For homes built early in the last century, living room fireplaces were standard issue. Unlike earlier Victorian designs, which featured ornate woodwork and marble facings, these fireplaces were modest in their detail and materials, often faced with the same brick that made up the home’s exterior walls, with built-in cabinetry on one or more sides.
The challenge to modernizing this type of fireplace is in deciding where to stop. Unless you are renovating the entire home and replacing all the trims, woodwork, windows and doors, a minimalist, modern fireplace installation might be out of place in a house with traditional high baseboards, multi-paned windows and doors, and vintage brass hardware, if the details are not well considered.
One option is to maintain the proportions and cabinetry of the existing fireplace and reclad only the brick, while painting out all the woodwork white:
Using a modern material like concrete tile to cover the brick while leaving the original cabinetry in place strikes a balance between the home’s traditional bones and the homeowner’s modern tastes. And white paint is an easy way to brighten, lighten and modernize a traditional space.
Another option would be to replace the cabinets with full height millwork in a clean-lined, simple design, and reface the fireplace with a simple fireplace surround that includes a mantel:
By keeping a fireplace mantel, rather than going for a monolithic field of tile, the new design references the old without looking traditional. And replacing the cabinets with full-height, solid fronted cabinets adds a modern touch as well as useful storage.
The most radical option would be to remove the existing cabinetry and create a modern fireplace column with soldier stacked concrete tile. In this case, the replacement baseboard should match the original, and also line up with the grout lines of the modern fireplace column – small details like this will help to make a modern fireplace installation blend seamlessly into a traditional home.