What to do with a decorative fireplace?

My current home has two decorative fireplaces. My previous home had four. Older homes, especially in Pittsburgh, have fireplaces that serve no purpose other than adding a bit of character to a room. I must say the mantles of the fireplaces are great for setting things on that we want to keep out of the reach of our two year old, but a fake fireplace is definite overkill. 

The fireplaces in our current home are totally blocked off so we can’t use them for storage. I was thinking of using a fireplace in our previous home as storage, but I really couldn’t justify it because we had decent-size closets. So, I considered doing something less practical and more aesthetic. I thought of placing dozens of logs into the fireplace. I liked that idea, but we were planning on moving at that point, so I never did it. Does anyone have any unique ideas that you have tried with your decorative fireplace? Any experience taking them out? I have no idea if getting rid of a fake fireplace changes the value of a home, so it might not be a good idea to get rid of them. Any lessons learned? Share them in the comments.

(image via Beach Studios)

68 Comments for “What to do with a decorative fireplace?”

  1. posted by Shanna Swendson on

    My fireplace is functional, but since I live in a warm climate, it’s usually overkill, so I put candles in mine. You can either create your own cluster arrangement or get a special fireplace candle rack. Light the candles and you get the visual effect of a fire with the warm glow and flickering light, but without the mess of ashes.

    I guess that’s not necessarily an “uncluttered” idea, but it does keep the fireplace from being just a hole in the wall, and it creates a relaxing atmosphere.

  2. posted by falnfenix on

    we’re actually buying a pellet stove to place in front of our nonfunctioning fireplace (1900 Victorian house) – it used to have a small stove there, once upon a time ago, so we’re just bringing it back to its original use.

  3. posted by Angela on

    Like Shanna, my fireplace is functional, but we only use it when absolutely necessary since I am allergic to most tree pollen, can’t see ruining a good fire with an allergy attack. So I keep candles in ours as well. I’ve seen others decorated with monochromatic vases or with mirrors. I’ve not heard of any of my friends who have used them for storage like the picture with the books, but that would be a good idea. Best use for a working fireplace…if you live in a cold climate that gets a lot of snow…get a hibachi grill and you can continue to “cook out” in the winter. My college roommate’s dad does this in the winter and I thought it was genius – he gets to have his steaks or burgers and doesn’t have to stand out in the cold mountain night!

    Again – not an uncluttered idea but it’s better than the area being a black hole in the wall.

  4. posted by ecomod on

    If you really wanted to take it another way, how about a fish tank?

  5. posted by A. on

    We have a “working” fireplace in our home, but choose not to use it because the energy-efficient furnace seems a lot more affordable to operate. Instead of its original purpose, we use the fireplace to house our stereo & speakers. We put a “chimney pillow” above it to prevent any leaks, etc. from dripping onto the system, then placed a fireplace screen in front. You can’t see the stereo but you can hear it (and use a remote) with no problem. The only hint that it’s there is the brown extension cord snaking out of the corner (partially hidden by a chair, though).

    The strange looks we get from folks wondering where in the world the music is coming from are worth the hassle of arranging it all.

  6. posted by Gumnos on

    While it’s only a fraction of the year, each year instead of putting up a Christmas tree, we decorate a different article of furniture or architecture. We’ve done lamps, chairs, tables, the kitchen hutch, bookshelves, etc.

    One year while we lived in an apartment that had a faux-fireplace (or at least one with too many birds nesting in the chimney to try a fire), we used it as our Christmas tree. We decorated it with Christmas lights, hung ornaments on the wire-mesh screen, and put packages on the hearth in front of it.

  7. posted by young c-m on

    I like the ideas of candles in the fireplace as well.

  8. posted by se7en on

    Oh… please respond to this. We moved into a house with a fake fireplace – 8 years ago. And I have still done nothing with it… we have a heap of kids so candles won’t do… but I seriously need help with this!

  9. posted by Nimic @ The Green Routine on

    My Grandfather used to have a fake fireplace, and he had a fake stack of logs in it, and they make fake crackling noises and a fiery glow. It was pretty cool, but probably a waste of electricity.

    Candles are a good second choice.

  10. posted by Katie Alender on

    I think the fish tank suggestion is brilliant!

  11. posted by JenK on

    Besides candles, I’ve also seen decorative fans in front of fireplaces, or flowers (or fake flowers) inside the fireplace.

  12. posted by Marta on

    In the September issue of Cookie Magazine on page 37 there is a cute re-purposed fireplace. It has a bookcase inside and a curtain to close it up. It is a great space for kids to use their imagination.

  13. posted by sm on

    I put some shelves up and use mine as a bookshelf. My books are organized by color and they pick up the colors in the painting above the fireplace. I get a lot of compliments on it, actually. Those porcelain fake logs are also really cool.http://www.apartmenttherapy.co.....ire-030687

  14. posted by Cgillis on

    We have a fireplace that we placed a metal candle stand inside and put candles on it. The stand holds about 8-10 candles. Then I put rocks, shells, old glass bottles underneath and around the stand. Looks great and that many candles can give off alot of heat.

  15. posted by Rue on

    Glad to see this post. I have a functional fireplace, but considering in the past there were chimney fires in my apartment complex, the fact that I don’t know HOW to make a fire, etc…I don’t use it. I forgot about the candles idea – my grandmother has done this and it looks gorgeous. 🙂

  16. posted by WeaverRose on

    My sister-in-law has a large silk flower arrangement in her fireplace. It’s very pretty.

  17. posted by theclevermom on

    Our chimney is blocked, so it’ just decorative, but in our fireplace I have a stack of vintage leather and mid-20thC hardcase suitcases. I store a portion of my wool stash in them.

    I also love the idea of a big bushy fern in front.

  18. posted by Peter (a different one) on

    You may want to contact a real estate broker/agent and see if removing it would change your houses value. If removing it wouldn’t have a negative effect, you may be happier with the additional wall space.

  19. posted by KC on

    Convert to hold wine glasses, wine rack and/or a bar. Works great!

  20. posted by infmom on

    Our house has a huge fake fireplace in the living room. I toyed with various ideas for decorating it over the years, because it’s pretty blah on its own. First I made a miniature folding screen for it out of foam-core board, flexible fabric tape and decorative fabric. When I got bored with that, I bought a humongous Asian fan at Cost Plus Imports and made a wire bracket to set that in, so that the fan spread its wings across the whole opening to the fireplace. I have also put a variety of candles and candle holders on top of a wooden wine crate that fit neatly in the opening.

    Eventually I got tired of trying to find new things for the fireplace and ever more bored with what was there, so now it contains a 20-gallon fish tank on a wooden platform. We have three large goldfish and one Plecostomus and they provide an ever changing view.

  21. posted by martha in mobile on

    Our fireplace was the coolest spot in the house (in the semi-tropical Deep South), so we raised mushrooms in an old fish tank. Not for everyone, I suppose.

  22. posted by Joanne in Canada on

    At the Manorhaus in Ruthin, Wales (www.manorhaus.com) the unused fireplace in the bar area contains a huge heap of wine corks. To me it makes an amusing and attractive statement – we know it’s not a working fireplace, but it lives on as a display case of wood-type disposable objects which really are too pretty to throw out.

  23. posted by Celeste on

    We have a gas fireplace in our new condo and we just don’t care for it. It seems a waste of money, more so than burning logs. DH says he is going to get plywood to fit and attach magnets on the back to close it off with wood painted the same color as the mantel and frame, to create some serene white space. However I’m leaning towards a painted canvas to fill the space, sort of an infusion of art in a space that would otherwise be a hole. Since we have cats and a small child, this is also another way to deal with keeping them out of the inevitable dust that would accumulate.

    But I would not do away with the fireplace(s), because it could be a selling point later and would cost money to get rid of in the short run.

  24. posted by Beverly on

    I personally would have “decorative” fireplaces removed. They’re dust catchers no matter what you put in them (logs, candles, flowers, etc.). Also, most people tend to put way too much stuff on mantles and it’s just another place to dust.

  25. posted by Anne on

    decorative fireplaces are a wall space stealer (my opinion) I would close up the hole and if there wasn’t a pedestal, move my couch right in front of it.
    I love the idea of putting shelves in it and either curtain or doors over it for storage…a bin of kids toys that can be quickly picked up by kids!

    We have a wood stove with pipe in a corner on beautiful old brick pedestal. It is very functional, and will be used in the wet winters of Nor Cal. I have live plants all around it during the summer …but it becomes the focus of the room in the winter. Plants moved to another part of the room and cozy room settings.

  26. posted by JefferyK on

    You could block the hole with a framed painting. Maybe something from a thrift store.

  27. posted by Lori on

    Removing a fireplace, working or not, from an older home takes away value. If you eally hate it enough to justify losing the resale value, go ahead, but recognize that many, many people consider a fireplace to be a feature, not a bug.

    Candle arrays and big ferns are typical uses for the space, but personally I would consider a beautiful decorative ironwork screen to punch up the focal point aspect with something closer to my taste. I think the books in the photo look very cluttered, but more neatly placed on a nice shelf that fits in the space, they might be a good solution.

  28. posted by Shana on

    Hang up grow lights and put in some sand with some small succulant plants. Add a couple of rocks to landscape, and you have an easy indoor garden when it is dreary outside.

    The fish tank idea works well also, although ours had frogs instead of fish.

    In our current place we put the tv in front of it, and use the mantle to hold a little indoor fountain and pottery pieces.

  29. posted by Alex on

    Our fireplace has been closed ever since we moved into our apartment. They actually put like a wall in there, so it’s only a few centimeters deep. My idea was to put a nice flatscreen TV in there, but since we a small kid now, it’s probably not a good idea…

  30. posted by becoming minimalist on

    at christmas time, you could stuff a santa costume and hang the two legs into view as if he is descending, ascending, or stuck. it’s not very minimalist, but it would be a good conversation piece.

  31. posted by Michael on

    Avoid using real wood logs. You don’t want to store those inside as they bring, and attract, creepy crawlers and whatnot. We learned this lesson the hard way.

  32. posted by tropical_island on

    To avoid depleting the ocean’s resources please purchase replica shells and artificial coral.



  33. posted by h on

    Neat ideas! I have a real fireplace in the living room but I have not used it since I moved in. (2.5 years) I have been thinking of putting candles in there.

  34. posted by Mer on

    Electric logs are fun and can help warm up the room if it is drafty in the winter.

    Other than that, I like the idea of a nice decorative screen in front.

  35. posted by Jessica on

    Whoah! You people who are so anti-fake fireplace are weird. Working and non-working fireplaces go a long a way toward giving your older home the character people who are considering an older home in the first place, look for. They also provide an aesthetically pleasing, non-electronic focal point for a room and the mantle is the perfect place to put the few sentimental things you hang on to. Get rid of it at your peril.

    I’m seriously shocked that so many people dislike them but I guess that explains all the boring white box condos they never stop building.

  36. posted by Lisa on

    I bought a full cart of cheap IKEA white unscented candles in every imaginable size. It’s gorgeous when they’re all lit. (also, I lose my electricity a lot, so sometimes it’s quite convenient)

  37. posted by anita on

    I stored my son’s bottles of finger paint in our functional but unused fireplace. The paint colors mimic flame colors. Though my son is now 22, the paints are still in the fireplace as I like the whimsy and colors.

  38. posted by larochelle on

    I have two non-working gas fireplaces (that cannot be re-activated) in my 1400 square foot 1899 San Francisco Victorian that I’ve lived in since 1992. Over the years, I’ve done many of the decorative things mentioned above but now I’m so sick of them and want the space. I’ve finally committed to genuinely re-purposing them.

    The fireplace in the parlor currently has our flat screen tv in front of it which is not visually appealing. What we’d like to do is convert the fireplace & chimney into a TV/Media Center. We’re going to remove the mantle and “chimney”, open up into the 2′ x 5′ space, build storage on the bottom half of the area, hang our flat-screen tv above the storage and re-use the mantel & matching material so the space will still be the “focal” point of the room and still have Victorian flurishes. The biggest pain of this was finding a cabinet maker qualified and visionary enough to do a good job.

    For the one in the dining room, we’re still debating wether to convert it to “buffet” storage or just take it out completely for the extra aquare footage. We’ve decided to see how the first project goes before we make a decision.

    Since my place is in San Francisco, I don’t have to worry about “taking away from the value”, not that I see myself moving until retirement anyway. I’ve got plenty of other Victorian “detail” and “character” so my main concern is that I end up with something tasteful, useful and in keeping with the rest of the room(s).

  39. posted by Sarah on

    Woodwick brand candles would be great. They make a crackling sound as they burn

  40. posted by Jane on

    I have a really ugly functional fireplace. And I live in a very warm climate – it makes sense to have a fire 2/3 days a year. So I removed the mantle shelf, ordered a sofa the right width and height to cover the space and, voila, extra seating without sacrificing spaciousness. And the shelf can be easily re-hung when/if it’s time to sell.

  41. posted by LJ on

    We have two fire places in our house, neither of which we use. The older one I’ve put silk flowers in, and I change those periodically with the seasons. I’m not much of a fake-flower person, but these work well in that space (and it keeps the kids out of there).

    The second fireplace is weird. It is in an addition to the house built in the 80’s and it’s about 3′ wide and 4′ high (from the floor) and 3 1/2′ deep. It had a cast-iron stove in there when we bought the house, but we live in the south and we removed it when the kids were little because it was a hazard. So, we had this giant gaping hole in our TV room (we still can’t figure out why it was so deep). Anyway, we put the TV in the hole — my husband built an insert to fit in the hole for the TV, stereo equipment, and most of the DVDs (in very deep drawers). Eventually it will have doors…but one thing at a time. It does mean that we can’t exceed a 36″ TV, but that’s fine for us. The whole set up works really well for us, although I’d be shocked if anyone else has a fireplace with the same bizarre dimensions.

  42. posted by Deb on

    If you cannot do anything with the fireplace, and want the wall back, try placing a room divider type screen in front of it and there you now have the “wall” to place furniture against.

    Or, you could hang curtains as if it was a window and keep them closed as you place your tables, sofas, etc near. A fabric panel could be suspended from the ceiling and a large canvas can attach to it.

    I am looking forward to seeing what people decide to do with their fireplaces.

  43. posted by Jessica on

    As a couple of people posted above, my roomate and I also keep our tv inside the opening of our (now) non-functional fireplace. It’s a small, old, deep tv and it fits perfectly! We have the dvd player on top and stack dvds to the sides.
    It works great and we actually get a few compliments when people notice!

  44. posted by gypsypacker on

    Put CD shelves in the fireplace opening and use a big brass fan screen in front, hang shutters, or make your own folding screen?

  45. posted by Suzanne on

    We had an ugly fake fireplace (in a 1922 bungalow, not a white condo box) – we ripped it out (not too hard) and the niche that was left was the perfect size for 3 tall bookcases. To us, real books beat fake logs any day.

  46. posted by Andrew Twigg on

    Matt, just though I should throw out to you that many PIttsburgh homes have fireplaces that _did_ serve a real purpose at one point in time. Most of the homes are over 100 years old, and the fireplaces were replaced with gas or coal furnaces years ago. But the vast majority were at one time actually a source of heat, which is why you’ll find fireplaces in many rooms in these houses. The house I currently live in has a fireplace in 4 of the 6 original rooms in the house.

    We think that in order to reduce clutter, leaving the fireplace empty is the best way to go. Since all of our fireplaces don’t even have an inset area because of how they’ve been closed up, we leave that area empty and use the mantel as a decorative feature.

    Odds are good that if you want to remove what is now a non-functioning fireplace, that unless the furnace in your home was installed in the late 90’s, the chimney behind your fireplace actually vents furnace exhaust. In some homes it may be a structural support.

  47. posted by Karyn on

    We had a fake mantel in our old house, and below, where a fireplace would have been, the previous owners had put white bathroom tile on the hearth and the inside of the “fireplace”. It looked like a urinal.

    My husband got an electric fireplace and bricked it in there with red bricks. When we chipped up the white tile on the floor we found the original red-brick hearth. It looks wonderful now–the electric fireplace gives off heat and the effect of a fire (can also be used with the heat off, for ambience). With no worries about logs or sparks (for kids), or gas leaks (as with a gas fireplace) it was the perfect solution.

  48. posted by LaVidaMD on

    My parents have several “flameless candles.” I think they look pretty good. The batteries last an amazingly long time, too. Flameless candles would be a good alternative if you have kids or a dog and can’t have real candles close to the ground.


  49. posted by WineWench on

    In my last home, we had a fireplace in our family room that had a built-in wood box beside it. We converted the fireplace to gas logs and decided the wood box would make a great wine storage area! We actually found stackable wine storage racks that fit the space, but you could probably easily build something custom to fit the opening of your fireplace.

  50. posted by Alfreda Prufrock on

    Ours is a defunct non-vented hearth that once accommodated a gas room heater. We live in a 100 year-old arts and crafts bungalow, with dark wainscotting around the room. The tiles are also dark. The house is the sort where you walk into the middle of the living room. Rather than have the couch face the fireplace, we blocked the fireplace with the couch. It works great. The mantel is overhead with decorative stuff, and we have a painting hanging over the mantel.

  51. posted by Ranger Smith on

    If it’s not functional, then remove it. I think that’s the best way to unclutter.

  52. posted by mb on

    I have a fireplace that is functional but never used. I got piece of sheet metal from home depot, put some foam door insulation around the edges, put up the piece with the foam side against the brick and put a dvd bookshelf in front of it. Without being blocked, the chimney would suck all the heat out of the room in the winter.

  53. posted by tabatha on

    i think you should have someone paint it so that it looks like some kind of weird tunnel that is going somewhere…

  54. posted by Helen on

    I used to keep dried flowers in a huge display in front of our empty, unused fireplace. As my husband would give me more flowers, I would add them to the arrangement and it would just continue to dry and grow. Now however, I want to use the hearth to put a big flat screen HD TV when we get one. It’ll be perfect!

  55. posted by Leslie on

    I keep books in mine and people love it when they finally notice it, probably because we have so many books elsewhere that it’s clear we are out-of-control book collectors who just overflowed into every space. My mother used to grow a big aspidistra (its dark glossy leaves were more dressed-up-looking than a fern) spilling out of hers. It didn’t need a grow-lite. My grandmother’s fireplace had a plywood cover and she let me paint a still-life on it when I was in high school. It was really bad, so I could tell how much she loved me!

  56. posted by Faye W on

    I was thinking of actually making a tv fireplace. Get a fireplace casing from Lowes or Home Depot and put a flat screen in so I can actually hook up a DVD that plays a fireplace burning. Would the tv get too hot inside the casing you think? The back is always open on the casings though. What is some thoughts on my idea.

  57. posted by Scott on

    My TV goes in there.

  58. posted by Julie on

    If you’ve got a big enough space, then here’s an idea: Paint the whole space white, add a mirror to almost cover the back wall (a cheap old tatty one, with or without a frame from a junk shop would be fine). Paint an old ‘basket grate’ or just an ordinary one white and fill it with large candles of different sizes in your favorite colors, various pastels or just plain white. Then you could swirl some fairy lights round the base of this with a few gorgeous silk or fake flowers stuck into them here & there to pretty it up even more. The mirror could be substituted for an old wrought iron gate painted white (with or without the mirror behind it. Some decorative odd, mismatched ceramic tiles could be used instead of the grate & for a bit of over the top decadence, you could even hang a fake crystal chandelier in there! This may or may not be to your taste, but it sure beats dumping your TV in there!

  59. posted by Jessica on

    My old box-shaped TV fit perfectly inside my fireplace. I think the fireplace works, but we don’t use it.

    People were pleasantly surprised to see a TV in there!

    Eventually, I hope to get a flat-screen TV and stand it on the hearth in front of the hole of the fireplace. The Fireplace is in the exact center of the room and the focal point for all three of my couches. Without putting the TV there, I would have had to put the TV in the corner and it would be hard for anyone to watch it. It works out great!

    Although if I owned my house and had unlimited money, I would want to rip it out and build built-ins for the TV, DVDs and bookshelves to take up the entire wall.

  60. posted by Meghan on

    If you live in an older home, and if the fireplace is architecturally attractive, DO NOT take it out. That’s something that when you try to sell the house or people come over, they say ‘why did you get rid of your fireplace? are you nuts?’ I have lived uptown New Orleans most of my life and always have fireplaces in my apartments that just can’t be used because they are so old. Almost every single one has been filled in, so dust does not come in, but you have a beautiful mantlepiece to put a flat screen tv or mirror over. You can even get creative and put your TV in the old fireplace or stereo etc… Then, around Christmas, buy one of those ‘hearth’ DVDs that plays christmas music as well. It’s quite enjoyable.

  61. posted by Joan from Pittsburgh on

    The fireplaces in old homes in Pittsburgh, where I live, are the charming, warm focal point of each room. They are not fake, but rather simply no longer functioning. The mantle holds a few beautiful objects, and the wall just above displays a favorite painting or print. Fireplaces are timeless classics; TVs are ever-changing pieces of equipment. Don’t ruin your beautiful fireplace with any permanent change. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but you just don’t know any better! 😉

  62. posted by Teresa from Charleston,S.C. on

    Here’s a real head scratcher.We have a great room with a extended wall 2’deep by 6’wide,floor to ceiling length that contained a fireplace.It was removed with the complete surround and mantel.Now I have a 52″wide by 47″ high hole.And wall to ceiling.It’s to deep for shelves and to expensive for us to replace.It’s a real eye sore to me.The inside is 20″ deep.Any ideas?It’s driving me nuts.

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  64. posted by sharon sloan on

    i’ve got an ugly hole in the wall where my fireplace one sat. I have placed a few logs and a big coo coo clock there and it looks great everyone admires it especially when its time for the coo coo to pop out!! so fun!!!!

  65. posted by N Fradkin on

    My husband is just completing a “humongous” hearth-to-ceiling media center that completely blocks/encloses the whole ugly fireplace that we never used. It has room for a 60″ LCD TV on a shelf built on the hearth, and adjustable shelves above the mantel for all the other equipment. He used maple particle board and wood trim for decoration plus he’s considering building doors to cover the TV and equipment when we don’t want them visible. It will resemble a giant wardrobe, but for electonics. It’s a gorgeous piece of custom furniture designed and built by a non-professional woodworker

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