The Ultimate Fireplace Renovation Guide

It’s both an excuse to linger and an element of architectural charm: the right fireplace brings so much more than just real warmth to a room. While the concept has essentially stayed the same (light, collect, repeat) for thousands of years, there are many choices – both functional and aesthetic – to consider when creating your own. When we started doing our own research, we realized how intricate fireplace design really is (which makes sense given their job). To help you get the most out of your fireplace, whether you’re considering a renovation or tackling a completely new build, we’ve put our burning questions to the experts.

Where should I start?

Follow these three preliminary steps to make sure your fireplace is running safely.


There are two main categories of fire pits: masonry (built from scratch) and prefabricated house (a self-contained insert). Installing a new brick fireplace is a big undertaking (you usually need a chimney to start with if you don’t already have one) which is why people tend to rehabilitate what’s in there unless they already will rebuilt or build a new structure from the ground. If you don’t use your fireplace that often, one with a gas-powered insert is recommended. However, a wood-burning stove is a cheerful medium for those who want an old-fashioned appearance (the freestanding kind if it helps to have a picture)


Proper ventilation is essential for almost all fireplaces. (There are ventless gas models, but their safety is an issue, so we are responsible for proper ventilation on the team.) “If the fireplace is too small or too big, it creates a smoke-filled room.” warns architect Drew Davis about Ike Kligerman Barkley (the chimney is what connects to the fire box to the chimney opening). Ventilation ensures that the fireplace has enough fresh air “to replenish the air that is drawn out of the fireplace when the fireplace is on,” he says. “Too little make-up air causes the smoke to go down, not up.”


There are numerous regional safety regulations that you must consider, even if you are only renovating an existing fireplace. Doing this before you schedule actual design updates will save you (and your contractor) a major headache.

Repairing an existing chimney

Three designers show you how to get your dream hearth without intestinal reno.

Richardson Rayon

In her Brooklyn Brownstone, designer Delia Kenza paid tribute to the original style of house architecture, ornate mantelpiece and everything. She put in a new (but antique looking) wood stove that creates real fire but eliminated the risk of indoor smoke from a brick fireplace.

Fireplace house beautiful

David One country

The fireplace felt dated, remembers Keia McSwain of the design firm Kimberly + Cameron Interiors. So she got a bricklayer to keep the original wood-burning fireplace intact and updated it with a new firebox. Elongated, uneven tiles add texture and depth to the edging.

Brooklyn home of fashion designer Ulla Johnson

Floto Warner

A non-working fireplace can still be a valuable feature. Use the area to display a collection (Elizabeth Roberts Architects filled this with plants) or group some pine-scented candles for that flickering flame effect.

How do outdoor fireplaces differ?

pike residence, location san juan dos cabo baja california, architect ike kligerman barkley architects

Peter Aaron

An outdoor fireplace has similar requirements as an indoor fireplace, such as permits and ventilation. Fire pits are an easier alternative, but the real thing like this one from IKB can be worth the extra work. Davis says, “They have a lot more presence and can serve as an extension of the house into the landscape.”

3 important decisions you need to make

Types of heat



Benefits: Offers the classic fireplace ambience – think of crackling flames and the popular smell of firewood. Disadvantage: Requires most of the manual labor in terms of both cleaning and fire fighting; Wood smoke in residential areas contributes to air pollution.



Benefits: You get flames at the push of a button and a (mostly) authentic fireplace feeling. Propane and natural gas both burn very cleanly. Disadvantage: The EPA warns of indoor air quality concerns when unventilated gas fires are used.



Benefits: As an intelligent option for tenants or as a short-term solution, they only need a nearby point of sale. They also have the least environmental impact when powered by renewable resources. Disadvantage: You won’t get any flames – it’s basically a fancy portable heater.

Refractory surface materials

Types of wood

Softwood Easy to light up which makes it ideal for lighting but tends to burn down quickly.

Hardwood Best for hotter, longer burning flames. Try hickory for that woody scent.

Manufactured wood Fire logs are easy to use (just light and simple), but some can expose you to carcinogens. Make sure you use an environmentally friendly one.

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Design editor
Hadley Mendelsohn is the design editor for House Beautiful, and when she’s not busy doing anything décor-related, you may find she’s browsing, reading, or stumbling around in vintage stores because she’s likely lost her glasses again Has.

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