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. says

    Uh, I’m sorry. Did you just say you loved my mantel?! Crazy since you guys are the ones who got me inspired to make my house a place I love to be. Love the new fireplace look! We have some Underdog mantel painting in our future.

  2. Alison says

    We keep a vintage fruit crate in our firebox so the kids to go in and stick their hands up the dirty chimney. It also keeps it from being a gaping black hole. It works and looks good too.

  3. Steph says

    Question for you guys. My husband and I just bought our first house. I am a lawyer and work some pretty long days, and the hubs stays home with our son. We are trying to accomplish our ever-expanding to do list, but it seems that in the almost two months we’ve been in our house, we’ve done very little (painted our bedroom and our son’s room). Any tips for accomplishing things? I try not to compare myself to you guys ‘cuz you’re the experts and you’re also doing this during the day, but sometimes I read your posts and feel like the ultimate slacker. Would love any tips you have. Thanks!

  4. Sophie says

    I’ve never painted a fireplace. Well, yet… Since I’m only just graduating high school so I’m still in my parents house.

    But, today I did undertake my first ‘Oh heck, why not?’ project in my bedroom. I have a small wall on the side of my built in closet that’s only 20 inches wide. The things on there constantly change since posters don’t fit right etc etc.

    And last night I was thinking ‘why don’t I paint rainbow stripes on there’? So I did.

    I was kind of inspired by your stripe painting adventure in your nephew’s nursery, though mine are a regular pattern. After LOTS of taping and three hours, I have 2 inch horizontal stripes across it. I mixed an extra 7 colours from the ones I had, so there are fifteen bright happy stripes and I LOVE them!

    Thanks for the inspiration and the courage, guys! I LOVE the fireplace, can’t wait to see it when the paneling in the kitchen is painted, too. (:

  5. Sarah B says

    The candles are sooo pretty! And now that we are a A.C. (after children) house we are now all about the flameless candles that run on batteries. In fact, I found some that have a timer built in – it’s fabulous! I love that they just magically come on every evening, it’s so nice after putting the kids to bed to get a little candle glow.

    And funny that Clara takes her long nap in the morning – my one and half year old takes about 45min to an hour in the morning and then about an hour and a half in the afternoon. And 7:15 is bedtime too – anything later and she’s rubbing her eyes and clinging to me like mad.

  6. Sharon in NYC says

    BEEEE-U-TEEE-FUL! I have been fixated on how dark that kitchen is compared with all the lovely changes you have made so far in the new place. (Realizing of course that a full-on kitchen renovation is HUGE and SPENDY.) I feel I can now sleep at night knowing a fantastic mood-changing dent has been made in there!!!

  7. says

    So pretty! I enjoyed looking at your photos! You guys are so awesome!

    I really loved looking at how you ‘staged’ or arranged accessories on your three floating shelves by the table because I have struggled with three floating shelves I have. I see that you chose similar colors to work with and a variety of heights and textures- I like it!
    Happy decorating and living-

  8. Emily D. says

    These fireplaces posts are not helping me! I found and fell in love with a house online because of the fireplace. It is so similar to the one in your first home, even with the exposed beams and the paneling. All I can think about is painting and totally transforming the room. But we aren’t planning on moving until next year. Ugh, I want to paint a fireplace(said in my best Veruca Salt accent)!!

    Love the progress by the way, keep ’em coming, I’m a masochist.

  9. lisa says

    Wow, that looks great. So much better now. Wait, I’m confused…you said you wouldn’t have it as a wood burning fireplace? I must’ve missed where you said that. When you open it up to make a fireplace on the other side i guess that will be non functional also, of course? Will you one day maybe make it a gas fireplace? Sorry,you probably answered that already huh? Guess my mind is just blown away from your fireplace, that I can’t think straight. hehee.:)

  10. Emily kidd says

    Ok I’m on the fence about painting. I have a ton of trim paneling and built-INS that are wood. The wood is pretty it’s not dark but I feel like the house would look bigger and cleaner with white. I don’t have Photoshop is there another way I could see how my house looked with white before I take the plunge?

    • says

      Maybe try printing out a photo and using white out or some sort of white marker or pen to get an idea? Or cutting white strips of paper out and holding them over the paneling to try to “see” it that way?


  11. Lili says

    Looks great!

    I’d like to paint our fireplace white. Do you guys always use Olympic paint? I went to Lowes and wanted them to color match a Glidden swatch to Olympic and was told the color was not in the system. Have you ever had that issue??


    ~ L.

    • says

      We bring the swatch so they don’t need anything to be in the system (that way they can just scan it and mix a custom color). Hope it helps!


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