An Outmoded Fireplace Gets an Upgrade for Under $60
A TOH editor's unlovely brick acquires a polished white finish at a fraction of plaster's cost
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.
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.
Built in the late 1970s with thick, concave grout lines and a stodgy brick hearth, this homely working fireplace had shed its ugly mantel but still needed help if it wanted to stay. It was 2016, after all.
Over the objections of one skeptical husband ("joint compound—on top of brick? It'll crack!"), Kellogg and I armed ourselves with a ladder, a couple of broad plaster knives, and three 4.5-gallon buckets of joint compound. Total outlay: less than $60.
The first layer dried quickly—and crackled ominously. But no problem: The second coat dried to a smooth finish. It was a little like hiding the imperfections of a homemade French genoise by troweling on the ganache.
In Tom Sawyer tradition, we ultimately compelled Irwin to join in, speeding us to the finish in two days' time. When the second coat was barely dry, Kellogg (pictured) polished it with a large, damp household sponge, pulling his strokes toward the floor to emphasize the bricks' horizontal lines.