Refreshed Brick Fireplace: After

After living with a dated, faded fireplace for 15 years, we embarked on a dramatic redo. We were already, ahem, fired up because the chimney needed work.

To the rescue: New York interior designer Craig Kellogg, who suggested tearing out not only the mantel but also the raised hearth and replacing it with a floating soapstone slab.

Ah—much better.

Then, to revive the brick, Kellogg proposed an inexpensive DIY alternative to authentic plaster, as he'd seen done at SoHo design store BBDW. "You buy buckets of premixed joint compound and just slather it on," he said optimistically.

Shown: Two coats of joint compound, a coat of primer, and two coats of pure-white latex semigloss later, and we were ready to reclaim the room. Our new fireplace needed just one more touch: Kellogg propped a 1970s Yoruba tribal staff—a legacy of my husband Irwin's Peace Corps days—against the now-fresh-and-modern brick, bringing this DIY makeover to a happy close.
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