If you live in a house built before the 1960s, it will probably have a prominent chimney breast. The fact that they are rarely in use nowadays is mainly thanks to the Clean Air Act of 1956 that aimed to reduce smog. Newer dwellings tended to be built with central heating and boilers rather than open fires. Most homeowners boarded or bricked up their fireplaces, often installing a gas fireplace or radiator in its place.
While demolishing the chimney breast would certainly free up space, it’s a complicated structural job, so most people opted against it. That’s extremely good news for contemporary interior designers. Fireplaces and their surrounding brickwork are beautiful pieces of architecture, and nowadays, feature fireplace walls are enormously desirable. If there’s an original mantelpiece still in place, that’s superb; if the original cast iron fireplace with tiled surrounds remains, you’re in interior design heaven.
Seek Expert Help
The most important first step when restoring a closed-up fireplace is to let a builder inspect it. If it’s simply boarded up, it’s a straightforward task to open it up. However, they are often bricked up, and that can lead to a partial collapse if you take the sledgehammer to it. Another potential complication is if there’s an electric fireplace, radiator or gas fire over the top, in which case you’ll also need to consult a plumber and/or electrician.
Feature Wall Ideas
Once you know what the previous occupants have left you, the design fun can start. If you’re aiming for a vintage look and there’s no original fireplace there, it’s not a problem. Because classic fireplaces are so popular, there are plenty of reproduction cast iron fireplaces available. If you visit your local salvage yard, you’ll find many original examples too, although they do come at a premium price.
You might choose to install a functioning heater in the fireplace, such as a wood burner, living flame gas fire or electric fire. Just check with your local authorities, especially for wood burners, as many are clamping down on them. Note too that gas heating might soon go out of favour for environmental reasons.
If, as usual, there’s already central heating, the fireplace can be entirely decorative. A classic fireplace that’s in keeping with the living room decor is the perfect place to display ornaments, flowers or photographs, especially if there’s a full mantelpiece remaining.
A Feature Chimney Breast
A beautiful and striking way to use the chimney breast is to give it unique decor that’s in contrast to the rest of the room. There’s a wealth of chimney breast paint ideas online if you’re researching looks, but a warm grey chimney breast against coloured wallpaper or painted walls can look stunning, especially with highlight wall art or pictures.
You can also flip the idea on its head: have a muted living room – a plain colour or white walls, say – with a chimney breast that really stands out. Try a lustrous red chimney breast with gold highlights brought by candlesticks and picture frames, or go deep blue to contrast light objects. Bold wallpaper will always draw the eye towards it, too – large floral or patterned designs enliven any wall.
A final option that’s growing in the home and living space is to remove all the plaster and leave your chimney breast with exposed brickwork. It’s a reference to the rustic look, but showing the nuts and bolts of the home’s structure is growing in popularity too.
To get bare brick looking pristine is an involved task, but there’s a certain charm about leaving traces of plaster in place, as long as it’s not too untidy. Combined with a grand picture or mirror framed in reclaimed timber, it’s a homespun look that can be breathtaking.
Relight Your Fire
Whether your fireplace becomes a new heat source or a purely decorative feature, it’s a beautiful way to bring warmth and charm back to a living room. Compared to a complete redecoration, it can be a relatively straightforward way to let your home’s natural form shine through.