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How To Make A Brick Fireplace Look Modern

By Lawrence Macmillan August 15, 2021

Exposed brick has a tendency to fall in and out of fashion with the season. That red brick fireplace that seemed so lovely a few months ago can suddenly appear old-fashioned.

What at one point complemented your carefully selected furniture now doesn’t work at all.

Updating a brick fireplace with a more modern look can be achieved easily with just a splash of paint. It’s easy to find an update that works with your decoration, or helps create a whole new space.

First: brick fireplaces are a classic piece of design, so don’t feel obligated to change them.

A brick fireplace can look good in any setting, and doesn’t need to be subject to trends. Changing the room around the fireplace can be the best way to make a traditional design feature look just as good today as it did when it was first installed.

If you do want to update a brick fireplace, there are multiple options. These range from the easy to the involved, and can be done for cheap, or at a higher price. Some styles cover the brick completely, while others work with it for an immediate modern finish

Paint the brick

Without a doubt, the easiest way to update a brick fireplace is with a layer of paint. Red brick fireplaces often become inadvertent features: they draw the eye regardless of how well we minimize the impact. A thick paint covering flattens the texture, and pushes the design back into the wall.

Basic white is classic, and it becomes a blank canvas for styling. Use light colors for a warm finish that helps the fireplace disappear. For a really modern look, use dark navy or black. Dark colors create a mature space that lets decor shine. A dark color across the fireplace doesn’t ignore the feature, but it does mean the old-fashioned aspects are no longer on show.

German smear

Not a bagel topping, but a method of painting. The German smear uses wet mortar, smeared across the brick for rustic charm. The German smear softens the vivid red of a brick fireplace, while keeping the texture of the wall.

Use wood and other natural materials to enhance the effect, and be sure not to clutter up the room. The German smear looks best in a minimalist setting.

Chalk paint

This paint doesn’t give the same smooth finish as regular paint, but it does reduce the impact of traditional brick. The unfinished look of chalk paint creates a neutral background that maintains visual interest with texture. Be careful when using it, as chalk paint isn’t always heat-resistant. Only use on non-functioning fireplaces, or in brick away from the fire.

Paint everywhere but the fireplace

Leaving a small amount of brick exposed around the fireplace might not seem particularly modern, but the deliberate contrast is an edgy update for a tired brick wall. Use bold, rich colors, or a simple bright white. The fireplace remains a feature, without being the center of attention. Decorate with graphic prints to emphasize the clean lines of the paint work.

Tile

If paint doesn’t seem like enough, tile is a great way to instantly update a tired fireplace. A little more effort, the end result is a total coverage that paint can’t beat. For a modern look, use plain tiles with a sleek finish.

If you want to play with design, consider different arrangements. Herringbone tiles look that perfect blend of stylish, classic, and fun. Small tiles are particularly good at making the fireplace disappear, but large tiles work well for open rooms.

Cement

Paint everywhere but the fireplace

It may seem extreme, but covering the brick in cement is perfect for those who really don’t like their fireplace. This heavy finish is best for bigger rooms, where it won’t dominate the space.

The smooth finish is perfect for painting, or jazzing up with decoration. While you can attempt this yourself, it’s better to get a professional in. They can give the impeccable finish it needs, without making a mess of the living room.

New mantel

A surround mantel comes in a variety of different styles, so you can choose what works best for your living room. From the ornate to the basic, mantels cover the brick completely, without any messy DIY.

A mantel has the added bonus of providing a shelf, giving you even more ways to draw attention away from the fireplace. Choose a mantel in the same color as the wall for a super modern look.

Contrast with luxury items

The brick doesn’t have to be covered to make the fireplace modern - you can let the rest of the room do the work. Modern and luxury designs and fabrics distract from the fireplace, and reduce the brick to an interesting background.

Use luxurious fabrics like rich velvets for a heavy contrast to plain, exposed brick. Balance this using metallic furnishings with minimal design and curved lines. Top it all with graphic prints for a room that uses the brick, rather than works against it.

Lean into the rustic

That’s rustic, not old-fashioned. Surrounding ourselves with natural objects helps to calm the brain, and it’s especially useful in living rooms and bedrooms. Stripped back wood, lots of greenery, and additions of rope and leather can transform a boring fireplace into a fairy tale cottage.

The trick is to avoid twee. Keep the flowers to a minimum, focus on blues and greens, and don’t be afraid to go maximalist. 

If you find your brick fireplace is detracting from the rest of the room, any one of these simple tricks could be a solution. Think of how you want the rest of the room to look.

Dark and bold? Light and airy? Warm and cozy? A brick fireplace can work with any of these, as long as you consider color and finish. Use your brick fireplace to complement the room, rather than standing against. A modern finish doesn’t have to be difficult, and soon you’ll see the brick as a feature, rather than an annoyance.


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