Drab to Fab Fireplace Makeover

Drab to Fab Fireplace Makeover from hprallandco.com | H.Prall & Co. Interior Decorating

Friends…let me start by saying that our new-to-us-house is in much better shape than our old one. There are still quite a few things here, though, that I’m hoping to tackle over the next couple of years to brighten the place up and give it a little refresh. It’s 12 years old (our old one was 46 years old!) and just a little tired. When we first moved in, we had the entire interior of the house painted. It was mostly browns and beiges, but a few rooms were colors. I love color, you know that, but these were just not me. None of my stuff would have even looked good with them! So, we painted.

Now…the paint made a huge difference! We went with Sherwin Williams Greek Villa for the whole house. It’s a bit of a warmer white and completely changed the look of the house! Which reminds me, I probably should do some before and afters of the whole house, huh? That’ll have to be another time. Even after painting, though, there is just a lot of wood in the house. Wood floors, a sliding barn door, wood cabinetry in the kitchen, wood railing to the basement, and wood fireplace surround. All this wood means the house seems darker than it should, and none of the wood gets to stand-out as special because there’s so much of it.

You know what happened next…more paint! We’re not going to paint all the wood…I don’t want to deal with that up-keep, but the fireplace is a spot that’s not going to be touched and used daily, so the paint is a lot more likely to stay nice. Now, I’ve been super blessed with my business to be able to refer clients to the different contractors I work with. As a thank-you, several of the contractors will trade work with me or give me a discount for projects at my own house. So, complete transparency, the painting was done by professionals…not by us. I’m not good at painting, I don’t enjoy it, and I fully believe in hiring people who are pros at their craft and supporting their business in the process. I was around to watch their process, though, to document it for you!

I know you might not have the same situation and will have to do this project on your own, so I wanted to share the details of the how-to’s with you and show you what a huge difference it made in our space!! (You won’t believe the before and after pictures!)

Things you’ll need:

(All items are linked to make your project even easier! I used affiliate links, which don’t cost you any extra, but they do help-out my business so much—thanks for your support!)


  1. Prep the tile and wood. I used Simple Green Cleaner (you can find it HERE) and a clean cloth (THESE are good) to wipe down the entire fireplace—both tile and wood. I let this dry completely. Then, using 220-grit sandpaper (you can find it HERE), everything got sanded. This gets rid of any extra dirt and grime that might still be on it and roughs-up the surfaces, so the primer has something to adhere to. The primer we used says that it doesn’t require sanding, but it never hurts to do. Better safe than sorry! Once the tile and wood were sanded, the whole fireplace was wiped down again—this time with lacquer thinner (HERE). You’ll want to let it dry completely before the next step. We let it dry overnight. We then taped-off the edges of the fireplace, the fireplace insert, and along the floor—basically anywhere we didn’t want to risk getting primer and paint! You’ll want to use painter’s tape—you can find the one we used HERE. Our fireplace surround is made of knotty alder, so we also filled in a lot of the bigger knots to give it a smoother look. (You can find the wood filler we used HERE and the putty knife HERE.)

  2. Once the tile and wood were dry, we started priming! Choose a quality primer! (THIS one is always my go-to.) You’ll want to use a low-nap roller on the tile, so the primer goes on smoothly. We used that on the wood as well, as it was already loaded with primer. We also used an angled brush to get into all the corners and angles of the fireplace. (You can find one HERE). Again, you’ll want to let the primer dry completely before painting.

  3. The paint we used is called Breakthrough by PPG (you can find more info on it HERE). It’s a fantastic paint for this project, as it dries extremely hard, but allows for flexibility—always a good thing when painting wood, especially a fireplace where outside air can flow in and where there will be extra heat when it’s being used. We went from a darker brown wood to white, so it took a few coats to get the coverage we wanted. I can’t tell you the color of the paint because it’s a custom-blend my painters have created. I’m bummed about this because I know so many of you are going to ask. I do know that it’s a pure white and a good comparison option would be Decorator’s White by Benjamin Moore. Once the fireplace was painted and we had the coverage we wanted, we just had to let the paint sit—for three weeks. That means I still haven’t styled the mantel! Ugh…it’s killing me!

  4. Now, the stencil part. So, here’s the deal…almost all the tiles on our fireplace surround are a different size. I ended up finding a tile stencil on Etsy that would repeat 1.5-2 times on each tile (you can find it HERE). I’m hoping that you have a better tile scenario than we did…like all of yours are the same size and the stencil will fill within the grout lines. We had to work with what we had and it’s not exactly what I envisioned, but the improvement is so much better than it was before! You’ll want to map out how the stencil will need to be done for each of the tiles—especially if the tiles aren’t even—before you start painting. Once you have a plan, you’ll hold the stencil onto the tile and use a clean roller to apply the colored acrylic paint. THIS is the one we used in Ivory Black. Be careful not to move the stencil while you’re applying the color because it will cause the outlines to not be as crisp.

  5. Wait! We waited three weeks for the paint to completely cure before putting anything on the mantel or hearth. Full-disclosure, I still haven’t done anything with it because I’ve been too busy. I’ve been planning, though, and I’m so excited to see what it’s going to look like styled!!

We also added 2 swing arm wall sconces to each side of the fireplace. Eventually, we’re going to give the fireplace a bit more of a makeover, closing in the bump-out where the builder intended the television to go, so we didn’t run electricity to the sconces just yet. We mounted them with the wiring in-tact, so once we do run electrical, we’ll still be able to use these same lights. (You can find the lights HERE.) In the meanwhile, I’m using the magic light trick and it’s amazing! Stay tuned next week for all the details on that! Since the front of the fireplace isn’t completely smooth, we used an unfinished clock face to screw the light to and then mounted that to the fireplace. You can find a similar one HERE. We painted it the same color as the fireplace and it blends right in.

I’m so excited about how this project turned out. It looks just like I envisioned in my plans for it and it has completely transformed our space! I can’t wait to tackle a few more painting projects and give our house a custom look on a small budget!

Happy painting!