Fireplace built ins: Stain or Paint?

by Mary
I will be having built ins around the fireplace and I am trying to decide if they should be stained or painted. The built ins will be floor to ceiling. My room is small: 16 ft x 16 ft and the walls are broken up with door to outside and double casement windows on one wall with a 4' door opening to another room on the opposing wall. The opposing wall to the fireplace has a 3 ft hallway opening. I am trying to decide if the built ins should be stained or painted. I like the look of stained with my fieldstone fireplace but am wondering if that will be too "heavy" visually for the small room. Help, please!!
My plan is to have built ins with a base cabinet depth a little less than the hearth depth and top cabinets the depth of the mantel.
My husband made cardboard mock-ups in order to help visualize the built ins.
  31 answers
  • I like paint my self, but if you stain them and don't like them you can always go back and paint them.
  • Debbie Swanson Debbie Swanson on Mar 13, 2014
    I think if you stain them they should be a light stain or else it will look to heavy in a smaller room.
  • Sharron Sharron on Mar 13, 2014
    Personally, I would stain them. The color of your wood dining table is pretty...not too light, nor too dark. If you are making hutches of the cabinets, I would try to match the table. Like Carolyn said above, if you don't like the way the stain looks after living with it a while, painting is always an option.
  • Joyce Battle Joyce Battle on Mar 13, 2014
    I would stain them to keep the room light feeling. I have a brick back ground where a fireplace use to be looking forward to a lighter room
  • Juanell Hollingsworth Juanell Hollingsworth on Mar 13, 2014
    Stain with that fireplace.
  • Donna Byram Donna Byram on Mar 13, 2014
    I would stain them also. Since it is a small room having open shelving on top that shows the wall color behind them will make the room look bigger.
  • Nancy Wagner Nancy Wagner on Mar 14, 2014
    If you want to make the room feel larger, paint the built-ins the same as the wall color. If creating a larger feeling room is not a concern, then paint or stain is your personal preference. You might even consider a pigmented stain that would provide a tone on tone look...not quite as solid looking as a painted finish. In today's decorating world, it is not so important to think everything as to be "matchy-matchy." If you paint, remember to put a polyurethane or wax finish over the paint for durability.
  • Michele Eures Michele Eures on Mar 14, 2014
    Maybe do a little of both. I think the fireplace is so pretty that you don't want the cabinets to compete with it. Keep it a focal point. Wood is great, but it sometimes makes a room too heavy looking with so much brown.
    • See 1 previous
    • Mary Mary on Mar 15, 2014
      @Michele Eures Hey Neighbor! So nice to see a comment from someone close to home. I like your idea about combining paint & stain and will keep it in mind. Thank you!
  • Here's an idea...
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    • See 1 previous
    • @Mary Please share the outcome. I'm sure it will be breathtaking.
  • Moxie Moxie on Mar 15, 2014
    What a good hubby! I have small rooms as well and I have found painting things (like closet doors and furniture) the same color as the walls keeps things visually open. I would paint them. You still get the interest and texture of the units being there but they don't cut up the wall space when they blend in. You may want to consider using mirrors in the room to "open" it up as well that could reflect what you have going on. A well placed set of doorway sized arched mirrors could reflect the fireplace like there is another room which forces the mind to think bigger. I would add wood trim/cove or something at the top of the units and at the opening above the mantel to keep the eye going up to the ceiling in lieu of stopping at the mantel to keep visual height as well.
    • Mary Mary on Mar 15, 2014
      @Moxie Thank you for your suggestions! I like the idea of using mirrors to open up the room. I also like the suggestion of using trim/cove on the top of the units and the ceiling/wall above the mantel to keep the eye going up. BTW, I do have a great hubby! He really liked that you acknowledged his handiwork!
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on Mar 15, 2014
    I would personally make them the same color as the wall (either using paint or translucent stain) so that the lovely fireplace pops and the cabinets are not competing with the fireplace - your focal point.
    • Mary Mary on Mar 15, 2014
      @White Oak Studio Designs I am not familiar with translucent stain but will definitely check it out. That may be just the look I want. I agree with you that the fireplace is the focal point. Thank you SO much for responding. This is my first post and I am amazed at the number of responses I received!
  • Margie*Lee Margie*Lee on Mar 15, 2014
    stain! We have a similar fireplace in our family room that was once painted and the former owners of our house removed the paint. I can tell it was a difficult job but am glad they did it because we like it natural. If you decide to paint it and end up wishing you hadn''re stuck.
  • Dee Dee on Mar 15, 2014
    First i love the fireplace glad to see white and not black in between the rock.I also see white base board.I would first ask is this a cabin in the woods? what the rest of the rooms leading into this room look like? Do you want to light or cozy?What is this room used for? Lots of ?s here sorry for that. I say white will make it bright and use color to give the feel you are looking for, don,t forget to use color on the chairs with pillows or throws. Hope this helps.
    • Mary Mary on Mar 15, 2014
      @Dee Thank you for responding! To answer your questions: The house is a rancher in the woods. This room used to be a living room - you know the old 60's rancher with the front door that opens right into the living room. I flipped the room to use it as a dining room and put the living room furniture in the "great room" area that adjoins the dining room. My wish for the room is for my hubby and I to use the fireplace more while keeping it as a dining room for occasional entertaining. I want the room to be cozy but light. Can I have both? Here are a couple more pictures. Trying to post panoramic-don't know if it will view ok.
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  • Dee Dee on Mar 15, 2014
    Also the window treatment . i would use a lighter color for the top and then pull that color into the rest of the room. Would love to be sitting in this room love the fireplace. Good luck Mary and do keep us posted.
    • Mary Mary on Mar 15, 2014
      @Dee Yes, different window treatment needed. Especially like the idea of using lighter color at the top and using the color again in the rest of the room.
  • Bonnie Lewenza Bonnie Lewenza on Mar 15, 2014
  • Mary Mary on Mar 15, 2014
    @Carolyn Faye Blizzard Lanier @Debbie Swanson @Sharron @Joyce Battle @Juanell Hollingsworth @Donna Byram @Margie*Lee @Bonnie Lewenza Wow! What a great response to my very first post! Thank you so much for your comments! I appreciate your input and will certainly keep your suggestions in mind.
  • Dee Dee on Mar 15, 2014
    Mary i think you can do both.And love love love your home. Your home is cozy so i think you can pull this off. It gets alot of light i see. Honey you can paint or stain if you stain i would change the baseboards to match,if you paint it will make the fireplace pop. Try some white paper and put it on the cardboard( then post) and then you can go from there.Please let us know what you will do.
  • Dee Dee on Mar 15, 2014
    Mary or you can paint and leave the tops of the lower cabinets a wood to match the fireplace
  • Reposhture Studio - Kim Reposhture Studio - Kim on Mar 15, 2014
    I would actually only build the built-ins up to the level of the mantel and change the mantel to go across everything from wall to wall. I think that might be more unifying and not overwhelm the space. I would also paint the shelves and stain the mantle. This way you have your built-ins but you also have an open area above that will give you some cool display area and maybe even give you the ability to add sconces over each set of built-ins and add light to the area. Just a thought.
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  • Jean M Jean M on Mar 16, 2014
    Looking at your furniture style and the shading of light in the room, I think I would paint, but one shade lighter or darker than the actual wall color. This would give depth to the bookcases, without a stark contrast
    • Pat Pat on Oct 24, 2014
      @Jean M I agree. Painted, and inset, rather than overlay, doors...
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on Mar 16, 2014
    My husband mixes paint at Menard's. He said look at Miniwax or Verathane brands for translucent stains. They mix them custom for you. My rule of thumb is to take a large sheet of water color paper, paint it in the paint/stain desired and then out that up on the wall for a couple of week to see if the color is really what you want. In your case, you can purchase a 1/2 pint to test, paint a board and lay it up against your wall and fireplace to see if you like the match. My neighbor painted her deck in a translucent gray stain that looks wonderful with her gray siding with white trim.
  • Julie Julie on Mar 16, 2014
    I think I would leave the upper cabinets open shelving (perhaps mirror behind) so that the room doesn't become to heavy. Also, I would remove the window cornice unless you feel you need it as additional insulation since it appears you have cold winders.
  • Sharon Currie Sharon Currie on Mar 16, 2014
    I like what Kim @reposture stated. I would be nice to see a shelf style there. I like the natural stone.
  • Dee Dee on Apr 13, 2014
    Mary what did you end up doing in this room. So waiting to see it.
    • Mary Mary on Apr 22, 2014
      Dee, it has taken me a long time to decide but I am leaning towards paint - the trim color. Cabinetmaker is coming in a couple of weeks to hammer out details. Getting excited!!
  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Apr 13, 2014
    Stain! Ours have been up since 1984 and are still in perfect condition. Painted ones have to be repainted too often and that is a big job. Also, close them. Shelves look great in decorator magazines, but families clutter and your room is too small to add clutter! Maybe leave one shelf open on each side. Here is a photo of mine. This drives me crazy and my room is 13 x 23!!!
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    • Donna Byram Donna Byram on Apr 23, 2014
      @Jeanette S I think one thing that would help your bookshelves is to arrange them by size and by color. Also you could stack some of them horizontally to add interest. You might be able to display a piece of pottery or something else on the stacks. Do you have room to put a few in the lower cabinets, so you can add vases or some type of decor? adding a picture for an example.
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  • Dee Dee on Apr 22, 2014
    Well i bet you are.I,m excited for you. I can,t wait to see it.Please stay in touch .I,m sure it will look great,you already have a great start on it.
  • Will Luthi Will Luthi on Jun 19, 2014
    I love this and seems to me like everyone is here to help. I personally would like to see a larger mirror atop the fireplace. Something like a bedroom style turned sideways. I think this will be a marvelous room to share with your family.
  • Mary Mary on Jun 24, 2014
    Thank you, Will Luthi, for your idea about the mirror. I agree with you and plan to use a much larger mirror over the fireplace. I decided on painted cabinetry and am awaiting the final drawings/proposal.
  • J J on Jan 23, 2016
    Would love to see finished ??!! :)))
  • Holly Lengner - Lost Mom Holly Lengner - Lost Mom on Feb 11, 2022

    I think it would look great being painted white.