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How to: restore a fireplace

There is little doubt that a fireplace can provide an attractive and practical centrepiece for any room. The traditional fireplace, with its marble or tiled surround and mantel, fell out of favour in the early days of gas-fired central heating becoming affordable for all. But most of us now see that as a mistake and even the most modern of homes are being built around a central wood-burning stove or a fireplace.

dog by fireplace

Fortunately, many of these wonderful original fireplaces were simply boxed in or boarded over when central heating took over and these can easily be restored to their former glory, albeit with a little elbow grease. Those whose homes have lost their fireplaces may be lucky enough to find a good fit at a salvage yard. They may need some work to get back to a like-new state, but a good fireplace specialist should be able to assist with any installation and restoration.

If you think you have a hidden fireplace in your living room or bedroom then explore the area a little before ripping off the plasterboard and winding up disappointed with a huge hole in the wall. The easiest way to do this is to drill a small hole and explore the space behind the board with a deconstructed wire coat hanger. You should hit tiles, marble or iron with a little waggling around of the wire. You can then make a larger hole and shine a torch in before tearing off the plasterboard and celebrating your find.

book by fireplace

You may initially find that your fireplace has been painted over, which may also be the case when you move in to a home with already exposed fireplaces. This may have been a misguided attempt to modernise the home, but it can easily be remedied with the use of easily-available paint removers and strippers. But do beware and check the materials before you begin. What may appear to be marble may be decorated wood. Holding your hand on the surfaces should give you an idea, with wood being far warmer than either marble or iron.

If you are in any doubt, or you are worried about your own abilities at stripping and restoring, then you should definitely consult a tradesperson whose speciality is dealing with fireplaces. Fireplace experts will have experience of working with all kinds of fireplaces and materials, as well as the ability to source spare parts and effect repairs to damaged or chipped surfaces.

You may find that you have broken brickwork, cracked marble or ironwork that needs welding. Old cast iron can become brittle over time and your fireplace restoration expert will know exactly how to handle it without damaging it further. Epoxy glue can usually be used to seal cracks in iron, but they will need to be clamped or bound to make a good seal. They should also be able to source or make replacement parts for any fireplace features that are beyond repair. You will often find that bars across a fire grate can become weak in several spots and that replacement is far more effective than repair.


In many cases it’s the tiled area around or at the front of the fireplace that will need some care from an expert before you can be proud of your fireplace. These decorative tiles can vary from the Delft blue originals and reproductions to the Victorian floral designs. Removing soot, plaster or paint splashes should be easy, with the assistance of some detergent and a plastic scraper or stiff brush. Removing large areas of paint may need more specialist assistance.

Broken tiles may look beyond repair, but a skilled tradesperson will be able to strip these back, remove debris and glue pieces together neatly. Alternatively, they should be able to find a tiler who can make replacements or who already has access to common designs in stock.

Once your restored fireplace is looking up to scratch and ready to use you should be sure to call in a chimney sweep to ensure that your chimney is safe and clear to use. Some fireplace specialists will also offer this service but if they don’t, they will at the very least know who does this sort of work in your neighbourhood.

Need help restoring or creating a fireplace? Let us find you a specialist tradesperson to help! 

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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