When I bought my 1976 split-level home, I promised myself I would remodel the fireplace at once. The monstrosity was made up of soot-covered bricks and a wall of diagonally cut wood in place of a mantle
Project cost estimate
A contractor gave me a quote of $2,500 to clean the bricks and plaster over the wooden wall. I couldn't afford that, so I decided to carry out my fireplace makeover myself.
First, I would paint the bricks instead of cleaning them; then I would cover the wooden wall with plywood; then I would paint over that. At most, the fireplace makeover would cost me $50.
In hindsight, my idea was sound, but I went about it the wrong way. Without doing any research, I decided to stain the bricks with some wood stain that I happened to have in the garage. That was my first mistake. Instead of looking for the best product at a home improvement store, I tried to make do with what I had.
The stain was too dark. The bricks looked blotchy, ugly, and dirtier than ever. I went to the garage again and brought out the paint I had used to paint my bedroom. Fifteen minutes later, the brick front of my fireplace looked clean, but plain and still ugly.
Learning from my mistakes
At this point, I decided to stop carrying out every idea that popped into my head. It was time to do some research.
I visited a used book store and bought some old home magazines for $1 each. I spent an hour looking for ideas. And then I found inspiration in the picture of a room with a brick fireplace. Though I couldn't afford to install a brand new fireplace to match the one in the picture, I could try to imitate what I saw.
This time, I visited a home improvement store (not my garage) and bought a sea sponge, plywood, paint brushes, and paint.
Starting over again
Using the sea sponge to dab the bricks with three shades of paint -- sand, white, and taupe -- enhanced their visual texture; they once again looked like real bricks, minus the soot-stains.
Next I painted the wood frame around the brick face in eggshell white, which matched the floor molding in my basement.
Finally, I covered the wooden wall with plywood; then I faux painted the plywood to match the brick front.
The result was a modern, fresh, and beautiful fireplace that cost $57, saving me $2,443 over the contractor's estimate.
My new fireplace helped raise the value of my home
Two years later, after I finished fixing other rooms in my house with similar projects, I had my home re-appraised so I could pull some equity out with a second mortgage. My home had gone up in value from $400,000 to $478,000, a 19-percent increase in value.
Lessons learned for future projects
- Research first: Had I started my project by looking for inspiration in home magazines, I would have saved myself a lot of time and grief. It's important to have a good, visual idea of the project before starting.
- Buy the right materials: Trying to save money by hunting for leftover materials in my garage limited my options severely. It costs less in the end to buy exactly what you need for each project.
- Create a test area: The disastrous midpoint in my project would have been considerably diminished had I painted only a small section of the fireplace. Taking a step back to evaluate a project before proceeding can prevent a large-scale mistake.