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Fireplace Facelift: Remodel Your Fireplace in Natural Stone
By Jennifer Nelson
Looking to update your old brick fireplace? Who isn’t? While brick fireplaces were once a desired feature, many have been deemed outdated by age, coats of paint, or a more modern interior style. Remodeling your old fireplace with natural thin stone veneers (stones sawn typically to between 1 ½” down to ¾ of an inch) or full bodied natural stones provides an updated, modern look and adds natural beauty to your space while also creating an excellent return on investment (ROI) for your home.
“Fireplaces and hearths are usually constructed with brick,” says Charlie Frattini, contractor, construction expert, and host of FYI’s Hero House, which premiered Veterans Day 2016. He notes that when these brick fireplaces have been painted, chipped, or cracked, they can become unsightly and become less of a design focal point than was initially intended.
After painting over their brick for decades, homeowners have now made fireplace facelifts a popular remodeling trend. “Using stone to return a fireplace to its intended glory is an affordable way to accomplish this,” says Frattini. Keith Frederick, a brick and stone masonry specialist and founder of Frederick Construction of Tampa Bay, tells me he’s recently re-faced seven fireplaces.
Before You Get Started
No matter where your fireplace is located, nothing warms your home’s cockles more than a crackling fire burning in a beautifully designed focal point fireplace. Here are a few things you should know before re-facing it with stone.
- Keep an eye on your firebox. “The most important thing is the firebox itself. The opening is critical and to make it look right, you have to know what you’re doing because whatever stone you pick out, it’s going to close that opening down a little bit,” says Frederick. Some stones are thicker than others and how you lay them can vary from stone to stone. Check that your stone choice won’t impede the firebox opening.
- Don’t cut out floor space. “One of the biggest mistakes we see during a stone fireplace remodel is a new fireplace that juts out into the room and causes the room to lose floor space. Not only is this bad from an ROI standpoint, it will also make your fireplace stand out far too much in the room,” says Sacha Ferrandi, founder of Source Capital Funding, a real estate financier who works with clients on their stone fireplace improvements. “The best remodels either reduce the size of the fireplace or move the stone chimney outside of the wall, effectively creating more floor space. A fireplace should be a beautiful addition to a room, but not the centerpiece.”
- Ensure there is room for hanging fireplace tools. “Even contractors forget to include a space for fireplace tools to live,” says Ferrandi. Having the tools around the outside of the fireplace can clutter your room, so be sure to create a space for tools.
- Consider the style of your room and mantel. Finished, smooth, uniform stacked stone matches more appropriately with a finished, uniform or ornate mantel. If you go for rough stone of varying sizes like fieldstone, it coordinates better with barn beam mantels or simplistic mantelpieces.
Frederick says the best way to pick your stone is to see it at the stone yard. He sometimes takes clients to a quarry in Tennessee to show them all stone options being quarried since yards often only have a small selection on hand.
As for the hearth, which is the most utilized aspect of the fireplace—people set things on it, kids play on it, you can even sit on it– Frederick recommends a one piece hearth stone for wood burning fireplaces. By code, it has to be sixteen inches in front of the fire, and he typically goes with 20. “Adding a flagstone or fieldstone hearth would provide a unique and interesting look that would finish the transformation of your ugly fireplace into a showpiece for your home,” says Frattini.
Budgeting your Facelift
Natural stone and stone veneers are priced by the square foot and vary by type, region, size and color. Labor prices can also be all over the map depending on the experience of your stone contractor.
Sealing off the room, prep work or demolition, and clean up can all effect the cost of a project. Some stones are easy to lay, while others may take more time and effort. These are all considerations in pricing.
He recommends interviewing several stone or masonry contractors. See their previous fireplace or outdoor oven projects, talk with them honestly about design, layout, the look you want to achieve, stone choice, and the intrusion and mess the project entails. Pull pictures of your favorites.
While a fireplace reface could be done as a DIY project, Frederick notes that there is an artistry involved in re-facing a fireplace with natural stone. It’s like a stone puzzle that has to go up piece by piece and look stunning.