How To Prep, Prime, And Paint A Brick Fireplace

We’re back with the fireplace update that we mentioned in yesterday’s post about removing our old not-baby-safe wood stove.

This next step is definitely just the beginning of our fireplace makeover (as in step two of probably fifteen). We figure we’ll tackle this baby in stages (just like we do pretty much everything else around here) so the first step was to spend as little as possible to get it looking better for the short-term (since it might be a while until Phase Two kicks in). So here’s what it looked like yesterday morning:

And here’s what it looked like yesterday evening:

I know, I know – the orange paneling makes it look craZy with a capital Z. But just scroll down a bit to the dark den from our first house (which also had paneling and brick) to see just how transformative paint can be (we didn’t remove the paneling in there, just primed and painted it). So try to envision some fresh paint in a soft color on the paneled walls with glossy white beams and trim to match the same semi-gloss paint on the fireplace. Can you see it?

And now for a word about the candles and the mirror that I tossed into the firebox. Those are definitely not Clara-friendly. That was just mommy psychosis (I wanted something cute in there for the pics, even if there won’t be a thing in there for a while during Clara’s waking hours). It was such a quick little addition that it gave me some baby’s-in-bed-let’s-have-date-night ideas (you know as opposed to baby’s-in-bed-let’s-upload-fireplace-photos-and-write-the-post-for-the-morning ideas). The latter won out, so maybe I’ll break out this look for anniversaries. Me-ow.

But when it comes to the day to day stuff, l fully expect to find pillows, stuffed animals, books, and whatever else Clara decides to put in there awaiting me when I walk into the kitchen. The girl loves hiding stuff around the house, so I’m guessing that she’ll appreciate this new little nook. Maybe we’ll even be able to sneak a picture of her chilling in her not-hot-and-not-sharp-anymore zone reading a book or snuggling with Gee (her stuffed giraffe that she named herself).

The best thing about this little fireplace facelift is that it took us about five hours (on and off with drying time in between coats) and it only cost eight dollars (and three cents, to be exact). We just used primer that we had leftover from painting the guest room (Olympic Premium No-VOC primer), some white semi-gloss paint that we always have around for trim touch ups (Olympic Premium No-VOC paint) and a quart of Benjamin Moore’s Temptation in satin that we picked up from Lowe’s (color matched to, you guessed it, Olympic Premium No-VOC paint). Primer isn’t always necessary (we’ve gone without it while painting brick before) but we had it on hand so we figured we might as well use it.

You guys know we’re no strangers to painting brick fireplaces since we tackled not one but two in our first house. Remember this guy who went from this…

… to this:

And this one that went from this…

… to this:

You can check out our original fireplace-painting tutorial here, but since we’re nothing if not even chattier these days, we thought we’d recap the steps we took when it came to prepping our current fireplace for paint. First we:

  • Closed the damper and declared the fireplace inoperable (we never used the woodburning fireplace in our last house and plan to either install a double-sided gas or electric insert down the road).
  • Scrubbed the heck out of the firebox, exterior brick, mantel, and hearth with soap and water to cut the grease/ash (we used Dr. Bronners + water).
  • Let everything dry.

Then it was time to prime and paint. Here’s what we did:

  • Primed the firebox with Olympic Premium No-VOC Primer (remember, we’re not going to use this fireplace for wood burning, so if you’ll be using your fireplace either leave the firebox unpainted or hunt down high-heat options that are meant for the job).

  • Painted the firebox with Ben Moore’s Temptation in satin (color matched to Olympic Premium No-VOC paint).

  • Taped off the wall around the fireplace (since you have to smash a paint brush into craggy brick, it’s hard to stay in the lines).
  • Caulked the big crack between the tile hearth and the firebox so it would look seamless when painted.

  • Caulked other especially cavernous holes in the craggy brick so it looked less shadow-y and chipped when painted.

  • Primed the brick fireplace surround, wood mantel, and even the tiled hearth (yup, the tiled hearth… more on that in a minute).

  • Painted the brick fireplace surround, wood mantel, and tiled hearth with two coats of Olympic Premium No-VOC semi-gloss paint in off-the-shelf white (some folks like more contrast when it comes to mantel and hearth color, but we’ve always loved the all white look – although later when we build out or even tile the fireplace & surround we might add more varied colors and materials for fun).

  • Applied three thin and even coats of Safecoat Acrylacq (a low-VOC non-toxic alternative to polyurethane) to just the tiled hearth on the floor. Be warned that certain polyurethane types will leave a nasty yellow tint so the only two that we trust are the Safecoat I mentioned above and Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Protective Finish in “Clear Gloss.”

You think we’re crazy for painting the tile on the floor huh? Check this out. We did the exact same thing to the exact same heart floor in our first house. See the same little smashed up tile?

The whole prime, paint, and poly technique was meant as a very very temporary solution (we planned to replace the tile pretty soon thereafter). But it stuck. Literally. It still looked mint four and a half years later when we sold the house! Even with foot traffic (in shoes) and small nephews of ours ramming it with metal matchbox cars. Here’s where I’d add a close up shot, but sniffle, we don’t live there anymore. So here’s the last wide shot we took of the room (you can see that it still looks glossy and white):

So although painting ceramic tile, especially tile that gets walked on, is nothing the pros recommend, we’re totally cool with doing it as a temporary fix (although doing it in a bathroom is probably a terrible idea because it can get slick when walked on with sopping wet feet). I should mention that in both cases the tile was terra cotta which is really matte and porous (and not slick and shiny), which might be why it grabbed the paint and held the heck on for such a long time. Who knows, it could inexplicably show a lot more wear and tear than it did in the last house (you know we’ll tell ya if things quickly go south). But either way we’re pretty sure we’ll bring in some awesome new tile for the hearth and maybe the entire fireplace when we get down the road a bit (read: save enough loot to tackle the kitchen in a more major way).

Have you guys painted any brick lately? Or ever primed, painted, and poly’d tile- just to see what would happen? Has your husband ever taken terribly unflattering photos of you painting something to get you back for sharing pics of him scrubbing brick in his high school gym shorts?


  1. Danielle C says

    I’m so happy to see the red stone collage thing on the floor in front of the fireplace painted. For some reason it reminded me of The Flinstones.

  2. Bonnie says

    WOW! What a difference a day makes. Nice work! And you can always put out your candles and pretty mirror when Clara is sleeping ;-)

  3. Kellie says

    Yea! looks awesome… Your link back to your old house made me remember a question for you. I painted my fireplace a while back but the door in front looks exactly like your old one in the living room/dining room in the old house. I see you painted that white as well… how did you do it on that material?? Also, there are some nasty soot stains on the glass.. any advice on how to clean up & make that thing shine?? And lastly, if I have not already asked too many questions, if you paint the inside of the fireplace, will it be okay down teh road for a gas/electric insert?

    • says

      I just used a paint brush and then scraped the paint that got on the glass (and soot stains) carefully with a straight razor. You can also tape off the glass and use high heat spray paint (and then scrape the glass to get off stains and paint afterwards). As for painting the interior and then adding a gas or electric insert, yup that should be all good. We spoke to a chimney guy and he said it could cause some “wear” on the paint due to heat but you won’t see it anyway. So it’s not dangerous, it just might not hold up like high heat paint would, but it’ll be covered. Hope it helps!


    • says

      I’m not sure what you mean. I would just scrape things off to clean them and try to paint things if it’s non-working (ex: if your glass doors have vents you can spray the whole door except for the glass, so the vents would get a coat of fresh paint). Make sure it’s high heat paint if it’s a working fireplace though. Hope it helps!


  4. Christie says

    WOWSERS! It looks amazing! Ahh, the power of paint. Great job! L-O-V-E the mirror and candles in the fireplace idea. Flickering light bouncing off the mirror in the fireplace + romantic anniversary dinner = Little Brother or Sister for Clara. LOL :)

  5. Brandy says

    Love it! Looks wonderful! I also love the look of the wood stored in the fireplace you posted, and showed my husband one like it. We were talking about doing that, and one little word killed it for me ‘SPIDERSSSSSS’ ugh, they would love it, and here in Savannah GA, we got some ugly spiders! So I left it empty for now. Also have a 1 year old girl (Rayne), who every time you turn around gets right up in there and just sits like its her little baby cabin.

  6. says

    Ay yay yay, you guys are so inspiring! My boyfriend and I just moved into our house after settling a month ago and we are trying our hardest to emulate your house fixer upper super powers, but alas, we are falling short! We did tackle painting our fireplace white, which took a lot more coats of primer/paint than I anticipated, but overall I think it makes such a big difference in classy-ing up the room. Feel free to check out our latest progress shots (yay, we are almost entirely wallpaper-less downstairs!) on the ol’ blog:

    We heart you big time.

    Unicorn kisses and puppy dog stares,

  7. Angela says

    Looks great! I just painted my fireplace a stoney grey colour. It looks great and made such a huge difference. It takes a lot of time and patience to get the paint in all the nooks and craneys. Do you use a brush to get the paint right in there or do you have any tricks to make it a little easier?

    I can’t wait to see what you do to the kitchen!

    • says

      We tried a nappy roller but a brush was more efficient so we went that route. Just smashing it into the crags seemed to be the most effective way. Of course we both have sore wrists today.


  8. says

    I cannot believe how great this looks! For such a (relatively) minor upgrade it’s really made a world of difference.
    I’m totally giving you the slow tennis clap over here. Bravo.

    I understand Bart was a baby unfriendly beast, but I do love a good wood burning stove when there’s no babies around. Here’s my mum’s : – you can see the flames through the glass and it makes the warm so cosy and inviting in winter.
    (She’s in the process of cleaning the brick behind the stove, that’s actually from the hundreds of years of open fires that have taken place in the fireplace (the house is 18th century!)

  9. says

    If you decide you want a real fire in their without having to install a real wood-burning insert again, I am a HUGE fan of the gel fire places! I wanted a fireplace but don’t like the idea of the fake flame of an electric fireplace and a gas hook-up wasn’t possible. So without a chimney our only other option for a real flame was a gel burning one. It looks amazing!! We can use 1 to 3 cans at a time of Sun Gel (or any other kind of gel) and it even crackles! It sits behind a ceramic log that looks so real that visitors just assumed it was a real fireplace! I’d be happy to share pics and a link to where we ordered ours if you like :)

    (All this ’cause I wanted a place to hang stockings at X-mas that wasn’t a sham!! LOL)

    • says

      Please share! We have a non-working fireplace and though we’ll get gas at some point I’d love to look into gel for now!

  10. says

    Thank you so much for this! I have a nearly identical fireplace in my living room (including ugly woodstove insert and the broken tile hearth.) I’ve been wanting to fix it up but still be able to have a fire. I love the idea of painting the brick and the hearth, but what happens when you pull out the insert? Does a professional have to come and fix the liner so it can still be used?

    • says

      Yup, if you remove any insert yourself you should consider the fireplace non-functional until you have an expert out to evaluate things for ya! Just to be safe.


  11. says

    That looks great! Are you planning to tackle the paneling soon, too? I know you want to paint it, just wasn’t sure how soon you were planning to tackle that. (Sorry if I missed that part somewhere in today’s or yesterday’s post.)

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