have some pillows where I used it because I was trying to sell them and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on inserts. But, they fluff up quite nicely. And, they are 9 years old and have held up perfectly.

  9. The facts on this are not correct. Berkeley just passed a 100% electric on new multi-family, 1st floor retail and some other large structures. (no natural gas at all) not all of California.
    In 2016 the SF Bay area banned NEW wood burning fireplaces & Stoves and changed the spare the air days. But MANY other counties and cities in California don’t have the same regulations, are NOT mandating 100% electric and are NOT banning burning wood.

    1. Okay, good to know Cait. So, it’s not the entire state of CA that’s banning wood burning. And, when you think about it, it would be difficult to control. I can see stopping the manufacture and installation of wood burning fireplaces. But, if they’re already there, can they really stop people from using them?

  10. Hi Laurel, it’s like you were reading my mind. I have had a wood mantel with no insert of any kind. I bought it at a garage sale over twenty years ago. I have painted throughout the years and have put decor inside it. I mainly like , because I like to decorate the mantel. It’s very obvious it’s just a wood mantel and not in anyway a working real fireplace. I’m always searching sites to see ideas what to put in the insert part. I have a pottery barn mirror above it. I do not have trouble with what to put on the mantel, but what are some ideas for the insert. I rather not put a fake fire. I have put candles or lanterns for the light. I don’t want to get rid of it, but now I don’t know if this is a tacky thing.

    1. Hi Kathleen,

      You don’t have to have an insert. You could just have a mantel. Or if there’s enough space, meaning, it was built out and it’s hollow, you could paint the interior black and put anything you like inside.

  11. Oh no! Why did you have to tell us Faulicia Stone was a fictitious name? :-)? Laurel, even if your blog were not the classiest thing around, I would read it for the names of your “correspondents” alone. But it IS the classiest thing around. With all the anger in the world, your humor grows more and more valuable. Just keep keeping on!

  12. I saw an English Victorian townhouse renovation ages ago on TV. They had a gas fireplace, and instead of putting in the usual faux wood piece, they put in a pile of flame-proof geometric shapes where the fake wood would normally go.

    It was beautiful and fun! It had the cozy feel of having a fire, without trying to duplicate burning wood.

    I wonder if there is a supply place where you could buy those geometric pieces for an electric fireplace?

  13. I love this post! And let me add my 20 Cents (raised for inflation…)

    My husband builds custom furniture and recently did an electric fireplace surround for a condo. The sticking-out-into-the-room thing is definitely a problem.

    In this case the designer specified two deep bookcases on either side, which really did help disguise the depth of the mantel. (Which I think was 15 inches or so!)

    The insert was a Simplifire, and it puts out a nice wave of heat. It also didn’t look too bad. They skipped the “flame” effect and went for something that looks more like glowing coals. You can see real-life pics here:

    I do agree with the above post that a dedicated plug is very helpful, especially with the more powerful models. And that can definitely add to the cost!

    We’ve done fireplaces with the ethanol inserts too. The flame was not as impressive, and they don’t throw as much heat out either. Plus the fuel seemed relatively expensive, and some online sources suggest that they off-gas formaldehyde!

    I think if I were to do a faux fireplace in my own home, I’d either opt for electric, or do a tiled/mirrored niche for candles.

    1. Oh, wow! That’s beautiful! Thanks for sharing, Faith. I was wondering about the safety, myself. After all, something IS burning. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t something going into the air that we shouldn’t be breathing. I believe it’s the same with candles. But, that’s not going to stop me from lighting them occasionally. I guess anything in excess is not good for us.

  14. next blog post topic suggestion: glass shower doors!!! Does and don’ts and great sources. Bad examples and great examples. pretty please!

    1. Hi L,

      That would probably be an entire shower post. But, this is not my strongest area. While I worked on some bathrooms, they added up to about one a year in total. Usually, I went shopping with the client for fixtures. The glass door was defined either by what was already there or by the architect. But, it always worked out. On some jobs, they called me right after they had finished their bathroooms.

      Sources are going to be wholesale for things like that, I think. Not sure. But glass doors are almost always a custom thing.

  15. Hi Laurel,
    I always thought electric fireplaces were kinda cheesy. Of course I knew nothing about them. Between your info & after reading most of the comments I can now say they can be nice. Especially since I didn’t realize they gave off heat. I’d rather see a nice faux than a space heater. Thanks for educating me….again! 😘

    1. Hi Mary,

      Like I said, I was educating myself first. In fact, I spent a good couple of hours reading up on everything. I’m quite impressed with the taste level that Real Flame has. That’s always appreciated!

  16. Coincidentally, I just posted an IG photo this morning of my take on adding an electric fireplace complete with boxed marble surround. I needed a focal point in my dining-room-turned-sitting room but couldn’t install a “real” fireplace. I opted for electric and love that I did. It adds a little heat and a special glow to the space. I even added a TV recess above. Can’t wait for the renovation to be over so I can enjoy this cozy little spot! Love your post as usual!

  17. I did find two actual fireplace inserts for gel fuel, but both are on the Houzz website. One is made by JR Home Products, but I couldn’t find it for sale anywhere else. No mantels on either of them, though, just the firebox. I guess one could place a mantel over it?

  18. California has just decreed that all new builds must be 100 percent electric so that will limit our choices in the future. In 3 years, California can no longer burn any wood so we will be converting our fireplace from wood to whatever will heat up our home best. I hope we will be able to use gas as I think it looks more “real”. Thanks for this post something to think about…

  19. Holy smokes, Laurel, I about coughed up a lung laughing so hard at the house you linked to in this post. AMAZING. Thanks for giving me something to laugh about while I’m home sick. I would love to add a faux fireplace, especially now that winter has hit the PNW, but we don’t have a single uninterrupted piece of wall to put one against. Oh well, maybe in the next house. But in the next house I’m planning for a gas fireplace, and the DH is planning for a wood stove… where’s the eye-rolling emoji when you need one? Oh, hey, one day can you do a blog post about region-specifc styles that cross the nation? Like, I’m a southern girl at heart and have always loved more traditional style and architecture, but now that I live in Oregon it seems like anything that isn’t modern and glass and natural wood is going to feel too “done,” if you know what I mean. Anyway, love your blog, love your style, love your wit. You’ve been an incredible source of inspiration and validation!

  20. This is one of the things I actually know a little about! I have used the ethanol cans before; you can get them on Amazon. I think the brand I used was Sunjel. They are okay. Not quite like the real deal, but a real fire that basically looks like a fire in a can. And if you put two of them together, they look like… two fires in two separate cans. And although they don’t produce any major smoke, they do have a smell (at least if you have a sensitive nose, they do). They do produce a kind of crackle sound, which is nice. But for me, it wasn’t quite what I wanted.

    The fake fire I have now is a Dimplex. I bought an electric insert for my fireplace, which was a coal burner back in the day so it has a bit of a box but not much of one. The insert fit perfectly. It has a light with a rotating piece that throws up fake flames onto the back piece, which is reflective, so it reflects and looks enough like a fire for me. I also bought a separate plug in piece that looks like burning coals to go under the fake logs, and the whole thing works together really well.

    The best thing I did to trick the eye was to put a fireplace screen in front of the fire, which masks the reflective piece and makes the fire look much more real. Quite a lot of people have asked me if it is a real fire, in fact! My fireplace insert has a heater, but I don’t use it, so the whole thing costs pennies to use. I basically leave it on all winter.

    Dimplex makes lots of fake mantel and stove fireplaces, and they have a lot of various sized inserts. They also have something called a vaporwave, which uses water vapor to make a more 3-D looking flame. They are expensive, though, and have mixed reviews. I spent way less on my insert (around $250) and I love it. It has lasted for years.

  21. There is a young man who writes a blog about renovating homes. He created nonworking fireplaces on 2 occasions that look absolutely beautiful. This might be a solution for someone who would be ok with a decorative mantle without a burning fire: http://manhattan-nest.com/2014/12/23/building-the-faux-fireplace/

    http://manhattan-nest.com/2019/05/23/adding-a-faux-fireplace-bedroom-edition/ He is so talented and I find his self taught renovation skills quite impressive (he sometimes uses salty language in case one is offended by that). Thank you for your beautiful posts and the wonderful,humorous way you write!

    1. Ugh, lost my response because I had to fix the links which weren’t behaving. But, yes, I know that blog and love it too. He’s fabulous! In fact, I featured his bathroom which I now can’t find. I have to find out what happened to my subscription!

  22. This is a tough one for me because I do have a cheesy faux electric fireplace, and I know exactly how cheesy it is! It runs afoul of a lot of the problems above, although I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the really bad examples. My excuse is, it took my husband and me more than a year of house hunting to find a home we both loved. He wanted practical and low maintenance, and I wanted a romantic Victorian pile and couldn’t really be concerned with details like electrical upgrades and functioning windows. 😉

    The only thing on our “must have” list that we gave up was a fireplace, and I miss having one all through the cold months. Someday, I have long-term plans to install a gas fireplace. As with all my other long-term plans, it’s just awaiting, you know, money. In the meantime, I cringe a bit whenever someone new comes into my home and notices this cheesy thing, but I use it (with heat or just the lights) from about October to March and enjoy it every time I turn it on. Plus it gives my kids somewhere to hang their stockings! Oh well.

    One comment for permanently installing flush with the wall—I don’t know about any of the others, but ours has to be pulled out from the wall for maintenance (like changing the light bulbs when they burn out) and for cleaning (you would not believe the amount of dust that builds up inside). That could be a consideration for other folks if they’re planning their own projects—check whether you’ll need to access the back before you assume you can mount straight against the wall!

    1. Hi Marissa,

      Well, it’s now the law, at least in some states (I’m not sure if it’s Federal law yet or not) that items over I think it’s 23″ high, must be secured in some way. And, they say that the mantels must be secured to the wall. They do take LED lights which last for years. I’m sure they have instructions for all of that. But, excellent point. And some of the older models might be constructed differently. I don’t have the answer to that one.

  23. Thanks so much for that. We have a built-out with gas logs that bothers me quite a bit, but not enough to destroy the room below it in order to install two full masonry fireplaces. Now I know exactly what I want to do to improve its aesthetics.

  24. I’m not done reading this post but I had to stop to tell you that you can order gel fireplace inserts, etc. on Amazon. I got a log set and gel fuel as a Christmas present for my husband a couple of Christmases ago, and we spent the whole morning trying to assemble it. We failed. He’s a Ph.d. and I’m no slouch and we could not get that thing put together. But that’s okay — because the gel really smells! If you have a sensitive nose you do not want a gel fireplace.

    Our fireplace is a real one, and I just spent $200 to have a chimney sweep come clean it. He said there was so much broken mortar, etc blocking the damper that he couldn’t even open it to look at it. It will cost a small fortune to have another one come and do that, with all the equipment to keep my apartment from getting covered in soot. Then the chimney will need to be relined and the firebox rebuilt, etc. We’re looking at a huge sum to roast a few chestnuts over an open Duraflame. Alas!

    1. Hi PB,

      Yes, you can order the inserts there, but I’m not sure if they’re the ones that fit inside these mantels or not. And, I also don’t see them on the Real Flame site that also sells all of their own items. I must be missing something. Open Duraflame. haha! And, I know that you have a lovely old home. And, well, there it is.

  25. Hi Laurel, love this post. I have an electric unit in what looks like a real fireplace but was never a working one (bc the room was a porch, then screen in porch, now office). I was resistant but on a cold, dull day here in the NE, I love it.

    It throws off heat too and reminds me in a good cozy way of one my grandparents had. As for the mantel issue, I went instead for a paneled wall. Because it’s a very narrow room, I opted to have no mantel, and have the maybe 5 foot fireplace wall paneled, a bit like your favorite mantel photo.

    It doesn’t look odd without a mantel in part because the molding, paneling, then on either side, bookcases, all painted in BM Nantucket Gray, along with the rest of the room and trim. In a larger room it would need a mantel. But the good news, if you have a smaller room, you might not need one if you employ a few other tricks.

    I have a similar issue w a gas fireplace in a small family room. The mantel is too flat and needs help, so I’m always looking for solutions. That room is really tricky, too many focal points, not symmetrical. I wanted to bump it out but it wasn’t possible for wiring and other issues. So I have a mantel issue w a working gas fireplace too.

    Others might have this issue too, because of regulations on venting, wiring, etc. It’s not always possible to make the placement of a fireplace as symmetrical or well-placed as you would if starting a house or room from scratch. Then it’s much easier to get right. If only the builders back in 1880 would have anticipated the need for a gas fireplace in 2019.

  26. Thanks for this Laurel! Fun stuff and a good education. The fireplace you wondered if it could have an insert was built for a gas fireplace insert. You can see the gas line valve at the bottom of the right wall. It has the right depth for a gas fireplace insert. I learned about this stuff when I bought my gas fireplace insert. 🙂

    1. Ahhh, thanks for the info Marsha! I’m just wondering if it’s possible to build something like this specifically for an electric or gel insert. I imagine it is, because some of them are designed to go inside a wall. I’m not sure why one of the mantels can’t go into the wall a few inches. This was a question on Wayfair or one of those sites. So, of course, they will give the easiest answer. It’s possible that it is okay but only under certain conditions and they didn’t want to go into it.

  27. Laurel, I have a Paris apartment. (I should like I am Karen Blixen.) There is no fireplace in my apartment’s small living room. It will cost me in the neighborhood of 7,ooo euros to put in a nice fake one. Do you think a beautiful console with a painting or a mirror above it could create the same centering/ focal point feel? Thank you!

  28. I actually have two faux fireplaces in my century and a half home. One is in my family room and is the focal point of the room. I have art over the mantel, rather than a TV. I bought this piece at least 15 years ago when faux fireplaces were just beginning to become popular. I love it. Still. Although I would really recommend getting a dedicated plug installed for it. That is, if you plan to use the fireplace to generate heat. In our case, what with floor and table lamps we end up “blowing a fuse” if we crank it up. It’s just something that has never made it to the top of our priority list. As you noted they are equivalent to an appliance, like a fridge.

    The other one is in our guest room. And in this case I definitely wanted it for the heat since this room has no other source.of heat. No furnace vent and no electric baseboards (the house is 150+ years old!). It seemed a much better solution than one of those electric heating units that sit on the floor/table like a fan. Less chance of a person, or pet, accidentally knocking it over, or heaven forbid leaving a shirt draped over it and starting a fire. This one even comes with a remote which is convenient. You don’t have to get out of bed to adjust the heat output or turn on/off.

    I definitely agree that there are some absolutely horrendous designs out there. I enjoyed the “Eww, gross” moments of some of the examples in your post. Lol.

  29. Lots of fake fireplace experience here:

    (1) First one (in my starving 20’s) I built myself and fronted it with a salvaged Victorian window with fancy grille, then built the rest of it to fit the window (which removed/fastened with eye hooks) Placed glass block in the back with aluminum foil behind that – very reflective w/subtle pattern from the glass – and put in a bunch of floating candles of different heights, with colored water in the clear bases (different colors of yellow/orange/red and beach stones & shells scattered/arranged at the very bottom. Sounds weird but when lit in a dark room, the effect was just glass, light, and (mostly) that lovely Victorian window.

    (2) Second one, I bid on Ebay for a custom-made mantel to my own specs, made by Appalachian craftsman. We studied classic FP proportion and got a good product. We installed a dark marble tile hearth and marble “firebox” recessed into the wall. Usually used wax candles in various holders or candlesticks and all was good.. until we put in fake electric logs (to sell the house), and then it just looked stupid, craftsmanship notwithstanding.

    (3) Third is an electric mail-order unit that doesn’t really please me but charms my 93 y/o mother and puts out heat. So, design takes a hit but family harmony wins.

    What I’ve learned so far: I prefer a creative, fun, honest faux FP to one that tries too hard. Electric flames, even the best, just don’t do it for me and I prefer real candles. With any of them, the focal point of a fireplace is good and beautiful white mllwork’s a plus.

    Check out Pinterest, check also the new gel and ventless options, and see what’s on Ebay plus architectural salvage stores: get ideas. With lots of research and time – that’s the investment – you can get something fun for very little money and please yourself immensely for cheap. And if you don’t like it in 10 years, or the next owner doesn’t like it, so what?

    1. Hi Charmaine,

      Yes, the gel versions were mentioned. I tried to find them at Real Flame, but am missing something. They talk about the inserts and the fuel, etc. but I can’t for the life of me tell how to order that insert. But, now I’m wondering if it’s the same as the electric, just used without the electricity on. However, you’d think if that’s the case, they’d have neon signs all over the place.

  30. Reminds me of the movie “Groundhog Day” when Bill Murray asks Andie MacDowell “Would you like to join me by the roaring fire?” and nods to the flickering orange light bulb in the fake fireplace. Cool down here coming on Wednesday.

    1. Hi Susie,

      Ya know, Groundhog Day is in my top three movies of all time. And, I’ve probably seen it about 15 times, but of course, sometimes, not from start to finish. However, I don’t recall that line. There are so many great ones and sight gags. Funniest movie ever! Ned? Ned Ryerson? BING!!!

  31. I’ve been thinking for months about our ugly fireplace, i think the solution is building a mantle and adding drywall up to the ceiling to relieve the straight brick. It looks crazy having s formal living room right next to a big plain brick fireplace.

    Unrelated but painted our dining room in cotton balls and mountain peak white. The morning light is incredible.after the terrible muddy brown the previous owners has in there. I am so thankful for all you have taught me and the confidence I have gained.

  32. Dear Laurel,
    Great post about faux fireplaces. You didn’t say much about the hearth in your post. Some of the fireplaces you pictured have hearths and others don’t. We are having a gas fireplace installed in our new home. Should there be a hearth since it is gas or can the wood floor come right up to the fireplace? Should the hearth be raised or flush to the floor if we do install one? My only concern with having a raised hearth is that it will take up a lot of space. I love your blog! I have learned so much from you. Your posts are the first thing I read every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for the advice.

    1. Hi Peggy,

      Well, I’m all for as much authenticity as possible. In the olden days, hearths were not raised and were flush with the floor. So, yes, ideally, it is flush with the floor, or close to it. But, that would mean removing the wood floor. What really looks awful is if a faux fireplace is over wall-to-wall carpeting and no hearth at all.

  33. Hi Laurel
    I have lived in a home with an electric fireplace and one with a gas fireplace. One advantage of an electric fireplace is that you are able to enjoy the “atmosphere” of the fire without heat. Our gas fireplace provided so much heat we rarely turned it on. There was no option for flames only (maybe some have this?). It did provide a mantel to decorate for the holidays, so i guess there’s that!

    1. Hi Julie,

      A few of the buildings surrounding me DO have fireplaces. grrrr… I’m very happy for them. Well, except one of the buildings has a waiting list 20 years long for the garage. That, I can’t imagine. I’ll take the garage over a fireplace. But, the other issue is that it’s about 95 degrees in my apartment already, in the winter, so I have to open the windows, even if it gets into the single digits. So, the idea of a fireplace adding even more heat is not very appealing.

  34. I have recently learned of a fireplace burner that uses bio-ethanol fuel. It doesn’t need to vent and does not use gas nor electricity. It is a very clean option and the flames look great. Of course, a friend just showed me hers while in the midst of my $17,000.00 chimney rebuild. You live and learn! 🙂

    1. Hi Shelly,

      Yes, that is what the gel is, I believe. However, I could not find out where to get the gel insert. And, I was starting to get nauseous, so I stopped looking. That’s why I said if anyone can point me in the right direction, I’ll give them two gold stars. lol

  35. Hi Laurel,
    hearthcabinet.com is a NY manufacturer of fireplaces using ethanol. They have some interesting solutions.

    1. Hi Carole,

      Yes, I believe that’s what the gel is. Actually, somebody said on a youtube video comment, I think, that it’s basically hand sanitizer. I couldn’t resist commenting back, “Finally a good use for hand sanitizer!” I believe that stuff is the bane of humanity. Whatever happened to soap and water?

  36. I had an apartment with an electric fireplace and I thought it was pretty stupid when I moved in. It looked very much like the Harlan except white. Honestly, I learned to love it. The 900 sq ft apartment was comfortably heated and my utility bill was minuscule. And I had a mantel to decorate. You could have flames with or without heat. No TV over it, I hung a mirror.

  37. Dear Laurel – how do you know????!!!

    It is really uncanny how often your blog post comments on something that I am wondering about. Just yesterday I sat surfing on the norwegian equivalent of Craigs List, looking at electrical faux fireplaces….

    In our farm house we have underfloor heating. Which is great – but one drawback is that it does not heat up quickly. We like our bedrooms cold, so the temperature is set quite low there. Which is a problem if I suddenly decide I want to be in there for a few hours, reading a book, watching a movie, or whatever. For now I am using a portable electrical fan heater for that. Not a thing of beauty in a nice bedroom, for sure!

    There is a bit of wall space in our bedroom where we currently have a chair.
    Alas, my husband uses the chair as a dumping ground for clothes (some of the items on it might have been there since the Great Depression since he nevers clears away ANYTHING – oooh, the joys of cohabitating!!).

    Life is too short to allow myself to be greatly depressed by this – so I wondered if I just could take away the chair and put in a little faux fireplace with an electrical heater.

    Some look really, really faux, as you describe. But now I will continue the search for something nice :)! Thanks for your input on design, size etc. Have a great week!

    1. Hi Michele,

      I’m so glad this inspired a good solution for one problem. I’m pretty sure I know why the clothes end up on the chair. DH is simply airing them out because they are too dirty to go in the drawer/closet, but too clean to go in the hamper. He needs an alternative, hopefully more out-of-sight location for airing out purposes if you do the fireplace.

  38. I’m the happiest you wrote this post as I was the one who asked you about it, thank you so So SO much!!!
    This Mark D Sikes guy is so outstanding. He never ceases to amaze me with his good taste. Why just why I can’t simply hire him, why I’m not rich or he is not into interior design charity… Laurel, my next question is why all amazing decorators are out of reach (you included) for hiring? Lol

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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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