Our Ugly Brick Fireplace – He Vetoes Painting It!

Dear Laurel,

Please don’t ream me out. I’m just a meek little housewife with three kids— and a husband. He’s good to me and makes a good living; no complaints.

So what’s the problem? It’s our new home, and it has not one but TWO of the ugliest fireplaces God ever created. One is ugly brick, and one is ugly stone.


I know what you’re thinking.


Why did we buy a home with two ugly fireplaces? That’s a very good question, Laurel. It was June, and we lost out on the home we really wanted.

However, we had to live in that neighborhood because of the school district. It was June. The closing was in August.


There are parts of the home that I like a lot. It’s got a great layout and lots of light. I think there’s a lot of potential.


The other thing is, I lied.


I do have one complaint about the husband. He says that he likes the brick and the stone or is not interested in making any changes to it.

He thinks that we need to use that money for the kids’ education. Well, yes, that’s true. I’m not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to remove the stone and brick. That would be nuts.

However, isn’t there something we can do to make it look good? Could we paint it? I’m afraid to mention anything to h until I’m armed with a solid plan.

Thanks so much,

Sabrina Brykschitz




Hi Everyone,

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Third, Sabrina Brykschitz ;] is a fictitious character. She’s an amalgam of situations I’ve encountered over the years or read about.

And I know that a lot of you are interested in having a  post about what to do with an ugly brick fireplace.


However, this is a very broad topic as there are several things to consider:



  • Style of the home
  • Age of the home
  • Location of the home
  • Size of the fireplace and the surrounding brick/stone


Since there is much to cover, I’m only going to talk about The Ugly Brick Fireplace today.


For this post, I will assume that you are looking for a traditional or classic contemporary style and that your home was built in the last 60 years or so.

But, there are so many styles of homes, and most of us don’t have a brick with a lot of character.


rustic exposed brick fireplace mantel and wall | Logan Killan Design

Logan Killan Interiors

Like this one.


And we don’t have the 20-foot ceiling either.

Please note that this is definitely not a working fireplace as the hearth is made of wood!?!

Here’s what I would do if I had an ugly brick fireplace that needed to change.

Walk around your home and see it as one entire composition.

The fireplace is only one part, but it has to work with the home as a whole.

For instance, if you have a rustic home that’s primarily stained wood and a brick fireplace, and you paint it white, it will look bloody weird.

In fact, white-painted brick with an oversized wood mantel looks horrible, IMO.


Important info before I go on.

I realize that some have firm opinions about whether to paint brick or not. That’s fine, but what’s not fine (by me, that is) is to insult folks with absolutes, like “it’s gross to paint brick.” Stuff like that.

But sometimes folks, although well-intentioned, make mistakes, and I’ll be getting to that in a sec.

Let’s look at other situations where the brick is left in its natural red brick color.


Mia Maestro craftsman home with a brick fireplace and wood stained trim and fireplace surround

Mia Maestro’s Home in Lonny

It certainly looks appropriate in this craftsman-style home. One thing I tried to find is a great-looking room that has walls painted in a coordinating, rusty-bricky-reddish color. That is often a great solution if one has a husband that refuses to budge. The brick will virtually disappear.

However, there are lots of colors that look great with red brick. You can see some of them here.

Of course, I live on the land with thousands of houses made of red brick. You can see some lovely examples in this post about the fantastic doors of Beacon Hill.

Also, this post about exterior painted brick is a favorite of mine.

And, then there’s 12 of the best colors to go with red brick.


Katy Skelton - exposed brick fireplace

Katy Skelton

This exposed brick looks appropriate in this Brooklyn Apartment. The old apartment that I lived in on the upper west side of Manhattan in the 80s had an exposed brick wall and high ceilings. I rather liked the character it gave to the renovated building.


Hally's Deli in London with wonderful old, white-washed exposed brick

hallys deli London via we heart


But I think it’s also cool to paint old brick.


Here’s a whole page of whitewashed brick fireplaces on Pinterest.

And there are hundreds more out there.


There are two techniques for getting the whitewashed look.


  • The diluted paint method – Just what it says.
  • Lime Wash – A complex technique that is typically done on exterior brick and stone but I believe can also be done in interiors.


A good overview of lime-washing, whitewashing, and German Smear

(No, that last one does not involve cream cheese. haha)

This is an excellent post on Sand and Sisal with a pretty outcome after whitewashing the red brick.

But, for the most part, I think that if you’re going to paint the ugly brick fireplace, then regular paint is a good choice.


A slight bit of antiquing is okay. I think that if it’s a genuinely old home, one has more liberty with the antiquing. But that’s not what most of us have.

Most of us have something like this.


ugly brick fireplace


Let’s Talk About What To Do With Our Ugly Brick Fireplace


The easiest and cheapest thing to do is paint.

If it’s raw brick, you will need a wonderful primer.

Cathy Dickson, who commented here, recommends Zinsser Bull’s Eye 1-2-3, and I have heard other good things about it. She follows up with Benjamin Moore Cloud White in the matte formulation.

She’s done this many times as she’s a house flipper and says it always looks terrific.


An excellent post on A Beautiful Mess about how to paint brick and stone.


Re: paint sheen.


That is another bugaboo. I usually prefer a flatter finish (matte or eggshell), but if you don’t, that’s cool. I prefer an oil-based paint if it’s satin or semi-gloss however, but that isn’t easy to come by these days.

If anyone has had a lot of experience painting brick fireplace mantels and recommends a type and/or brand of paint, that would be wonderful. We’re all here to learn and make our homes more beautiful.


After painting comes the next bit of expense, which is a mantel.


There are lots of posts where I share my favorite fireplace mantels. You can see them all, here.


There are some problems here, and some are a safety issue. I don’t think the whitewashed brick is working with the more formal mantel and trim. The mantel’s proportions are off. The crown should not fan out that much and not be so heavy.

For good fireplace proportions, please go here.


But actually what should happen is that the legs of the mantel should be out further.


There is supposed to be a minimum of 6″ of non-flammable brick, metal, or stone between the firebox and mantel.


After that, I would tile the inset or use a black honed granite slab or soapstone. This makes it look a lot less like a mantel just slapped up in front of a brick wall.


Christy Ford – photo Patrick Cline


This is a great example of a slab of honed granite or soapstone, maybe in this case.

I love that and have specified it often.


ugly brick fireplace with a lovely wood mantel


A lovely addition is this return if the brick comes out from the wall a few inches.

This one would’ve looked amazing if the brick was painted the same color as the wall. And then if I would add a black honed granite around the firebox.

beautiful white-washed brick - painted white brick with wood piece on the top of the mantel - designed by Ron Marvin

Ron Marvin


This is a clever way of dealing with a low brick mantel.

An elegant crown/shelf is the perfect addition.


beautiful painted brick and old stone fireplace mantel designed by Michelle Willis Adams

Michelle Willis Adams

An old stone fireplace is wonderful over this old painted brick. This is undoubtedly in an urban setting like San Francisco or maybe New York. It’s one of my favorites.


However, in most cases, I think that the most beautiful way to deal with the brick is to build over it.


Many examples I’ll be showing are DIY.


Satori Design For Living

They did a terrific job and included an excellent tutorial about how they covered up their ugly brick.


Dillard Jones Builders

This is a case where it depends on what else is going on. I think it’s a great job. My personal preference would be to have all of the brick painted white with a slab of honed granite for the top of the hearth with a 1″ overhang, if possible.


Donna Moylan via Lonny

An exquisite mantel, beautifully in scale with brick painted black. There is a special paint that’s heat-resistant for inside the firebox. It looks like the hearth might be painted too. Not sure.


Giannetti Home - beautiful painted brick fireplace and wood mantel to match the walls

One of my favorites from Brooke and Steve Giannetti.


designed by Melinda Woodruff - beautiful brick fireplace with built-in book cases and shiplap

Melinda Woodruff

I love the look of this dramatic fireplace with built-in bookshelves and shiplap.


beautiful white painted brick fireplace

Front + Main

This is from a home in Milwaukee. When I lived there in the late ’70s, I had a friend who had this exact configuration. Fond memories!


classic white fireplace surround over a brick fireplace and rustic beams

This is one of my favorites. It’s a beautiful blend of traditional and rusticity. (source unknown)


Laurel,  do you always have to paint the brick fireplace white?


Not at all!

I love the look of painting everything in one color.


cure for an ugly brick fireplace benjaminmoore knoxville gray hc 160 Good HousekeepingGood Housekeeping

Above is an excellent example of the brick fireplace, trim, and walls that are all painted Benjamin Moore Knoxville Gray hc 160.


Paint and Paper tone on tone fireplace mantel and wall.

Paint and Paper via Ideal Home UK

While this isn’t a brick fireplace, it could’ve been.


There was a request to have some black painted brick. While there are some around the firebox, this is handsome in this setting.


beautiful paneled fireplace surround over a brick fireplace

This fireplace surround is gorgeous!


I will leave you with one super successful makeover for an ugly brick fireplace. I took the liberty of creating a graphic of her lovely work. So please be sure to follow @allthingsali.j on Instagram.


Ali is a young mom with a lovely Insta feed featuring beautifully edited classic contemporary interiors.


@allthingsali.j on instagram before and after ugly brick fireplace mantel makeover@allthingsali.j on Instagram


ugly brick fireplace

Please pin this graphic to your Pinterest boards!


Well, I hope that gave y’all some ideas for dealing with a not-so-great brick fireplace. There are many options for keeping the brick, painting it, and building over it.



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21 Responses

  1. Laurel, this is an old post of yours by now, but I just wanted to say thank you. I did exactly what you suggested in building a wooden surround over an old dark brick fireplace that dominated the room. I’m so glad I followed your advice here! It transformed our living room. Happy to send you before and after pictures if you want to see the beautiful change that your post has wrought 🙂

  2. I was wondering if you had ever tried the German schmeer (sp?), which is supposed to be much better than the lime wash and you rub after application and leave some of the brick exposed.

  3. Thank you Laurel, for showing us some colors besides white. I’ve painted brick white for my clients and loved it, but I don’t know if I would have been brave enough for other colors. It’s lovely.

  4. People wouldn’t need to paint brick if other people picked out pretty brick. There is beautiful brick, and there is brick where the mix is just bad–too much orange or weird black bricks mixed in. It just looks strange and wrong. I think your solution, Laurel, to build it out is by far the best one, if one has the wherewithal. I have an ugly stone fireplace that, after a decade, I couldn’t deal with anymore, and I slapped a couple of coats of white paint on it. It looks a lot better.

  5. You don’t have to paint brick to change it’s color. From the internet: ” Brick and stone can be stained: Unlike paint, which remains on the surface, brick stain is a mineral product that soaks into the brick and becomes a part of the brick. It can never bubble, or pull away from the brick. Brick stain works best when applied to unsealed, clean, fully porous brick. It cannot be applied to painted brick.” Mar 25, 2021

    In 2007 I stained the exterior of an entire red brick home a color of beige. The stain is absorbed by the brick. I had proof of that following a tornado in our area–some of the brick was chipped by flying debris, under the chipped areas you could see the red brick and how much of the stain had been absorbed. The stain doesn’t peel, and because I used beige it didn’t fade. The cost of the stain isn’t significantly more than paint, but it does a better job resulting in a more natural looking finish. BTW: it took only one coat of stain to get to the color I wanted and the house exterior still looks great. There are now several brick stain products available, read reviews for the best one for you.

  6. I would say,while you do have some bad examples of unpainted brick in this post, typically painting brick is a bad idea. I was always unhappy that I bought a house in 1991 that had a freshly painted brick fireplace – evidently the sellers wanted to “spiff” up the place so everything in the house was painted either white or grey (you could smell the new paint job). I didn’t buy the house for the fireplace (I bought it for location and privacy). It was easy to change the paint colors in the bedrooms and baths, but not going to be easy to remove that misbegotten paint from the brick! So it never got done. I always hated that fireplace for that fact.

  7. Someone once told me it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. Maybe she needs to paint the brick one white and ask for forgiveness. Just a thought.

  8. We just bought a 1977 semi Spanish home and the basement had the world’s ugliest homemade giant rock giant fireplace I’ve ever seen. My husband knocked it down before we moved in. Now it’s faux white sandstone blocks made of cement with an insert and it’s gorgeous. But that was not cheap at all.
    Upstairs there was a large ugly brick fireplace of yellow, firebrick, orange bricks, black grout and splashed about with black.
    I sprayed it with flat black cheap wall paint. Looks so much better. And a cheap fix. I didn’t know about priming, I hope it holds up.

    And I highly recommend all your e-books, I love them all. Except the blogger one, I didn’t buy that.

  9. We bought a 1956 ranch style home in Southern CA after my husband retired from the Navy. It has 3 fireplaces – 2 brick and 1 stone. The grout on the stone fireplace had been repaired in areas and looked very dirty in other areas. I tried to clean it but it always looked dingy and dirty. After a lot of research I decided to use a lime wash by Romabio. I used 3 times the amount of water as suggested because I did NOT want it to look like paint or take away from the natural look of the stone. Thin Limewash was a great solution as it lightened up the whole fireplace, but unified the dark/dingy grout color and still looks like natural stone. The other great thing is that the wash can be removed if you decide you don’t like the look within the first few hours and it allowed me to place a heavier amount on the dark grout and darker stones, and a lighter amount on the light stones. I’m very happy with the product.

  10. We decided to paint our fireplace and our painter suggested tinting the PRIMER with the color. This saved time, trouble , and money. We painted the fireplace the same as the walls which was Benjamin Moore’s Coastal Path. The mantel was painted white. Looked fabulous!!

  11. Linda, I have had 4 different white painted fireplaces, all properly primed and painted. No issues of any kind! My son had a soot issue last year, but fireplace repair guy said those problems come with logs being placed too far forward in the fire box, or a flue issue. He moved his logs back a bit, problem solved!

  12. Laurel, you must be psychic! This post on brik fireplaces couldn’t be more timely. I have been staring at mine lately – wondering if I made a big mistake. Okay here is the scenario – wood burning fireplace, classic line white mantel, old brick surround and hearth. My husband has asthma so fireplace went unused for 25+ years. I finally decided to convert to a gas insert. Has been wonderful. Yet the issue is the size of the gas inset. The correct size did not allow for the gas pipe to be run inside. The contractor said it would have to be run outside the base of the chimney. Ugly pipe outside – I said no and went with a smaller insert that allowed everything to be run inside. As I said I love the gas insert – was great on snowy days and no smokey after smell stinking up the house. BUT after reading your post – it looks undersized to me now. So if you are planning a series of posts on fireplaces – would be great if you would include some thoughts about firebox proportions and what to do if you inherit a small one.

  13. Hi Laurel,
    My ex & I had a wood-burning fireplace in my previous home. Soot always got on the brick above the firebox.
    So I quit fighting it & painted the brick the color of soot.
    I thought it turned out great. And I didn’t get stressed out by the soot stains after that.

  14. another idea. i had all the brick except inside covered in quartz, or maybe it’s marble. they usedc 3 pieces mitered the corners so both sides meet the top at mitres. i chose a dark green almost black. because it’s green it looks better than all black. and it is inexpensive, i did this 6 yrd ago and it was about $400,

  15. Hi Laurel — I love your thoughts about the brick, very thorough. And as always, seeing all the examples you offer is so inspiring. I personally LOVE the black fireplaces in the traditional settings.

    I think these husbands need to look at all the photos and train their eyes!

    I will say that I think it’s better to limewash with a working fireplace because brick does absorb moisture and I would not want to face peeling paint on brick down the road…

    I thought you might be interested in a post of mine on our project of repointing and whitewashing the ugly brick and lightening up our whole big kitchen (the house is 1860, not sure how old the kitchen is, but the fireplace must have been refaced at some point because upstairs the brick — same chimney — is very different and I wouldn’t change it).


  16. I was wondering how well the white fireplaces stay white with use with wood or gas? Also I enjoy when you use
    home before and after makeovers in your writings. Many thanks! Linda

  17. We have one of those undustable rough timber mantels on our ugly basement fireplace, too. It’s also tilted forward so you can’t even sit anything on it.

  18. We have two “brick” fireplaces in our home. One is some kind of fake brick surround on a ventless gas fireplace in our basement. We refuse to use the thing, and the fake brick surround is hideous. I’m hopeful that an electric insert and paint will be enough when we get around to our basement redo.

    The wood-burning fireplace in our living room is also brick. It is faux-painted to look like DIFFERENT brick. We were actually in the house about 6 months before we realized it. Fortunately, on that fireplace, both the original and the faux painting job go well with the room.

  19. We covered the top of our fugly brick (think Brady Bunch) with drywall, painted the lower brick, used the existing rough timber undustable mantle because of how it secured into the brick. We also covered the rough timber & added crown molding to it. Looks SO much better! Brighter & cleaner. My husband is used to me just jumping in & doing something, but for those that aren’t, better to ask for forgiveness than permission. 😂

  20. Early in our marriage, my husband, God love him, came home from work on a Friday evening and took a sledge hammer to the incredibly ugly stone fireplace in our first home. We’d bought the small ranch house from a couple in which the husband was into amateur masonry. The stonework, in a Swiss chalet style, was applied over some ugly brick work. Ugly over ugly. I eventually painted the brick and built a simple wooden mantel shelf—right before we sold the house.
    The quality of the brick makes a bigg difference. Good quality clay brick is beautiful. Cement brick not so much.
    Raised hearths have their own distinct look. I am not sure that pilasters work well with them…they look to squat to my I. Just a mantel shelf would work better, IMO.
    Love the post, Laurel.

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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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