Photo by Jamie Gehbauer

The hearth of the home: Simple strategies for updating your fireplace

For a state whose temperatures rarely fall below the 40s (let’s not talk about last week’s fiasco…), a fireplace is more often considered an architectural showpiece. Some may be sleek and electric, others red-bricked and wood-burning, but both are always the perfect place for hanging stockings and displaying family photos—a gathering place for holidays and casual get-togethers alike. But whether we’re lighting the fire for that unexpected crisp evening or lining up everyone for a new family photo, choosing a style that catches the eye is crucial. So we reached out to Jamie Gehbauer of Modify by Design to share her tips for updating fireplaces that provide warmth and style.

“A fireplace is usually a focal point of a room, so you can get a lot of bang for the buck,” says Gehbauer. “Especially with all the open floor plans now, you’re seeing your fireplace from your living room, your kitchen and your dining. It’s a key item.”

It’s also a feature that doesn’t require a whole lot of effort to spruce up.

“The first thing would be to think about what the budget is, because you can do some easy facelifts with just paint, without having to purchase new materials,” says Gehbauer. “Even just painting an old brick fireplace and the mantel all white, just to freshen it up, could be a weekend DIY project for $30.” 

For Gehbauer, choosing a style means thinking about the function it will serve in a space.

“If they’re trying to modernize the look, or they just want it refreshed, then I would consider thinking about whether you want a traditional mantel, or even seating, in front of the fireplace,” she says. “Something popular now is a floating seat either under or all along a wall. If you’re somebody who entertains, it’s nice to have a lot of seating nearby because the fireplace is an area where people like to gather.” 

When it comes to selecting a style for your fireplace, there are dozens of options to choose from.

“Shiplap is popular, but there are so many things you can do with wood now,” explains Gehbauer. “It’s so flexible. You’ve got different sizes and different patterns, from traditional horizontal boards to chevron designs. You could even use stacked stone or pavers. For example, if somebody is wanting a brick look and only has sheetrock on the wall, they can buy bricks cut thin like tile so they can add them on after the fact.” 

When it comes to colors, Gehbauer also has her go-to favorites, including Sherwin Williams’Origami White” and “Black Magic.For those in favor of the modern design, Gehbauer pulls from a recent project involving a smooth and sophisticated all-black fireplace.

“I’m seeing a lot forgoing of the mantel, a preference for one single material, and a linear shape on the firebox,” she says. “It’s more modern to not have the gas logs. If you’re doing a ventless fireplace you can just do a gas line and have just the flame without anything else, so it keeps it super simple and clean.”

Winter wonderland or not, maybe it’s pure human instinct that draws us time and again to the small fiery hearth in the center of the home. It’s a reminder of family, of comfort. So sprucing it up makes sense any time of year, whether there are stockings to be hung or s’mores to be roasted. You know where we’ll be.

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