Ask Apartment Apothecary – what to do with an unused fireplace

Problem

A pretty tricky AAA today from the lovely Florence, who blogs over at Flossie Teacakes (you must read her blog and follow her on Instagram – she writes so beautifully and with such extraordinary detail – her words are almost mesmerising, I find). She sent me a picture of one of the rooms in her home, where her family spend the majority of their time. It is a really well proportioned room with high ceilings, lovely pieces like a Lloyd Loom chair, one of Florence’s amazing wallhangings, chapel chairs and a vintage sewing machine. The problem is that they have never been able to figure out what to do with the unused, blocked up fireplace in this room.

Up to this point, Florence has tried painting it, placing photograph albums in it, a beautiful bowl and then a terrarium but none of these solutions looked or felt quite right. Normally, it isn’t too difficult to fill this sort of space; a lovely plant, candles or a large ornament can be really rather beautifully framed by the gap where the fireplace once was.

Inspiration

What to do with an empty fireplace | Ask Apartment Apothecary

Building shelves into an unused fireplace creates great storage and fills an unwelcome gap. Image: decor8

What to do with an empty fireplace | Ask Apartment Apothecary

Filling the fireplace with logs adds natural warmth to a room. Image: decor8

What to do with an empty fireplace | Ask Apartment Apothecary

I think this tiled fireplace is absolutely beautiful – that yellow is amazing. Image: A Perspective of Design

Solution

The problem Florence has is that the two alcoves surrounding the fireplace are filled with books from the bottom up. Therefore, adding something to the fireplace can make that lower half of the room look too heavy and confused – basically, there’s too much going on. Also, the fireplace has no surround, which means it isn’t a natural feature. Have a look for yourselves…

What to do with an empty fireplace | Ask Apartment Apothecary

Florence’s room.

I think the main problem is the books, not the hole in the wall – controversial, I know. The shelves need to be higher, starting above the level of the fireplace as their current position is making everything seem out of balance and bottom heavy. Ideally, in-built cupboards on either side of the fireplace in each alcove would make the bottom half of the wall much plainer and more able to cope with a feature being made of the unused fireplace.  Personally, I would tile the hole and add a beautiful grate, like the picture above. Obviously, you couldn’t use this, but it would make the whole wall look more like a traditional, period home. You could also choose really beautiful tiles that would give a focal point to the room and add some colour. Failing that, and I understand it may feel weird for some to construct a faux fireplace for no other reason than aesthetics (and relatively expensive), I would fill it with logs (I’ve always loved the way that looks even if there’s no working fireplace in sight) or a beautiful plant or large vase of flowers but I think changing the height of the shelves is key. The picture below, is kind of how I envisage the changes (as close as I could find without going to Florence’s house and DIYing it myself!). So, the alcoves here now look more balanced with the cupboards below, shelves above and the hole can be filled without it looking messy or over the top because it is no longer competing with books either side of it. Does that make sense?

What to do with an empty fireplace | Ask Apartment Apothecary

Image: Decoracion

What do you think? What would you fill the hole with taking into consideration the rest of the room?

I really hope this has helped you, Florence!

Katy x

P.S. If you would like to Ask Apartment Apothecary, please do post a question on my Facebook page or email me.

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10 Comments

  1. Florence 23rd February 2015 / 8:49 pm

    Katy, you are truly wonderful! I knew that you’d know the answer. I’ve always instinctively felt that the room has been out of balance somehow, but because, in isolation, I like the shelves and having lots of books around me, I’d ruled the shelves out of the equation as being trouble makers and hadn’t been able to see what was wrong, but I see exactly what you mean about bottom-heaviness.

    Now, the slightly trickier proposition of persuading my husband that rebalancing cupboard building needs to take place! If that fails, do you think a heavier wallpaper or paint colour in the alcoves above the shelves, but below the dado, would have the same visual rebalancing effect or do you think that may look overwhelming in combination with the books?

    I really love the paint colour in the final photo too – it looks deliciously sober and calm against the vase and similarly-coloured eucalyptus leaves in the fireplace.

    Thank you so much, Katy. x

    • Katy 24th February 2015 / 11:49 am

      Hi Florence. I think if you can’t persuade your husband to build cupboards (I find planting the seed and then a constant stream of hints and suggestions for a few weeks helps break them down), then your best bet would be to install more shelves to near the ceiling. I’m not sure a colour or wallpaper is enough to balance out books. Good luck with your persuasion skills! xx

  2. Mary Escott 24th February 2015 / 10:34 am

    Wow, that is a fantastic transformation Katy, not saying that Florence’s room isn’t lovely in the first place. I think you have a fantastic eye – I’m off to take a picture of the one room in my house that I struggle with to see if you can work your magic for me.

    • Katy 24th February 2015 / 11:50 am

      Thank you, Mary! It’s amazing the difference you can make to a room by repositioning certain things. Look forward to your AAA x

  3. Lorna 24th February 2015 / 8:21 pm

    Erm yes to that amazing tiled fireplace! I love it. We have an empty fire place that I’ve been meaning to do something with for ages, it’s quite a bit bigger than Florence’s and sadly renting means we couldn’t tile it but I’ve been thinking of painting the back of it and then making some make shift shelves with bricks and cut down scaffolding planks. This post has encouraged me to get on with it!

    Also I’m not sure if it counts as an AAA because it’s not really decor but I’d love to see a post from you with tips on how to keep a nice home with a dog (or if that’s even possible) x

    • Katy 25th February 2015 / 1:37 pm

      Yes, excellent ideas for your fireplace! As for the AAA for tips on how to keep a nice home with a dog – I pass! I’m suer it’s all about having rules in place where they are not allowed upstairs, on the bed, on the sofa etc. I have failed at all of those, big time! My home is not and never will be the same again 🙁 If I come across a miracle, I will let you know x

      • Lorna 25th February 2015 / 3:24 pm

        Haha – rubbish I was hoping you had a miracle strategy 🙂 We’ve managed to keep the no upstairs/on the bed rule but what’s the point of having a cuddly dog if he’s not allowed on the sofa to cuddle you!

  4. Jennifer 25th April 2015 / 1:20 pm

    Hi, l am pretty sure the first three pictures on this post belong to Yvonne of Yvestown and not decor8.Shouldnt she be credited with them?l have just found your blog and was having a look .

    • Katy 28th April 2015 / 4:29 pm

      Hi Jennifer and welcome to my blog! If you click through to decor8 , you will see that the photos are from a post for Holly’s blog featuring Yvonne’s home. This is where I got the photos so the credit is correct. Thanks for the query.

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