I posted a tour of our Master Bedroom last week, and there has been a lot of interest in our DIY fireplace ever since, so I decided to dedicate a full post to it. Now the only thing is, as I mentioned in the bedroom tour, this room was decorated pre-blog, so the only work-in-progress photos I have of the fireplace are ones that I took on my mobile phone for my own amusement. They were never intended to be shown publicly, so please do bear that in mind as you read on. Despite some dodgy photos, I do think this is a great project (one of my favourites in the whole house) and one worth sharing.
Let's start at the beginning ...
This photo is from the first time we viewed the house (see the full 'Before' House Tour here). The wall between the walk-in wardrobe (closet) and the ensuite shower room was flat with a switch plate for the ensuite light as well as a double socket (electrical outlet).
The fireplace wasn't something we'd originally planned for the room at all because I thought fireplaces in bedrooms only existed in grand period properties and in modern "architect-designed" houses ... and in my dreams! But surely not something we could have in our gaff? Well one day, shortly after we had stayed in a hotel suite with a beautiful fireplace, Hubby declared that we should have one.
Because there is no chimney in the room, a "real" fire wasn't an option. But we did still want a working fire. Since there was a socket already in place, an electric fire was the obvious choice. At first, I wasn't particularly excited by this idea. My perception of electric fires was either that they tried too hard to look like something out of a sci-fi movie, or otherwise were little more than a couple of orange bulbs flickering above some plastic coals. You can see why I wasn't inspired. Thankfully things have moved on a lot since the electric fires that I remember from my youth, and I was delighted to find a traditional style electric fire that actually looked really good. It's the Brookline by Glen Dimplex, and it's manufactured right here in Ireland.
Note: in order to fit the fire into the fireplace, we removed the detachable surround shown in this pic.
The fire would usually sit inside a firebox but, since we had no proper chimney here, the electric fire stood proud of the wall with all its functional bits on show. The most common solution is to install a fireplace-shaped box around the fire - what is called an electric fireplace "suite". But the way that those faux fireplaces have a standard-height mantelpiece with the added extra depth needed to contain the fire means that their proportions are nothing like a traditional fireplace. I was determined that if we were going to have a bedroom fireplace, I didn't want a modern-looking box surround; I wanted something that looked like an original antique that had always been there. In my ideal world, I would love to live in a period property (preferably Georgian), but those are few and far between (and extremely expensive) in rural Ireland. Instead, I just fake it a little bit here and there.
So Hubby and I worked out several sketches and came up with the idea of building a full-scale "chimney breast" to house the electric fire. We removed the architrave (trim) from the doors at either side to make it easier to work, and started planning the construction.
The structure would need to be reinforced where the fireplace would be attached to it, so we had to get the fireplace first in order to know its dimensions before finalising the build. Surprisingly, finding a fireplace turned out to be the most challenging part of this project.
We wanted a cast iron fireplace, the type traditionally found in bedrooms, but the trick was in finding one with an opening large enough to accommodate a modern fire. Since modern homes don't typically have fireplaces in the bedroom, all the modern fireplaces we found were designed for a sitting room and were too large to fit between the doors in our bedroom. And the antique fireplaces that were small enough to fit had a proportionately smaller opening that wouldn't take a modern fire. Talk about catch-22!
I searched for over a year, and eventually found a fireplace with the perfect dimensions in an antique store. Unfortunately, not only was it painted and the mantelpiece damaged, but it was priced way beyond its worth. With a heavy heart, I walked away and wondered how long it would take me to find another like it. Unbelievably, like the proverbial bus, a second one came along within a couple of weeks. It was identical to the one in the antique shop, but was listed on a classifieds website for the market value (about a tenth of what the antique shop had been asking). Plus it was in perfect condition, had its original grate and fireback, and even the original screws to fix it to the wall!
This is the photo from the online listing. Such a shame we couldn't use that beautiful grate and fireback.
With the essential components secured, we could now start working on the overall design. I knew I wanted a tiled hearth. Something "humble". Because for all of my dreaming and scheming, I know that we don't live in a grand period property. We live in a house in the Irish countryside, and I didn't want to lose sight of that with the design of the fireplace. Something too ostentatious would look ridiculous in here. I found the perfect thing in some handmade tiles from Mexico that had a rustic, but classic, quality. (Note that the tiles we used are wall tiles and are not rated for floors. However, since we don't walk on the hearth, I took a risk with them and, thankfully, have had no problems at all.)
In starting from scratch with the fireplace construction, I found it quite difficult to imagine how it would all look when it was finished. In particular, I was concerned with keeping the proportions of the fireplace looking authentic while trying to minimise its encroachment into the space. To help me to picture it, I printed pictures of the tiles onto sheets of paper and taped them together on the floor to simulate the hearth. Two rows of tiles looks too mean, and three rows didn't steal too much bedroom space, so I decided to make a hearth that would be three tiles deep.
It's a terrible photo (I did warn you!), but you can also see here how we cut out a hole in the plasterboard behind the fire to shave another few millimeters off the encroachment of the fireplace onto the bedroom floor.
Hubby and I debated long and hard about our approach to creating the hearth. We considered floating it on top of the hardwood floor, but decided against that because I knew that it was only a matter a time before I would stub my toe off it while walking around barefoot in the bedroom at night! So we opted to recess the hearth into the floor so that it would sit flush with the surrounding floor.
I made the hearth first as a separate piece by cutting a sheet of plywood the required size and sticking the tiles onto that. I chose a thickness of plywood that would ensure that the two floor surfaces (tiles and floorboards) would be the same level when finished. (I don't recall the exact measurements now, but I know the oak floorboards are 15mm thick, so let's say the tiles were 5mm thick and allowing 2mm for adhesive, then I selected a sheet of plywood that was 8mm thick to bring the total height of the tiled area up to 15mm, the same as the oak).
To recess it into the floor, we had to do one of the scariest DIY things we've ever done: cut into our hardwood flooring. So we (and by that I mean Hubby because I was too chicken) took a router and starting gouging out the floor.
One slip of the hand and our bedroom floor was ruined! I could hardly bear to watch. But Hubby was a trooper and cut a perfect rectangle. We were both equally relieved that he'd pulled it off.
Then I just lay the tiled board into the recess, grouted between the tiles, and sealed between the tiles and floorboards with silicone sealant/caulking, using masking tape to create a neat seal (see that technique with silicone sealant here).
Then Hubby continued constructing the chimney breast.
One of the horizontal beams on the front is positioned where the fireplace will be screwed on so that there is extra support where it is needed.
We didn't want to get into dealing with plastering walls, so we clad the skeleton of the chimney breast with sheets of MDF instead. (Apologies again for the poor-quality images. Like I said, these were never intended to be published on a blog!)
We also moved the electrical socket (outlet) so that it would be beside the electric fire instead of taking up much-needed space behind it.
Then we filled all the screw holes and the gaps between the MDF sheets and painted it all the same colour as the surrounding walls.
Next we used the original screws that came with the fireplace to secure it into the chimney breast.
You already know the trouble I had finding a fireplace that would fit the electric fire. Well, getting one with an opening the exact size of the fire was impossible, so we had to do some tweaking to make it all work together.
The opening in the fireplace was the right width, but the electric fire was shorter than the opening height-wise. So we filled that gap by making a wooden plinth to go underneath the fire and spray-painted it black so that it blended in.
This bit is difficult to describe, but the next problem we had to deal with was that the grate of the electric fire (which actually contains the water tank that makes the steamy smoke effect) was not as deep as the original grate that came with the fireplace. That meant that there was a gap at each side of the grate where it didn't meet the front of the fireplace. In this pic, the grate is pulled out to access the water tank so it's not in its usual position, but it does show you how shallow the side bars of the grate are.
If we pushed the electric fire back far enough into the fireplace opening that the sides of the grate met the front of the fireplace, then there was a gap inside the firebox where the sides of the electric fire were too shallow to fill the space. This was easier to fix than trying to work with the grate at the front, so we filled that gap in the firebox by cutting a strip of metal for each side and spray-painting them black to blend in with the rest of the fire. We then fixed each metal strip onto a piece of wood that holds everything together: the wood is screwed into a metal flange on the electric fire (where the detachable surround used to be) and into the fireplace through the holes that were originally used to hold the fireback in place.
I'm really pleased with how well it all blends together now.
And don't worry, we didn't forget that light switch! We moved it onto the side wall of the chimney breast.
The final finishing touch was to add the skirting boards around the base of the faux chimney breast and to replace the architrave around the doors (which were painted white in the meantime).
To offer ourselves the utter indulgence of being able to turn the fire on or off without getting out of bed, we plugged the fire into a remote control socket (affiliate link). And in case we need to access it for maintenance, Hubby made a little hatch in the side of the chimney breast.
The fire itself is basically an electric blow heater that is hidden behind the canopy. The canopy also has a lid that can be lifted up to reveal the controls. There are three switches on the right: the on/off switch and two others that allow the user to select no heat (just the flame and smoke effect), 1kW of heat, or 2kW of heat. The dial on the left controls the intensity of the flame and smoke effect. This means that you also have the option of enjoying ambient firelight without any heat if you so wish.
The Opti-myst flame and smoke effect is created by dichroic xenon bulbs illuminating steam that is generated from water contained in the tank inside the grate. The steam is not just for aesthetic purposes, however, as it also prevents the air from drying out like it usually would when using a blow heater. The tank will generally last a few weeks with occasional use before it needs to be refilled.
I think it's fair to say that I'm pretty persnickety when it comes to details and, while you'll never be fooled into thinking that this is a real fire, it really does look very good indeed. And it's so cosy to snuggle up in firelight by night, or to wake up to a warm fire on a cold winter morning.
Plus, it's really fun to decorate for the different seasons!
Shop the Look:
Electric Fire: Brookline by Glen Dimplex
Tiles: Anita Green from Milagros (England and Online)
Remote control socket: Status SREMSOC3PK3 Remote Control Socket - Pack of 3 from Amazon (affiliate link)
Wall paint: Night Jewels 4 by Dulux