There is a good reason that almost every design project we have encountered lately has included a fireplace remodel. As a large feature in any living or family room, it has a loud “voice” in the overall aesthetic of your home. A stunning fireplace will elevate the room to new heights, while a dated, less-than-agreeable one will bring the whole aesthetic down.
Of course, your fireplace also plays a significant functional role in your home. It can bring relaxation to solitary time with a book and a warm cup of tea. It can create feelings of community when entertaining friends and family over wine and appies. Most importantly, at least here in North Vancouver, a great fireplace can make winters more comfortable and joyful. Need I say more?
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Lori, my fireplace is a long way away from achieving any of these things”, that is okay. While a fireplace remodel isn’t a task you should embark upon yourself, the following 5 steps will help you decide which elements of your existing fireplace need help and how to make it happen.
Step 1. Book an Inspection for Your Existing Fireplace
Fireplaces are like appliances — they are more complicated than you think, especially when you open them up. They also come with many safety and code considerations. Plus, every fireplace manufacturer has their own set of clearance requirements that we must follow to pass inspections and to keep everyone safe.
This is why we always begin a fireplace remodel by bringing in a professional to inspect and service the existing unit. We recommend that any gas insert 15+ years old gas should be replaced before remodeling the facade. If your fireplace insert is still relatively new and passes inspection, we will work with the existing unit. Once we have established that your insert is in good working order, or selected a new insert, we can progress to the fun part: redesigning the fireplace facade.
Note: Did you know that homeowners are no longer allowed to install new wood-burning fireplaces in the Vancouver area? According to the BC building code, existing wood-burning fireplaces may be grandfathered in, unless you make any changes to them, in which case they must be decommissioned. So for purposes of this discussion we are primarily dealing with gas inserts.
Step 2. Infuse Personality into Your Surround Style
Your fireplace “surround” is, not surprisingly, the area surrounding the firebox that houses the fireplace insert. Since we consider this a permanent fixture in the home we do suggest selecting a style that is consistent with your home’s overall style. That doesn’t mean that you should shy away from colour, texture, or pattern however given the complexity and expense of fireplace renovations, you should consider timeless options that you won’t have to change with your decor. Here are some great examples:
On the left, this painted brick fireplace creates a timeless and clean aesthetic. It helps bridge both modern and rustic style when paired with the natural wood mantle and clean-lined furnishings. On the right, we helped our clients select a beautiful blue tile surround, infusing their family home with soothing colour and timeless elegance.
These two clients’ fireplaces are quite different but each matches the home’s architecture. On the left, we have a warm-toned, textured stone for a more nature-inspired feel. In the Lynn Valley Modern Home on the right, we used a concrete-look tile for a modern aesthetic that balances minimalism with warmth.
Step 3. Create a Focal Point with Your Mantle
If your fireplace has a mantle you’ll have several things to consider including what material to use, what clearance is required and how far the mantle will project.
In the family room on the left, the shiplap fireplace surround reaches the ceiling. We could have left it mantle-free, but installing a wood mantle felt like the right choice for this home. The smooth oak enhances the seaside feel of the space while the narrow ledge provides an additional surface for styling. In the family room on the right, a reclaimed wood mantle caps off the graphic concrete tile surround halfway up the wall. Here, the mantle is much larger and the effect is more rustic.
You could also opt for a custom painted MDF mantle that frames the surround, like this traditional design in our clients’ living room. It adds a classic and timeless look that feels fresh from season to season.
Step 4. Fireplace Accoutrements
You may think the next step is mantle styling, but we have one more aspect of your fireplace to consider first: some features that may or may not be existing but that you might want to add… this most often includes a television, built-in bookcases, or some other type of storage cabinets.
If you are designing a beautiful fireplace, you probably don’t want a big, black hole right above it, however, it can’t always be avoided. Sometimes the most functional furniture configuration for your room dictates that the best place for the TV is above the fireplace and that’s okay. You have a few options if that is the case. One option is to conceal the TV with custom cabinetry, as seen in our the Kitsilano Cottage project above.
If a concealed TV isn’t the right solution in your room, the Samsung Frame TV is a good alternative. It looks like a beautiful piece of artwork when not in use, and that can actually add to the overall design.
Another feature you might want to add to your fireplace renovation is built-in cabinets. When it comes to adding built-ins around the fireplace, the decision depends on your budget, your storage needs, and the amount of space you have available. If you have the depth, it’s easiest to build cabinets around the fireplace. If your fireplace is flush against the wall (or if you don’t have the budget for built-ins), freestanding cabinets can offer the same amount of storage without the commitment or price tag. Don’t worry, these are all options we will discuss with you before our work begins!
Step 5. Styling Your Mantle
From the Scandinavian-inspired Family Home (left) and North Vancouver Modern Home (right)
Now that your fireplace insert, surround, mantle, and accompanying features are all in place, you are ready to style the space. Your mantle provides us with a place to carefully arrange accessories, create a focal point with art and unify the fireplace design with the home’s overall colour palette.
My advice? Less is more. A statement piece of art or a mirror, paired with a few simple accessories like a vase or candlesticks is really all you need to complete the look. Resist the urge to clutter up your mantle with a bunch of picture frames and knicknacks. These things just distract from the overall visual impact.
Now your fireplace is complete, and you’re ready to enjoy the season!
Need a hand?
Whether you greet winter’s arrival with approval or annoyance each year, the ability to gather around your fireplace can breathe new life into the way you experience your home. If you’re ready to elevate your existing living spaces, we’d be happy to help. Reach out to us here and let’s discuss your goals.