Fireplace Renovation

4 Materials
40 Hours

We recently purchased property in Virginia with a small farmhouse cottage (832 sq. ft.) as a vacation home for us. The home was built in the 1940's, while in good repair - needed lots of cosmetic updates. The tiny living room contained this very large brick fireplace that someone had mortared round river rocks on it. While the rocks are pretty, but we wanted to bring the fireplace back to brick - to update the room and gain space. We also soon found out that the rocks were unsafe, many of them were loose and falling off - as well as hiding places for bugs and spiders!

Since some of the rocks were falling off - it was easy to see that the brick underneath was in good shape. So we decided to remove the river rocks to reveal the brick.

After some research on the best methods to remove the rocks - we purchased a portable jack hammer. Then the long process of rock removal begin and since we were only at the cottage twice a month, it took several months to get them all off and haul them out the cottage.

Some of the rocks, just fell off - while others had to be removed with the portable jack hammer.

There were areas on the brick where the mortar was really stuck on the brick. We had to use a chisel and hammer to remove most of that mortar - very time consuming but we knew it would be worth it in the end.

At the same time we were doing the rock removal, we knocked out the walls on both sides of the fireplace (after installing a support beam in the ceiling) to open up the space in our little cottage.

The process took months of work and hard labor.

Finally - the rocks were all removed and we could see our brick fireplace! We quickly realized that we gained about 6 inches of space on all three sides of the fireplace - what a huge gain for such a small room!

After cleaning the brick, I white-washed the brick to lighten up the room. I used chalk paint in white, off white, and gray colors. And painted the inside of the hearth black using heat - resistant paint.

We had a piece of walnut from our farm in northern NY that we wanted to use as a mantle. We will be adding gas logs to the hearth - but for now we just put an electric heater inside since the chimney is not clear to use.

We are so happy with our new fireplace - really makes a huge difference in updating our living room and with the large rocks and walls removed - the space is more open too.

We plan to make a fire pit on our property - similar to this with the river rocks we removed from the fireplace.

Here's another photo of the fireplace and the living room - all updated!

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Frequently asked questions

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  14 questions
  • Sinead Eilis Sinead Eilis on Dec 18, 2018

    Congratulations on a very tough job well done! It’s a HUGE difference from the heavy feeling of all those river rocks. I’m sure they’ll look much better outside where they belong. I have one question. You mentioned the chimney wasn’t clear for use. I’ve seen so many older homes with either boarded up fireplaces or candles in the fireplace. Is there no way or no tradesmen that are able to clear and repair these chimneys for proper use? With all the work that some people do on their homes I just wonder why they don’t fix or replace the chimneys.

    • LibraryKAT LibraryKAT on Dec 18, 2018

      Mainly because of expense and the problem of finding a good mason or chimney sweep. We were able to find both in our last home and had the chimney swept and the portion showing above the roof rebuilt. This really isn't a DIY project.

    • Nursejnm Nursejnm on Dec 18, 2018

      Chimneys can be relined, but it is a big, expensive job to have done. I know because I am currently doing this.

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 18, 2018

      Thank you for your kinds words. We chose not to clean the chimney and closed up the top so that we could install gas logs. Since the bricks were old (and we found some wear and crumbling in the chimney), we decided not to use it as a wood burning fireplace. We used a masonary sealer on the top, exposed chimney and then sealed it off.

  • WOW! What a gorgeous transformation. And you didn't have to go to the gym those days you worked on it. Crazy beautiful.

    What did you do with all the gorgeous river rock?

    • Nursejnm Nursejnm on Dec 18, 2018

      Making a fire pit.

    • Mary Dodge Mary Dodge on Dec 18, 2018

      It's in the script, they plan to make a firepit with the river rock. I'm sure it will be gorgeous!

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 18, 2018

      Thank you for your kind words! Our plan is the build a round outdoor firepit using the rocks. Here is an inspiration photo for us:

  • Dean Dean on Dec 18, 2018

    looks great-nice job. just curious-what did you do with the rocks?


  • Debbie L Denton Debbie L Denton on Dec 18, 2018

    Beautiful......where did you find the tobacco basket? It looks so rustic.

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 18, 2018

      Flea market - they are very popular and easy to find around this area - where they used to grow tobacco in NE TN and SW VA.

    • Jewellmartin Jewellmartin on Dec 19, 2018

      I’m glad you identified this as a tobacco basket. I really like the more rustic look on the. New-looking brick. A job well done! ☺️

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 19, 2018

      Yes, and it is a real old one that has been used a lot! They are very trendy now and you can buy new ones at places like Kirkland's, but I like the older, real ones.

  • Tonytiger69 Tonytiger69 on Dec 18, 2018

    Hope you closed off the old flue. If so, how did you accomplish that?

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 18, 2018

      We pulled the damper closed from the lever on the inside of the fireplace.

    • Tonytiger69 Tonytiger69 on Dec 18, 2018

      I was going to suggest something to block the cold air from falling thru the chimney, but I reread your narrative above and you are going to add gas logs so you will need the chimney flue when that happens. Beautiful job by they way!

    • Gail Gail on Dec 18, 2018

      I had a fireplace that I closed and knew I never wanted(I put my TV in it and have a fire DVD) I closed the damper and then as extra draft protection I took a heavy piece of foam I had on hand and cut it slightly larger than the opening and then wedged it in the hole. Foam can be purchased at Joann fabrics or you might check with an upholsterer for a scrap. I covered the opening with plywood that I had painted black and bought my TV as large as possible to fit the space exactly. I love it. I prefer to look eye level with my TV not be forced to look up at it on a mantle. Then my mantle is still decorative and seasonal or just candles or my grandfathers clock

    • Suzanne Young Suzanne Young on Dec 18, 2018

      So much better. What a difference. Really looks good.

  • Cassy Cassy on Dec 18, 2018

    What is the application process for the chalk paint on the brick. I’m not a DIY er. Is it difficult? I love what you did

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 18, 2018

      Just paint the mortar lines with white, then dry brush the bricks with light layers of white, gray and black. The trick is the do very light layers of coordinating colors to give it dimension.

  • Laurie Laurie on Dec 18, 2018

    What did you do with the beautiful rocks? I didn’t like them on the fireplace and agree the original (updated) brick was the way to go. Kudos!

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 18, 2018

      Thank you. I've answered this a few times already and it was in the post - we are going to make a fire pit using the rocks - something like this one!

  • Mary Watson Mary Watson on Dec 18, 2018

    You did a beautiful thing there. Yes for the time and use of it the rocks were pretty but now when many originals are making a go again and changing up the brick color, this is gorgeous. It does make the room appear larger and especially now that you can see the other side too.

    What did you do with the rocks, I bet you can come up with some great DYI things to do with them.

  • Desiree Martin Desiree Martin on Dec 18, 2018

    A great idea! I have the same red brick fireplace and I plan on doing this soon. Do you use any kind of sealant on the brick after you do the whitewash?

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 18, 2018

      No sealer for the fireplace, this is the 5th fireplace that I have whitewashed this way.

    • Pam Pam on Dec 19, 2018

      any chance you'll take pictures of the rest of the renovation and post pictures.....would love to see what else you've done !!!!

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 23, 2018

      Pam - if you look at my profile, I have several on there already that you can see.

  • Carolina Carolina on Dec 20, 2018

    How did you find this beautiful cottage?

    I thought the riverrock fireplace was exceptional. Thanks for sharing the picture of the beautiful rock fireplace.

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 20, 2018

      We have bought and sold several properties in several different states and always use a realtor. I found this property on and it was not very nice when we found it - very old and dated.

    • Gerri Pokorny Gerri Pokorny on Dec 25, 2018

      Simply GORGEOUS!!! Love the look!!! Enjoy!!!

    • Andrea Andrea on Oct 14, 2020

      I myself would have kept the river rock fireplace as I absolutely love river rocks. The updated one looks spectacular too. I love the mantle and the color you painted the bricks.

  • Jill Ian Jill Ian on Dec 29, 2018

    i am dying to do this! is there a difference between brick transformations white wash and what you used?

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Dec 29, 2018

      This is what I usually do - layer with a very dry brush several light layers of paint to provide definition.

  • Crystal Crystal on Feb 19, 2019

    I have a painted brick fireplace. Would you know how I could get the paint off of the bricks?

    • Cindy Hagemann Cindy Hagemann on Feb 19, 2019

      You can partially remove the paint with chemicals or a wire brush. I painted mine, not interested in removing the paint.

    • Patricia Fluharty Patricia Fluharty on Sep 03, 2019

      Wil you please elaborate more on the paint and method you used on the fireplace?? I would love to do this to on my fireplace 😊


  • Donna Ohanian Donna Ohanian on Sep 02, 2019

    What length boards did you install on the ceiling? Is it 8’ x 4’ beadboard paneling?

  • Kelli Cook Kelli Cook on Apr 30, 2020

    Love that you tore down the walls! Looks great! Why can’t you use a wood burning stove there?


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