The simple design trick that turns your fireplace into a year-round star

Image @interiorjoy

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, you already know that they’re great. They bring instant sophistication to your living room, create a natural focal point, and provide built in shelving for those of us avoiding having to actually hang anything on the wall. Side note: I have to come clean about that last one; I’ve avoided hanging this round mirror on the wall since I bought it in 2010. Yep, you read that right. It’s been nearly ten years. Four apartments later, I still have the brackets that came with it, but the idea of hanging something round just feels complicated and my husband and I keep punting the chore back and forth between us. At least it’s made it to a dignified post; it spent the first few years leaned up against a wall so that my roommate and I could sit cross-legged on the floor in front of it and apply our makeup. OK, Annabel, get back to the point! The point is that fireplaces are great, especially if you’ve got a working one. Ours is wood-burning and is used frequently during the long and horrible winters up here in Boston. I especially love using it to roast marshmallows for winter s’mores.

But if you have a faux fireplace, it can look weird just sitting empty in the middle of your room like a dark, gaping mouth. And even if you do have a working fireplace, you probably only use it half the year, unless you’re somewhere really far north where it’s cold all the time, in which case you have way bigger problems and what are you doing reading this post- go focus on getting out of the arctic hell you’re currently living in! (If you can’t already tell, I am a warm-weathered bird.) OK BACK TO THE POINT! What to do with your fireplace during it’s off-season? This is the subject of today’s post! I’m bringing you a quick cleaning tutorial for those of you with wood burning fireplaces, and then I’ll share some of my favorite fireplace styling ideas. Let’s go!

Image @interiorjoy

How to clean out your fireplace the natural way*:

*I’m all about natural cleaning products and natural household products in general. Don’t even get me started on the toxins lurking in your scented candles! That’ll be a future blog post- don’t worry, I will make you throw out all your candles, but I promise I’ve got some safe, chic, and delicious-smelling alternatives to replace them. The point is I try to avoid harsh chemicals, dyes, and artificial fragrances because they’re probably not great for our bodies or our pets and they’re definitely not great for my allergies. So when I need to do some heavy duty cleaning I rely on a few all-natural ingredients that haven’t failed me yet.

  1. Put some rubber gloves on (optional) as this can get messy. Cover the ground in front of the fireplace, so that you don’t get soot and ash all over your carpet or floor. You can use a tarp, an old bed sheet, plastic…I used an old beach towel. Take the grate out and sit it off to the side, but still on your floor covering and throw away any big chunks of wood still left from the last fire.
  2. Sprinkle some leftover coffee grounds onto the ash to reduce flyaways and then use a firm bristled brush or a fireplace brush if you’ve got one, to sweep up all the ashes into a dustpan. Don’t forget to brush down the walls inside the fireplace; start from the top and work downward.
  3. Next, get yourself a decent sized bowl and dump about a cup of baking soda in there. Add some water, about a cup, and mix to make a paste. Grab a firm bristled brush or scrubber of some kind. I didn’t have a good brush, so I used this loofah:

Dip the brush into the baking soda paste and start smearing it onto the walls and floor of the fireplace, scrubbing as hard as you can. Really give it some elbow grease! This will wash off most of the black and grey soot. If you’ve got what looks like a swamp of black mud going on, you’re doing it right. It’s up to you how intense you want to be about this. I didn’t go crazy making my brick look brand new; I just wanted to get the majority of the soot off. But if you want to go all-out, you do you. Below is a picture of the left wall of my fireplace before and after cleaning:

4. Use a rag (or a bunch of paper towels, but a rag is more environmentally friendly) to wipe up all the excess soot-suds.

5. Fill a bucket or really big bowl with clean water and use a sponge or rag to wipe down the inside of the fireplace with the clean water and rinse off any remaining baking soda paste and grime. You can use the same paste to clean the grate, but I recommend doing this in the bathtub for easy clean-up.

Alright, now you’re ready to style your fireplace! Whether it’s faux or real, you basically have two options for styling an empty hearth: fill or cover. I’m going to give you a run-down of some of my favorite options for both. I’m sure there are a million I haven’t even thought of, and I’m always looking for new inspo, so please if you’ve got a trick I didn’t cover, share it in the comments!

Fill The Void…

…With Candles

Images via Pinterest

Create a simple grouping of unadorned white pillar candles for a laid-back and versatile look that would complement a variety of styles, from modern farmhouse to bohemian to traditional.

…With Plants

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 11.46.23 AM

Image credit

If your most-searched hashtag on instagram is #jungalowstyle then this is the look for you. Fill that dark hearth with some fresh green plant babies and clean your home’s air at the same time.

Image @interiorjoy

Just make sure to choose plants that don’t need full sunlight if you plan to position them fully inside the hearth. Pothos (in the center on the grate), Monstera (far left), Snake plants (far right), and most ferns are pretty safe bets.

Images @interiorjoy

…With Flowers


Image credit @welovehomeblog

The obvious downside here is the cost and hassle of having to constantly replace the flowers in the vase, but it sure is pretty! Of course if you have an abundance of direct sunlight, there’s always the possibility of using potted flowering plants instead of cut flowers.

…With Books


Image @jyoungdesignhouse                                      Image via pinterest

Unless you really want to do some scrubbing, or you don’t mind getting your books a little dirty, this option works best if you don’t have a working fireplace. It’s also a stylish storage option if you have a substantial library collection and limited shelf space!

…With Painted Logs


Image via Pinterest                                           Image credit @thenester 

I love this look! If you’re more of a minimalist, a great neutral twist on this trend would be to paint the ends of the logs white instead of colors.


Image credit @eastcoastcreative

Or if painting the ends isn’t bold enough for you, unleash your inner maximalist and spray paint the entire log! I think this idea would work really well with metallic spray paint. Gold logs would be a great juxtaposition of rustic and glam.

…With Statuary

Image: Joyelle West for Your Home You Style by Donna Garlough

This is one of my favorite ways to style an empty fireplace. It’s clean and sophisticated, and the possibilities are endless! I could see using some big blue and white ginger jars for a stylish impact.

Got You Covered…

…With Framed Art


image credit @timothy_corrigan_inc                  image credit @jyoungdesignhouse

If you’ve got more art than wall space, lean a piece or two against the mantel to cover an empty fireplace and give your space a casual unassuming elegance. These vignettes look straight out of the home of an eclectic, world-traveled art collector, and who wouldn’t want to give that impression?

An alternative to framed art would be to use a mirror. This would have the added benefit of reflecting light to make the space feel larger, which is the opposite of what a big black hole does when you leave your empty fireplace naked.

…With a Decorative Screen

Image: Susan Joy aka InteriorMom

This decorative screen was purchased in the 1980s by my grandmother at a wholesale gift market in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s cut and pierced metal, painted with an arrangement of hydrangea blossoms. I love how the piercings create the texture in the flower’s blossoms. This piece has a folk-art feel and would be perfect for a modern farmhouse or cottage-style space. Pictured here in my mom’s living room.

Image via pinterest

For a more romantic lewk, choose a screen with ornate detailing and metallic accents like this one that’s giving me Beauty and the Beast vibes.

…With a Brass Tray


Image credit                                      Image @leftandlevel

Brass trays like this can come from Morocco and Asia. You can find them in a plethora or shapes, sizes, and designs on etsy and in many vintage and consignment shops. These look great hung on a wall, used as a top for a coffee or end table, and leaned upright on a shelf. But the larger ones are also a great option for dressing up an empty fireplace. I’ve been seeing more and more of these lately, and I think they’ll continue trending upwards this year. My mom has one that my grandmother brought back from Singapore in the 50s and I’m looking forward to inheriting it one day!

I hope this list gave you some ideas for how you can put your unused fireplace to work in your space and make a stylish impact. I only scratched the surface of possibilities; comment to share any ideas I’ve missed and tag me (@interiorjoy) in your fireplace pics on instagram, so I can see your creativity and give it some love! I’ll be back next week with a new post, but until then: Peace, love, and #interiorjoy !



1 Comment

  1. Loving all of your ideas for styling that trusty ol’ fireplace! We finally bit the bullet and hung that round mirror… haven’t regretted it since! Xo

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s