We love a good Cinderella story, especially when it comes to fireplaces. When designing a space, we almost always address the fireplace, if one exists. A forlorn fireplace can really dampen the spirit of a space. Sometimes a full renovation is in order, where we rip out the old unit and start from scratch. You can read about some of our most dramatic fireplace makeovers here. But other times, we achieve transformative results by treating the existing element to a hand-painted finish — as we did recently in our Capitol Hill project.
It helps, of course, to have the super-talented decorative artists at Billet Collins on speed dial. When we realized that two fireplaces in our clients’ 100-year-old Capitol Hill row house required attention, we gave them a shout. The mother-daughter team of Barbara Billet and Amy Collins Matthews answered our call.
Living Room Fireplace Facelift
The living room’s turn-of-the-century marble fireplace featured lovely detailing that we wanted to preserve. The old lady had great bones but she solely needed a facelift.
Unfortunately, the fireplace had suffered considerable damage along the way. An industrial-strength adhesive used during a flue repair left permanent scars around its arched opening.
Brown water stains, most likely from an earlier ceiling leak, also marred its beauty. The other odd thing was that two different marbles had been used — the mantelpiece did not match the facade.
The challenge became how to restore the fireplace’s original glory, in the least disruptive way possible. We loved the classical feel of marble for this elegant room — so we decided to recreate it through decorative painting. To determine the exact look we wanted, we studied the veining of several types of marble. These two images served as inspiration and directed the refinishing process:The great part about creating a faux marble finish is that we were able to meld characteristics and colors from two types of stone and create something unique for this project. Our “marble” looks natural (and resembles Carrara), even though it doesn’t appear in nature per se.
For this fireplace restoration, the Billet Collins team hand-applied multiple layers of glaze to achieve the desired effect. They started with a white glaze to even out the color and brighten up the overall feel. That translucent glaze allowed some of the original veining to show through, which the duo played up and brought forward in places. Next they layered on additional veins in cool and warm tones.
The team pulled a number of tools from their belt — including feathers! — to create this look. Here’s how Barbara explains the feathering process:
“The wobblier the hand, the nicer the veining looks. Sometimes you’re going in the opposite direction than you would expect. Rather than pulling the feather down, you’re pushing it up so that the hairs within the feather separate and scuttle themselves up the fireplace. It gives that finer, hazier line work.”
The restoration also included some less glamorous but ever-so-important repointing of the mortar joints. This is how the finished living room looks now, with the fireplace makeover completed.
The restored fireplace feels authentic to the circa-1900 row house and completes this sophisticated living room, inspired by our client’s love of gardening.
Dining Room Fireplace Transformation
The adjacent dining room in our client’s row house had a fireplace with pretty carvings in its wood facade.
The white-painted finish, however, wasn’t doing justice to the details and didn’t fit into our warm vision for the room.
We had selected a gold grasscloth wall-covering from D’ARTS for the space. I envisioned a rich mahogany-finished fireplace to complement the wall-covering and dark wood furnishings. Since we wanted to retain the existing carved details — and avoid the costs and time associated with ripping out and replacing — decorative painting again provided the solution.
Cuing off the wall-covering, Billet Collins created a decorative wood finish with layers of glaze. They started with a warm undercoat (in a somewhat alarming orange hue). Subsequent layers toned that color and added a refined graining, in light and dark swaths, to resemble mahogany.
In this fireplace transformation, I love how the wood finish accentuates the carved details, dovetails with the overall room design and feels more historically accurate in this grand home. I think Barbara Billet said it best:
“Just painting the fireplace a darker color would not have accomplished the same heritage or age that the row house really called for. The wood grain just brought the fireplace back to that richness that you can’t really get with a solid paint. It’s kind of a fun dinner conversation piece too, the fact that it’s painted rather than natural wood.”
Yes, indeed! Now the whole room exudes a warm glow. What a toasty setting for quiet family celebrations this holiday season.
Family-Room Fireplace Makeover
We transformed another white-painted fireplace in our Arlington clients’ family room, this time with the help of decorative artist Sheppard Bear of Fine Art Finishes. Take a look at where we started, during the holiday season a few years ago:
The existing fireplace had a spectacular stone surround that fit in with the earthy color palette we had planned for the space. But the white paint, which extended to built-ins on either side, felt cold and stark.
We asked Sheppard to work her paint-and-brush magic and take the fireplace from bright-white to a rich mahogany look. For this fireplace makeover, we again worked with what was there instead of starting from scratch. The faux-finishing process involves multiple steps to achieve a natural, nuanced effect — but it is certainly less daunting than a gut fireplace renovation.
We removed the built-ins to allow the floor-to-ceiling fireplace to be a stronger focal point in the space.
The refinished fireplace became a stand-out feature. It brings much-needed coziness and dimension to the large space.
It ties in beautifully with the family room’s nature-inspired design. In short, it belongs. I adore the cohesive, tone-on-tone look of the grasscloth-wrapped walls culminating in the mahogany-finished fireplace.
Happy Holidays, from Our Home to Yours
I think these fireplace makeovers prove the power of decorative painting. Perhaps they’ve sparked some ideas for future projects around your home? Just to set the record straight, though: We love a good white-painted fireplace, like the one I enjoy in my own living room.
It really depends on the space and your design goals. In our living room, the white and marble combination makes sense.
I can’t complete a post on fireplace makeovers without giving a shout-out to our friends at Michael James Furniture, who designed and fabricated the stunning fireplace screen in my living room, as well as the custom screens we commissioned for the Capitol Hill living and dining rooms.
Nothing beats curling up in front of a roaring fire, especially when the mantel is dressed in holiday style. From our home to yours, we will you health and happiness this holiday season. May the warmth of the season stay with you throughout the new year.