Giovanni Valle is a licensed architect and LEED-accredited professional and is certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). He is the author and managing editor of various digital publications, including BuilderSpace, Your Own Architect, and Interiors Place.
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A fireplace is usually the centerpiece of a room. Leaving it empty and unused is not only a waste of usable space, but it is also a missed decorating opportunity. Just like changing the throw pillows, changing up your fireplace can alter a room’s entire feel and freshen your room without the need to change furniture.
Some unique ways you can opt to decorate your unused fireplace include creating a decorative light source; styling a vintage, rustic, or shabby display; and creating a stylish space for storage, along with some practical ideas. Many of these DIY fireplace project ideas are easy.
If you’re thinking about repurposing your fireplace, you’ll want to be sure that you won’t want to use or repair it in the future. We’ll talk about some permanent decorating projects, but most of them will be temporary, so you’ll be able to change your mind. Before we get to the repurposing ideas, you’ll need to understand your fireplace’s condition and what you need to do to get your fireplace ready to go.
Reasons a Fireplace May Remain Unused
Amount of Maintenance Required
Just like with a swimming pool, a fireplace seems like a great idea and may bring you many hours of enjoyment, but it requires a lot of work. If you use your fireplace, you’ll need to care for and maintain it by having it swept annually at the very least, address any structural integrity issues, purchase a chimney cap, and ensure the damper and flue are functioning correctly. You can help keep your flue and chimney clean with a Pine Mountain First Alert Creosote Buster log.
Even if you don’t use your fireplace, there are still maintenance requirements. Gas or oil fireplaces should receive maintenance regularly because they connect to the heat and hot water system and your non-electric stove. Other oil-burning appliances could cause creosote build-up in your chimney. You’ll still need to have the inside of your chimney cleaned.
Sometimes more things will clog your chimney when you don’t use your fireplace than when you do. Leaves and rodent or insect nests can clog your vent. Over time, this organic matter will begin to decay and possibly develop an undesirable odor. Having your chimney cleaned regularly can help prevent this.
Risk of Fire
Some homeowners don’t use their fireplaces because they worry about the risk of chimney fires. Smaller chimney fires, usually caused by creosote build-up, may go undetected. They may not reveal themselves until you have your chimney and fireplace inspected, and the inspector discovers the damage. More severe fires can cause damage to both your chimney and other parts of your home that are near your chimney and fireplace.
Issues With Your Fireplace and Chimney
Cracking is a common problem for chimneys and sometimes fireplaces that will keep homeowners from using them. Exposure to the cold outside air could cause cracks in the outfacing wall. Fireplaces in homes located where there are frequent earthquakes may also see damage often. Shifting foundations in older homes is also a common cause of cracks in the brick or stone.
You Live in a Warm Climate
Fireplaces are not uncommon features of homes in all different climates, whether your house is located in the mountains or on the beach. You’ll often find them in living rooms, formal dining rooms, master bedrooms, and even in master baths. Fireplaces frequently go unused in the warmer climates because they give off unwanted heat. Therefore they remain as strictly decorative features of the house.
How to Seal off Your Fireplace
When you’ve decided that you most likely will not be using your fireplace in the future, it might be a wise decision to seal it. If not for anything else, sealing your fireplace is more energy-efficient. Depending on what season it is, it is a way for your heat or air conditioning to escape out the chimney and for cold air or heat and humidity to enter your home.
The easiest way to seal off your fireplace is with a Chimney Balloon Inflatable Fireplace Plug. This chimney product comes in a variety of sizes to suit your needs. As long as you measure your chimney dimensions correctly, the installation should be easy. This procedure is something you can do yourself as a homeowner.
Another way to seal your fireplace is to create a custom cover that fits over the opening of your fireplace. These covers can be simple or decorative. We will explore these further later on. Fireplace covers of this kind are removable, and you can make them reversible if you prefer.
Watch the video below for an abundance of ways to decorate your unused fireplace. It includes custom fireplace covers and more ideas that we’ll explore below. Reviewing this decorating video is a great way to start brainstorming about what you want to do with your home’s empty fireplace space.
Creating a Decorative Light Source
By design, your fireplace gives off light and warmth when in use. Why not take this idea and reproduce the same vibe more creatively? These are a few of my favorite ideas for ways to use light in your fireplace. The decorating concepts below that involve using real candles should be done with battery-operated flameless LED candles instead in households with young children or pets. This set of 7 Qinxiang Flameless LED Candles are highly-rated and come with a remote.
1. Create a Large Cluster of Candles
Choose pillar candles of varying diameters and heights and add in a few ball candles. Sturdy wrought iron candle stands in staggered heights will complete the look. White or ivory candles are classic and will go with any decor. Whatever color candles you choose, it would be best to stick with only one or two colors. Fill the entire space, but keep away anything flammable, like a rug or floor pillow.
2. Use String Lights to a Pile of Birch Logs
There are many ways to approach this DIY project to reflect your style. You could arrange the wood in a giant mass or lay them parallel to each other in a neat stack. If all the logs are similar, you could fill the fireplace with the cut-ends facing out. However you choose to arrange the wood, you can work in battery-operated LED mini-string lights or fairy lights between and around the logs.
3. Place Large and Small Lanterns in Your Fireplace
Depending on whether you use antique, rustic, coastal, or modern lanterns, you can easily change your room’s look for every season. Some lanterns have built-in LED lights, and some take regular or LED flameless candles. In place of candles, you could opt to fill the lanterns with fairy lights. Many LED lights can change colors so that you can set the mood for any occasion.
Styling a Vintage, Rustic, or Shabby Chic Display
Many statement pieces don’t have a function, except to look decorative and be a possible conversation piece. If you are a collector of such unusual things, then your unused fireplace is the perfect place to show them off. Some items will have an unmistakable vintage, rustic, or shabby chic look, but others may be neutral. You can have some fun adding in other finds you love to those neutral items to create the perfect look you want. The possibilities are endless.
4. Use One or Two Framed Mirrors to Fill Your Fireplace
If you opt to use more than one mirror, be sure they vary in size and shape. Of course, a square or rectangular mirror will be easier to stand in your fireplace. Place sturdy objects around your mirror to help make it secure. A large, heavy vase or a low-light potted plant would work well. You may require an easel if all else fails, but you can use other items to camouflage it.
5. Display Your Favorite Framed Artwork
Whether you show off your paintings or someone else’s, the frame is almost as important as the piece itself. Make sure the artwork varies in size if you choose to display more than one. Unlike mirrors that are plain glass, the paintings will likely have many colors and more going on. It would be better to add simple accessories, like a plain vase or a leafy plant in a plain flower pot.
6. Fill Your Fireplace With Piles of Old Hardcover Books
Do this by placing stacks of books into your fireplace while alternating the direction each stack is facing. In these small piles, only show the bindings of the books you find most interesting. Hide the titles of the rest. Do this until you cannot fit another book into the opening. You can find old hardcover books at your local library’s book sales and yard sales or flea markets.
7. Stack Old Suitcases to Create a Vintage Display
Be sure to stack them in order of size, starting with the largest at the bottom. You choose to leave the top case closed or opened to fill with items. Some suggestions for other things to include in your display are a train case, a hatbox, an old camera, a phonograph, an old radio, or an antique-looking globe, like this bronze Signature Design by Ashley – Oakden Vintage Spinning Globe.
8. Place a Small Piano Bench in Front of the Fireplace Opening
If the seat isn’t upholstered, you can always add a cushion to make it more inviting. Add pillows that coordinate with the colors and style of the seat fabric. Prop the pillows up against the wall above the fireplace to create a comfortable place to sit. Now you’ve made a cozy spot to chat with guests, enjoy a cup of tea, or read a book.
9. Place One or Two Large Wicker Baskets to Hold Throw Blankets and Pillows
This option may sound functional, but you’re creating a decorative display that you don’t want to redo daily. Make sure the throw pillows and blankets are different patterns but coordinate with each other. Include some floor pillows to stack next to your baskets. You can use the floor pillows for sitting, but the rest of the display should remain intact.
10. Put Long-Stem Flowers in Baskets and Large Mason Jars
For the baskets, you can use artificial or dried flowers to fill them. You can use artificial flowers, dried flowers, or freshly cut flowers in water for the large mason jars. The flowers’ color scheme should be consistent throughout, and you can change them to match the seasons. You can use the same baskets throughout the year if you choose neutral colors.
Create a Stylish Space for Storage
There are storage pieces you have in your home anyway, so why not take advantage of the unused space in your fireplace? Doing this would free up space elsewhere in your home.
11. Place a Freestanding Wine Rack in Your Empty Fireplace
There are so many wine rack choices that would fit everything from a rustic to a modern style home. Depending on your home’s fireplace size, you could do one or more of these Soduku Rustic Wood Countertop Wine Racks. If your space is large, you could add some empty wine bottles filled with fairy lights and a top-handled basket filled with artificial grapes.
12. Create a Little Reading Area With Some Bookshelves and Floor Pillows
This area can become a comfortable reading spot for an adult or a child. You can use a freestanding mini bookcase, large bookends, or build shelves into your empty fireplace if you’re handy enough to do so. Make this a colorful area by painting the fixture or keep the wood tones. Be sure to include multiple floor pillows so that you can read along with your child.
13. Use Built-In Shelves to Display Your Favorite Knick-Knacks or Collectibles
If you’re not handy enough to build and install shelves, you could use freestanding shelves, like this MyGift 15-Inch 9-Compartment Torched Wood Freestanding Shelf. With a custom made piece, you can have each compartment sized to fit your needs and the wood stained to match your existing furniture. It is possible to find something premade that’s suitable.
14. Place a Magazine Rack in Your Empty Fireplace
There are many styles of magazine racks out there that range from modern to country chic. This decorating idea is an excellent opportunity to organize your magazines in a way that fits your style. You wouldn’t want to change it with the seasons so that a versatile one would work best, something like this white Frenchi Home Furnishing Contemporary Magazine Rack.
You can execute these ideas with style, but the priority is functionality. Of course, you can have both. All it takes is a little thought, imagination, and creativity.
15. Create a Chalkboard Fireplace Cover
Chalkboard art is so popular that people will put chalkboard paint on almost anything. They put it on their tabletops, walls, and refrigerators, so why not on a fireplace cover. Watch this short video that shows you step-by-step how this homeowner makes a fireplace cover out of plywood and turns it into a reversible chalkboard fireplace cover:
16. Make a Fireplace Cover With a Fabric Memo Board on the Front
If you already have a memo board that you love, then you can attach it to your plywood fireplace cover with wood glue. If you want to make a new custom memo board, you’ll need a custom cut plywood fireplace cover, batting, fabric, ribbon, decorative nails, and a staple gun. Then follow these easy instructions for how to make a fabric memo board.
17. Place a Stylish Pet Bed in Your Empty Fireplace
Your unused fireplace is the perfect place to put a pet bed. There are many decorative options out there, such as this geometric Petper Pet Bed for dogs or cats. There are also fun options for pet beds that resemble real furniture, like sofas. If you live in a cooler climate, be sure that you have sealed off your fireplace so that your pet will not have to endure cold drafts.
18. Use Your Unused Fireplace to House an Aquarium
Adding an aquarium on a low stand would create a beautiful centerpiece for your room. You can do some fantastic things with colored lights in fish tanks. There are also some themed very zen aquarium decorations you could try. You would need to be sure that the aquarium heater keeps the water at a suitable temperature because the fireplace wall is likely uninsulated.
Hopefully, these 18 ideas for decorating your unused fireplace has sparked some inspiration in you. Don’t be afraid to make any of these ideas your own by putting your unique spin on them. Avoid doing anything permanently if you are unsure if you’ll be using your fireplace in the future. A benefit of choosing one of the nonpermanent options is that you can try different ideas until you find the perfect one that makes you smile big when you walk into the room.
- Family Handyman: 13 Steps On How to Use a Fireplace Safely
- The Irish Sweep: Chimney Maintenance: What If I Don’t Use My Fireplace?
- Wikipedia: Creosote
- Chimney Safety Institute of America: The Facts About Chimney Fires
- Midtown Chimney Sweeps: Is Your Chimney Currently Inoperable? Fixing It Could Increase Your Home’s Value
- dengarden: How to Seal an Unused Fireplace and Save Money on Heating Bills
- Sailrite: How to Make a Fabric Memo Board
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