As it turns out, when you purchase a Midcentury Modern era house but don’t necessarily want floor to ceiling MCM decor, you spend 99% of your design time finding ways to blend. For example: our wood burning fireplace. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with this thing from Day 1… pre-Day 1, if I’m being honest! Before we even set foot in the house, or unpacked our first box, we dropped $$$ on shoring up this thing so it was safe, up to code, and leak proof at the roof line. More hate than love at that point. However, once winter came around it was fantastic to have the option of a fire in the fireplace, and now I’ll never look back.
But, it’s ugly, has no mantle, uses dated-looking exterior stonework bricks (i.e. a first cousin to cement) that are approximately 2ft long and varying shades of burnt orange and pink. It is half covered in paneling, its mouth shiny brass, and is situated in what we made into the dining room of the house. Not a mighty hearth.
I’ve struggled with this element of the house mainly because it lacks character. It has no identity to harness or build from. It’s somewhat of an eyesore, and I felt a little helpless when it came to improving it. Shy of essentially tearing it out and unleashing what evils lay beyond the paneling, and then and resurfacing / rebuilding it all together, I really had no clue how to make it better.
Enter Joanna Gains, and I decided to whitewash the thing!
Here’s how it went: I first purchased enough plastic tarp to put me into serious consideration for some type of ax murderer suspect, but trust me, you’ll need it. I also grabbed a can of heat resistant matte black spray paint, and some cheapo 3-for-$1 sponge brushes. Those were my only expenses for the whole project as I used some white paint from a gallon of left overs we had in the basement, and other miscellaneous painting supplies we had on hand already like tape, a little bucket, stir stick, mask if you wanted, etc.
I decided, since it was the darker color, and it was in spray paint form, that I’d start by painting the brass part of the fireplace first. Obviously, every fireplace is different, and you may have a beautiful low-maintenance wrought iron fireplace grate. If so, you’re a lucky something-or-other and you can skip ahead. If not, please continue.
I taped off and covered in plastic all the stone, much of my floors, and some of the wall. Another happy little discovery: our brass face plate wouldn’t come off. I’m sure it would if we really, really yanked on it, but I feared bending it and ruining it in the process, so I instead opted for spray painting in my house. Do I suggest this? Not really, but I was already suffering from a sore throat and high-grade fever (yes, in the middle of summer, I know) so my inhibitions were just drug-comforted enough to go for it. And ultimately, it worked pretty well for us.
Here’s how it looked with two coats of matte black heat resistant spray paint:
Already leagues better! Now onto the main event.
Next, I rehung new plastic sheeting all around the floor, and covered the newly painted metal grate to protect it from white paint splatter. After referencing a few other DIY bloggers, I opted for a ratio of one part white paint and two parts water to create my whitewash mixture. I really don’t know if there’s an exact science to this process, but this is what worked for me. I only ended up using about 1/2 cup of white paint total to cover the whole project, and there was mix left over at the end. The water makes it go a long way.
Also, a note about the material you’re painting: I’ve read that true brick can be very absorbent, and that when whitewashing you have to move quite quickly applying and wiping off in small sections, and the whole thing may need two coats to achieve the whitewashed look you want, but this was not the case with my cement-like stone bricks. It hardly soaked in at all actually, and I liked the level of opaqueness I was achieving so I ended up not wiping it off much, if at all, throughout the process, and only applied one coat. I did however focus on taping and plastic-ing beforehand quite well, and I’m glad I did because whitewash is tricky to work with.
Essentially, you’re painting with milk.
It’s runny, and it drips and splashes everywhere if you’re not careful. I thought it’d be best to start with the top bricks and work my way down so I’d have gravity on my side. I went slowly, dabbing my sponge brush into the crevices and sweeping it across the mortar lines to achieve a mostly even look.
The upside to whitewashing is that it’s not meant to look perfect. The downside is that it’s not meant to look perfect, haha, so if you’re a perfectionist or like things to be polished and neat, this may not be a project for you. All in all, it took me about 2 hrs to whitewash the whole thing, but as I said I was intentionally going very slowly and methodically. I, of course, didn’t get any photos of this step in progress as I was working on the project alone and both hands were busy wrangling drips and cleaning up splashes, but here’s the finished product:
I did leave unpainted the actual slabs of stone that make up the hearth, as they’re the most high-traffic areas and I knew paint wouldn’t likely hold up that well in those places anyway. I’m really happy with how it turned out, and am surprised at how much cleaner it looks overall! We do have plans to add a mantle that will match our beam in the dining room, but that’s a project for another day.
Whitewashing is a really quick, inexpensive DIY project that you could easily tackle in an afternoon. It keeps the texture of the original materials, but upgrades the aesthetic, and I give it a thumbs up!