KISSing our family room fireplace

A for-real comment from my 1st grade report card:

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Obviously, I was born the English major I eventually became. An inability to accept an easy, simple answer served me well when it came to detecting and analyzing literary motifs (a HIGHLY useful life skill, I might add ;-)).

It has not, however, served me so well in many other endeavors. Sometimes–many times–the KISS principle works so much better. Such has been the case with our family room fireplace make-over.

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Earlier owners painted the brick a bland beige color, and the unpainted mortar was a dark brown. We’ve never liked it and have always planned to paint over it. When I painted the room early last summer, I fully intended to paint the fireplace soon after, but it never happened.

I’m glad I never got to it, as we decided this summer that the wall color just wasn’t right. After determining that we wanted a mid-tone grey for the walls, we played around with a few different color ideas for the fireplace using Sherwin-William’s online color tool. We considered several options, but finally decided that we wanted to go with a bold orange/red color.

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This choice was cemented for us when we found an old storage cabinet with a bright orange laminate top:

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The palette in our living room is much more subtle and subdued…

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…and we want our family room to have a different feeling from that room. Around the time we were playing around with color ideas, I discovered an online treasure-trove of 70s decor images, and I decided that our family room needs to be infused with some 70′s inspired rec room goodness.

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 Image via superseventies.tumblr.com

Orange was the only possible choice for the fireplace.

But not just some simple orange, no siree.

I knew I couldn’t get back to the original brick after reading many posts about the difficulties of doing so (this one is my favorite), but I got this idea that I could capture the spirit of the original fireplace. With paint.

I did not want to try some sort of faux-brick look through paint (although this post by Pretty Handy Girl did tempt me). While I saw some that looked pretty good in pictures online, I was afraid that anything I might try along those lines would just look cheesy. In a Cheez-Whiz kind of way, not a Tillamook sharp cheddar kind of way.

I wanted something that was obviously paint, but that gave a nod to the fireplace’s origins. I wanted something fun and bold like the 70s. Which is how I found myself with four little tester pots (and 4 adorable little paint trays) of some really bright orange paint back in early July.

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I had this idea that I would randomly paint the bricks in these four colors, creating the kind of color variation you see in unpainted bricks. Kind of like this:

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Luckily, I posted some shots on Facebook:

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Luckily some of our followers (gently) told me: Um, not loving that so much.

I decided the problem was not in the complicated idea, but in the shades of orange (too bright and cartoonish). I got out a whole bunch of orange/red paint chips. We settled on these three:

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So wish I could tell you what brand Uptown Girl is, or what the name of the middle Pantone color is. But I don’t remember and those chips are long gone. Bad, bad blogger am I…

Then I went back to Home Depot and came home with more little pots of orange paint.

I did one corner with the new colors, and then I realized that it was the idea that was all wrong, not the colors. I conceded defeat and then each of the other corners in a solid color so we could choose one color for the whole thing:

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We went with option #2, Pantone’s Marmalade, which we had the Home Depot guy match for us in Behr.

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I so wanted my idea to work. I wanted it to be original and awesome, something no one else had done but that others (preferably thousands of others, since I was dreaming) would go ga-ga over. I wanted to be crazy-bold in a good way, like Mandy of Vintage Revivals so often is. (See her Sharpie wallpaperfor example.)

Or maybe I just instinctively knew how flippin’ boring it was going to be to paint the fireplace all one color. Because it was. Not even Mad Men on Netflix could really redeem the experience for me (though I am now in Season 3, finally, thanks to this fireplace).

Even though the bricks were previously painted, the mortar was not. It just sucked in the paint and required multiple coats. So many little grooves. So mind-numbingly tedious.

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Following the advice of other DIY bloggers, I bought a cheap brush for painting the mortar. It was good advice–the brush was pretty trashed after being smushed into all those rough crevices. Over and over and over and over again.

That shot reminds me that I forgot an even less-fun part:  Cleaning the fireplace.

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Before you can paint, you need to take off the screen and clean. It was messy, dirty work.

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TMI? This is what my feet looked like after cleaning the sooty mess.

When I began cleaning the soot and realized that whoever painted the fireplace before didn’t bother to remove the screen before painting, leaving some of the original brick unpainted, and that the original brick was a lovely, mid-tone orange that we would have LOVED, I tried to be magnanimous and not curse that person.

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It was hard, though, because I was hot and sweaty and my feet were gross and Cane was just sitting on the couch watching me and playing on his computer and snapping the occasional picture.

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OK, maybe he was working on a post about his kitchen table, which I’d asked him to do. Maybe. Still annoying.

Speaking of the fireplace screen, I’ve sorta hated its big old brassiness for some time, too. I really wanted to get a new one in antique bronze (the metal finish of choice back when our house was built), but that was going to cost a pretty penny. More like 30,000 of them.

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I tried to talk Cane into it, using the argument that we’d saved so much doing the floor as we had, but I didn’t try that hard because I didn’t really want to spend that much money, either.

Instead of buying a new screen, we bought a few cans of black spray paint.

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It was pretty easy to remove the doors, tape the remaining glass, and spray away. Used fine steel wool to prep the surface, then gave it a light sanding between each very thin coat of paint. I think it took about 4 coats.

And we put the fireplace all back together and now she looks like this:

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This is not the kind of after photo that I’m just dying to share. There’s more to be done–but, when I do a side-by-side of the before/afters, I’m pretty pleased with our progress:

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We want something to put on that mantel, but we’re feeling a little stumped by that. You can’t just put any old piece of art in front of that orange. We’ve been on the lookout for a cool clock, but right now all we’ve got is the old creepy-faced clock, which has just had its second make-over–another example of the virtues of keeping it simple, by the way.

You might remember this post from last fall, in which I transformed this thrift store “find”…

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…into this:

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If you click on that link in the last paragraph, you’ll see that I went to all kinds of trouble to create some clever numbers, which I never really liked. I much prefer the simple circles of color I put into the clock this week:

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Although, that did lead to this exchange:

Child: How am I supposed to know what time it is? There are NO NUMBERS!

Me: You can tell the time. You know what number each circle represents.

Child: No I can’t. What time is it?

Me: Don’t be ridiculous. It’s 11:40.

Child (looking at phone): No, it’s not. It’s ELEVEN THIRTY-NINE. I can’t tell that with your clock!

Me: Oh, speaking of time, I just remembered: It’s time for you to do your chores today!

*End of conversation*

We also need to figure out what we want to do on the sides of the fireplace. We may go with some art, but we’re also considering some shelves–but shelving is a subject for a whole other (likely equally long) post.

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In the meantime, we’re really enjoying this room just as it is. It’s come such a long way from the space we saw on our initial walk-through of the house:

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The family room formerly known as the previous owner’s man cave.

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The family room today. In progress, but definitely getting there.

If you’ve got any great suggestions for the mantel or the sidewalls (or anything, really) we’d love to hear them. Or if you’d just like to cheer us on, please feel free to do that, too. We love your comments!

(If you’d like to suggest a different shade of orange, however, we’re not so much interested in that. I’m DONE with painting this fireplace! :-))

Sharing over at Pancakes and French Fries.