How to fix the black hole in your living room

...by turning your fireplace into a year-round star

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If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, you already know that they’re great.  They bring instant sophistication to your living room, create a natural focal point, and provide built in shelving for leaning art if you’re too non-committal to actually hang anything on the walls.  They can also be a black hole in the middle of your living room, especially during the warmer months when you’re not actually burning fires in there.

So what should you do with your fireplace during it’s off-season?  We’ve rounded up a whole bunch of stylish options! If you have a wood burning fireplace, I’m starting with a quick cleaning tutorial, but the rest of this post is about summertime fireplace styling for faux, wood-burning and gas hearths so go ahead and skip down to part two if you don’t need cleaning tips.

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How to clean out your fireplace the natural* way:

*I have allergies and I’m an (elder) millennial, so of course I’m one of those annoying Goop readers really amped about detoxing my home and mixing up my own natural and organic household products.  I know I’m a cliche; sue me. The point is I try to avoid harsh chemicals, dyes, and artificial fragrances because they’re not great for our bodies or our pets and they’re definitely not great for my allergies.  When I need to do some heavy duty cleaning I rely on a few all-natural ingredients that haven’t failed me yet. (FWIW: You can pretty much clean anything as long as you have white vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, salt, liquid castile soap, hydrogen peroxide, and water on hand.)

  1. Put some rubber gloves on (optional) as this can get messy.  Cover the ground in front of the fireplace, so that you don’t get soot and ash all over your floor.  You can use a tarp, an old bed sheet, plastic...I used an old beach towel. Take the grate out and sit it off to the side, but still on your floor covering and throw away any big chunks of charred wood still left from the last fire.

  2. Sprinkle some leftover coffee grounds onto the ash to reduce flyaways and then use a firm bristled brush or a fireplace brush if you’ve got one, to sweep up all the ashes into a dustpan.  Don’t forget to brush down the walls inside the fireplace; start from the top and work downward.

  3. Next, get yourself a decent sized bowl and dump about a cup of baking soda in there.  Add some water, about a cup, and mix to make a paste. Grab a firm bristled brush or scrubber of some kind.  I didn’t have a good brush, so I used this loofah:

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Dip the brush into the baking soda paste and start smearing it onto the walls and floor of the fireplace, scrubbing as hard as you can.  Really give it some elbow grease! This will wash off most of the black and grey soot. If you’ve got what looks like a swamp of black mud going on, you’re doing it right. It’s up to you how intense you want to be about this.  I didn’t go crazy making my brick look brand new; I just wanted to get the majority of the soot off. But if you want to go all-out, you do you. Below is a picture of the left wall of my fireplace before and after cleaning:

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4. Use a rag (or a bunch of paper towels, but a rag is more environmentally friendly) to wipe up all the excess soot-suds.

5. Fill a bucket or really big bowl with clean water and use a sponge or rag to wipe down the inside of the fireplace with the clean water and rinse off any remaining baking soda paste and grime.  You can use the same paste to clean the grate, but I recommend doing this in the bathtub or driveway for easy clean-up.

Alright, now you’re ready to style your fireplace!  Whether it’s faux or real, you basically have two options for styling an empty hearth: fill or cover.  I’m going to give you a run-down of some of my favorite options for both. I’m sure there are a million I haven’t even thought of, and I’m always looking for new inspo, so please if you’ve got a trick I didn’t cover, share it in the comments!

Fill The Void...


...With Candles  

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Create a simple grouping of unadorned white pillar candles for a laid-back and versatile look that would complement a variety of styles, from modern farmhouse to bohemian to traditional.  

...With Plants  


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Fill that dark hearth with some fresh green plant babies and clean your home’s air at the same time.  Just make sure to choose plants that don’t need full sunlight if you plan to position them fully inside the hearth.  Pothos (in the center on the grate), Monstera (far left), Snake plants (far right), and most ferns are pretty safe bets.  

...With Books  

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Unless you really want to do some scrubbing, or you don’t mind getting your books a little dirty, this option works best if you don’t have a working fireplace.  It’s also a stylish storage option if you have a substantial library collection and limited shelf space!

...With Logs   

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...With Statuary or another cool object  

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This is one of my favorite ways to style an empty fireplace.  It’s clean and sophisticated, and the possibilities are endless! I could see using an oversize glass jug or monumental pottery piece for a stylish impact.

...With Art   

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If you’ve got more art than wall space, lean a piece or two against the mantel to cover an empty fireplace and give your space a casual unassuming elegance.  These vignettes look straight out of the home of an eclectic, world-traveled art collector, and this is a great opportunity to add some personality to a space.

An alternative to framed art would be to use a mirror.  This would have the added benefit of reflecting light to make the space feel larger, which is the opposite of what a big black hole does when you leave your empty fireplace naked.

...With a Decorative Screen   

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This decorative screen was purchased in the 1980s by my grandmother at an antiques market in Atlanta, Georgia.  It’s cut and pierced metal, painted with an arrangement of hydrangea blossoms. I love how the piercings create the texture in the flower’s blossoms.  This piece has a folk-art feel and would be perfect for a modern farmhouse or cottage-style space. Pictured here in my mom’s living room.

Have a favorite? Or a fireplace cleaning tip? Leave a comment!

-AB