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My big decorating dilemma: help decide what to do? Lots of pics

14 years ago

We've been debating this since we moved in 1.5 years ago... and mahlgold's dining table post inspired me to ask you folks:

What should we do with this wall???

We have a very large brick wall in what's now the kitchen. See pics below (disclaimers: kitchen is not finished, no backsplash, toekick, trim, or paint. Seating and rug at hearth are just fill-ins. We want a larger, redder oriental rung and matching chairs.)


1) It's got great character and it's cozy.

2) It is one of the only major things left of the original 50's styling of the house.


1) It's dark: a light-suck. And this part of the house is dark to begin with.

2) ************** (And this is the biggie! I'd probably not even consider changing it otherwise!) It has two very weirdly placed protrusions, a shelf and a "niche". The placement of these make it impossible to add a mantle, or to hang art on the wall :(

So what would you do?

Ideas we've had are:

- Knock off the protruding bricks and veneer it in something like a modern, horizontal wood cladding. But I think that would be too expensive, too dark still, and more risky for resale.

- Do a swedish sort of transparent whitewash. But the protrusions and niche would still be there :(

-Paint it all white. But same issue with protrusions/niche.

-Knock off the protrusions and skimcoat in white plaster.

-Knock off protrusions and furr out/sheetrock the wall, add a proper mantle and nice tiled fireplace surround; hand art.


The house is a 1956 ranch.

It is built of structural "brick-colored" concrete block, with -currently- white vinyl "clapboard". We've begin renovating the exterior and hope to finish this year. All white vinyl areas are getting shingled (by me) is Kennebec Cabot-Oil Stained Maibec cedar shingles. All "brick" will be painted a color that's in the same family as the shingles (which are a lovely, beachy, New England Coastal sort of color.) There will be simple pergola/trellis details. It'll be a sort of simple, coastal cottagey look, which feels right with the home's horizontality and deep overhands.

Inside, we've moved the kitchen into the middle of the house and opened it up a lot, creating an open, flowing floor plan. The kitchen is now where the old dining/living room used to be. materials in these and surrounding rooms: Natural cherry, stainless, and marble. Slate in mudrooom and behind wood stove in LR.

I've also attached pics of the other parts of the home for reference.

All ideas welcome!

Comments (37)

  • 14 years ago

    Are you going for a particular look/style? I see antiques as well as modern pieces. ;o)

  • 14 years ago

    Well, our look is eclectic, mainly midcentry, but the important thing for the renovations is resale. Our stuff is eclectic but we think it feels good together ;) The couch is a 40's, long, low, lean style. Oriental rugs. Mostly 50's Danish furniture and lighting, with some actual antiques and old paintings in the mix (the antiques are clean-lined things, though). Definitely on the simpler side. Lots of quirky stuff from our travels.

    As mentioned above, the chairs on that wall are just temporary, I definitely need a nice matched set of slipper chairs, or the Alvar Aalto chairs of my mom's I am coveting!

    Since this house is not our forever house (it was supposed to be a 2-3 year house but the market is just not improving enough so it'll probably end being a 6 year house) a lot of the decisions we've made in remodeling are sort of not exactly our style, but something we can live with. It's a relatively high-end community. I would have done a quirkier kitchen, and less opulent bathroom, if it were just for us, forever.

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    Tinker Congrats! to you - is your head spinning yet? I will preface by saying the only scroll i did was view the Model kit & great room - The colors are too salmony/pink in those - Did not read any responses My ? was other colors in the kitchen I love that copper color so if it ties in I think I may be inclined to use that - But I will have to table that until I review your entire layout, kitchen materials Sofas 1. "Safe" 2. Works 3. Has ugly Upolostery & front legs don't match scale of the sofa - rendering it odd - Funny because I have those legs on a sofa I love in my home... 4. I'll just vote no Chairs 1&2 don't look comfy to me - so I'd say they are more accent like, and won't keep people long #3 has queen ann feet that aren't relating to anything else in the room that I can see - (besides les doesn't like QA ;] - so out of that lot 4 or 5 BTW have you looked at LEE industries - I'll post below - made in USA - excellent quality - many fabrics to choose from as well as sizes
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    The idea is to lighten the top half of the room both in color and in style. Use the slips on just the armless chairs. I think that will look fine since the armchairs are over to the side. Designers often use a different look at the ends of the table versus the sides. Do you have a lighter colored bed sheet? Why not try laying it down over the carpet. That will give you an idea of how a light colored carpet would work. Also, you will want to change some of the artwork. You need to bring the blue up to eye level and get rid of the jewel tones altogether.
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  • 14 years ago

    I think I'd paint it. The lighter color alone will do wonders to open up that end of the room, and matching it to your walls will more or less make it fade into the background. I don't think I'd change anything else - just leave the ledge and niche as they are, and let a future buyer make further changes if they so choose.

  • 14 years ago

    I would leave it, at least until the outside of the house is painted, and then decide.

    I actually like the niche and the shelf--and I think the brick plays well with the cherry. I don't know what you would gain by removing the shelf and niche, other than a fireplace that needed to be covered with another material and changed in its character entirely. (I am on the fence about Mahlgold painting her brick, and it that room its because the the cabinetry is primarily painted, and light wood...a disconnect occurs there that is not happening in your room.) Your kitchen would look great if you left it, or great without it, but I think it says something about the original house.

    [I am biased in my opinion, partly because right now I am looking for a house that has something of its original character left, and I am seeing lots of houses that were untouched for decades until the last 5-10 years when the real estate market led to a lot of people gutting charming but run down houses and turning the insides to a Home Depot 3-D catalog that might as well be in a 1995 townhouse development, not in a 19th c. neighborhood.]

  • 14 years ago

    I second the paint- looks like soot on the bricks at the top of the firescreen and maybe up towards the ceiling- could be a shadow, its pretty faint. I think you have done and outstanding job with the house.

  • 14 years ago

    What I did with my brick wall was to cover it with drywall. First, however, I covered it with insulation, because there was none. My brick was about the same color as yours. Covering the brick with drywall liberated me because I could use any color scheme I wanted.

  • 14 years ago

    I would leave it alone. You may want to add puck lights to shine down on the brick to lighten up the area. I think it's just the type of "original" feature people would like to see in an updated home, it adds character.

  • 14 years ago

    I like your last idea:
    "Knock off protrusions and furr out/sheetrock the wall, add a proper mantle and nice tiled fireplace surround; hand art."

    BUT you could keep the brick as the fireplace surround....

    This option leaves your decorating options wide open, but unfortunately takes away the rustic brick look.

  • 14 years ago

    Stacey, you've done such a wonderful job on your home, it looks beautiful. I'm not a fan of painted brick, and the dry wall is a good idea, another route would be to build a wood facade. I found this link with some picture samples that might help. I love the flexibility it can offer. You could do shelves or whatever you like to make it a feature of the room.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Samples of wood facades

  • 14 years ago

    I would knock the lip off the arched piece so that the wall there would be flush. Then I would install a larger surround for the bottom part of the fireplace around the firebox in a black shiny granite, that would hide the unattractive brick trim around the firebox, and extend out all around there about another brick width, as well as cover the hearth area.

    Change the fireplace screen to brushed nickel or stainless.

    Then I would run a cherry panel the color of the kitchen cabinetry up to the ceiling, just in the area above the black granite. That width should be sufficient to hide the arched niche. It could be styled in the same way as the kitchen cabinet doors, a Shaker look, or just be a flat panel, with a thin trim edge of stainless all around the wood. It could be a place to use for art, but I would be inclined to leave it plain and let the cherry be the star.

    I would leave the rest of the brick areas as is, including the shelf. I think it adds interest. Instead of thinking of it as a shelf, think of it as a ledge on which you could rest a painting or a mirror, which would reflect light back into the room.

    Obviously you need a larger lamp on that console. Also, it appears that you will have space on the other side of the firebox (to the right as you look at it in the pix) to use an interesting columnar floor lamp.

    When you get your chairs, you might consider getting a large leather ottoman for the two chairs to share, and have them facing one another or toward the fireplace, rather than to the kitchen.

  • 14 years ago

    Thanks folks-

    cooperbailey, here are the "before" pics!

  • 14 years ago

    Staceyneil, I feel you have wonderful taste and did a great job renovating your bathroom and kitchen. I find the brick wall rusty and interesting but I know if it was in my home, I would want a lighter wall or a wall more in tune with your modern eclectic theme I see in the other rooms. I like les's idea and wish someone with talent could photoshop it but I also like the idea of painting the wall light to match the other walls and maybe marble on the fireplace or leave the reddish brick just around the fireplace.

  • 14 years ago

    I like the brick. Just some thoughts: could you knock off the protrusion below the arch, add a mantel across the hearth area (nothing too rustic). Paint the brass doors black. Above the mantel I can see a set (two or three) interesting vertical mirrors that would just catch the outside of the arch, so it's hidden. This will also help reflect some light into the space. Prop a couple of pictures on the protrusion to the left, perhaps overlapping black & whites. Accessorize the hutch below with some interesting pieces or a more dramatic lamp. Set two upholstered chairs (how about a modern wing, nothing too curvy) facing each other with small table between them.

  • 14 years ago

    To my eyes, the brick isn't the issue-- it's the lack of symmetry. I'm not sure what you can do to fix that . . .

    I love your taste!

  • 14 years ago

    Ah- You guys are great!

    anele- you hit the nail on the head (at it's why I starred that issue above). It's the lace of symmetry and how these two things make it impossible to decorate the wall in a pleasing manner.

    elsa42 and les917, the problem with the long ledge on the left is that it's just slightly below eye level. Too high to put art on, because then it's too high in the room and feels weird. I can't tell you haw much I want to put a large piece of art on that wall, and I cannot!

    I also want a mantle. Not being able to hang the stockings at a mantle makes me sad.... though if another solution is clearly better I'll give up on the mantle idea.

    Again- resale is important here...

    Chairwise, we at first had the angled towards the fireplace, but found we more often wanted to sit there and chat with someone working in the kitchen. When we have a fire and two people are sitting there, we just turn 'em back towards the fireplace some. This seems to have been working well.

    lukkiirish, les917- Wood paneling:
    This was our original plan. We saw beautiful house in "Cottage makeovers" magazine, where a big hearth wall like ours had been wrapped in warm, modern-looking cedar paneling, installed horizontally with no detail or shadow lines. ------ but we had second thoughts, for one that it would be too modern and weird for resale in this very traditional market. I also worried that adding a whole new material to this room (which already has cherry cabs, marble counters, SS, and oak floors...) would be way too much. And white paneling seems like it might be trying too hard to make this 50's house into something it's not...

    Palimpset- I know exactly what you mean. Really the ONLY reason I'm considering not changing it dramatically is because I hate it when lovely original detains are erased in renovations. But this detail is just so problematic. I would say that 9 out of 10 people who come in here (and this including historic preservation-minded architects) say, "ugh. what are you gonna do with that wall?" So.... I'm not sure I can think of it as a "lovely" original detain. Just an original one. My guess is that it would frustrate any future owners with it's lack of ways to decorate. For example, if you're not very religious, what do you put in the arched niche?!

    Oh, and yes, we're definitely painiting the fireplace doors black. I've also been looking every day on Craigslist for a newer set, but no luck so far.

    So, while reading your responses and thinking more about this, I have come to the realization that what *I* probably want is a light-painted wall there, no niche/shelf, and a lovely proper mantle (probably a simple traditional one, salvaged) ...... BUT I'm worried about erasing something important, and unsure how many potential buyers would prefer it there. Here's the thing: it's cool, but dark doesn't really work with everything else. I feel bad about that now, I should have planned around it more I guess.

  • 14 years ago

    I'm in the court of not painting the fireplace. I actually fine the pertrussions interesting. It just needs to be cleaned up.

    In Center City Philadelphia many loft condo's have exposed brick. People pay to have that feature. Try to work with it not against it.

  • 14 years ago

    What? you didn't like the pink tiles? LOL I love your renovations! and yeah this morning I still think paint, leave the niche and the shelf. I think the console under the shelf will relate more to the color of the kitchen cabinets which are wonderful.

  • 14 years ago

    I think if you fill in the niche, remove the shelf, and build the FP up (an add a mantle) it will be perfect. I think you'd have to move the buffet/credenza because I would not want to see two similar shapes there (FP and buffet). Instead, I'd add a big, cozy chair there with a light behind it.

    For starters, try just moving the buffet now and see if it makes a difference.

  • 14 years ago

    Its a midcentury asymmetrical design. In order to change it into anything else you are not going to be able to do half measures. (Its like the development of split levels I talked about in another thread. People try to trick them out into something that doesn't look like a split, and it always still does--only worse. A client of mine wanted to do that and I told her to tear the house down.)

    You can achieve the appearance of a more traditional fireplace here but something else is going to have to be done off to the left to deal with the asymmetry. Sticking something over part of it and leaving the shelf isnt going to cut it, IMO. Its going to take every bit as much attention as you paid to the rest of the kitchen and that bath.

  • 14 years ago

    I wish I had this dilemma. Growing up, my parents added a full wall brick fireplace to our home. The mason used old or used brick (many different colors, imperfections, so much character). I loved it then, and 40+ years later, I love it just as much. The addition of the fireplace set our house aside from the others on the block. We were the only family to have a working fireplace. Being a teen at the time, I thought it was cool addition.

    Being a newbie participant, I will go out on a limb. I like the brick fireplace wall and if it were mine, I wouldn't paint it. Being a lurker here for quite a few years, I have noticed that painting seems to be the common solution presented to posts about unhappiness with brick. I personally don't care for the look of painted brick with the very rare exception of brick that has been painted the just right creamy white. To me, painting brick ruins it.

    I do like to see those who have done enhancing treatments, such as using stain products as a solution to brick dilemmas.

    Your brick fireplace wall adds character and a nice cozy feel to your kitchen. Just my opinion.

    Would it be possible to use some type of vintage lantern in the niche? Many of the posters here seem to find great things on CL, GW and similar sources. It is hard to tell how deep the niche actually is, and I realize that adding a decorative light feature won't solve your feeling that the brick wall is a light suck. I just think it would be a nice look in the niche.

  • 14 years ago

    With total regards for resale -- I would re-do the whole wall in fresh white beadboard -- getting rid of the shelf and niche. I would add a long and chunky full-length (of the whole wall) mantel. Possibly in stained wood to match the cabinets or even raw bleached wood.

    Then hang a large modern artwork over the left-hand side. And some chunky candlesticks on the right-hand side of the new mantel.

    I would keep the doors -- just spray paint them to black (use barbecue paint) Those doors are good for keeping the heat/AC inside.

    LOVE your whole house -- and especially the kitchen! :)

    Jan at Rosemary Cottage

  • 14 years ago

    I agree with rubyslipperz, I really like your brick and think it adds warmth and character to your room(s). I would love to have a niche in my brick - now that there are battery-operated candles that look so real, a lit lantern would look nice. Or one of those santos figurines that are so popular.

    If you keep the arch, and feel like artwork would be too high to hang, what about a collection of stacked books, or some glass colored balls (Hobby Lobby has a huge assortment) that would reflect light?

    This may seem weird to some, but why not hang something circular in between the niche and the ledge - such as an oversized clock or a mirror that would reflect your beautiful kitchen? I like the idea of putting a tall piece, such as a floor lamp or even a column on the right side of the fireplace. These are simple and economical additions.

    You have a beautiful home, by the way! Can't wait to see how it all turns out.

  • 14 years ago

    I like the brick. I am sensitive to light too, so I do see your dilemma. I really think you only have two choices here. Either keep it just the way it is (which would probably be my choice), or else get rid of it entirely by covering it with light paneling, or bookcases. Half measures will look like just that.

    Oh! I have another idea. You can just give me your house. ; ) It's beautiful, truly. I really feel that wall is part of the soul of the house and unless you're getting depressed every time you go in there from the dark, I'd leave it be.

  • 14 years ago

    I actually like it, asymmetry and all. Symmetry is overrated IMO (we just redid our brick fireplace in a totally asymmetrical layout.) I'd leave it as-is (except for the doors, which should be black or stainless.) I'd just clean it up (get that soot off) and be done with it.

    One option would be to work with it a little - face the ledge in wood all the way around to make an off-center mantel for your Christmas stockings. You could out the same wood facing on the floor of the niche. Put a plant in the niche, or artwork (art glass would be a really nice contrast.) Niches do not need to be shrines!

    Painting it doesn't solve the symmetry problem if that's bothering you. Plus, painted brick is just...not special.

    If it's killing you, knock off the extruding pieces and drywall to the edge of the brick that surrounds the fireplace. Maybe edge the drywall in aluminum strapping to make the transition from drywall to brick make sense. Cheap (ish) and easy to change if someone wants to get it back to brick I like the brick just around the fireplace a lot.

    Honestly, though. Cleaning it up and living with it is the cheapest option and the safest for resale, I think.

  • 14 years ago

    Wow, lots of ideas and things to think about. Thanks!

    Also thanks for your kind words. It was hard to leave our last home (which had been our first, and lovingly renovated from what the neighbors considered a tear-down. It was a 1926 foresquare that had not been touched since the 40's... disgusting stained wallpaper and crumbling dropped ceilings. We redid it over time and was beautiful, with amazing light movement inside and sunny birch floors). But the neighborhood was way too tight and our daughter needed a better school, so we bought this house. It was totally not our style (preferring older homes OR more "modern" -like actual MCM ranches or well-designed contemporary "modern") but it has a great lot and is on a fabulous road near the ocean. Anyway, I'm gratified to hear your compliments since it definitely took some vision to get here from where we started in Oct 2008.

    It's frustrating that there are still so many things unfinished, but we are getting there.

  • 14 years ago

    I had thought about doing wood shelves: neglected to mention that! I just recently removed the white painted, colonial-moldinged caps that were on the shelf and niche previously I'll dig up a photo.

    Regarding filling the niche, I actually have tried art glass (it was too dark and it sort of disappeared....) and a plant (looked decent but it's a functional fireplace so that's not terribly practical. PLus not very much light over there.)

    I may photoshop covering some of the wall with drywall... my DH just suggested that today, too. It would only have to go as far as the right end of the (knocked off) shelf, which might feel less crowded around the hearth.

    Does anyone like the idea of skim-coating in plaster? Might that still retain some of the character of a masonry wall while brightening the space and allowing art and furniture to be the composition themselves without competition? Like a light-colored plaster with a chunky wood piece over the fireplace for a mantle? (Though that's a little more rustic and modern than I'd envisioned.)

    Here's a peek of the wall from when we moved in:

    oh, and while I was looking for the above I found this photo of the living room in our old house. I do miss it...

  • 14 years ago

    If you want a mantel then built one that will slide over the two protrusions you have now. You could also cover the rest of the brick, other than the area right around the fire place opening for safeties sake, with the modern planking.
    Personally I think just a new mantel that fits over the other two with possibly a decorative addition that covers the niche. I'd draw it for you, but I'm over my bandwidth use on Photobucket so I couldn't share it anyway.

  • 14 years ago

    What I would do is take everything off including the buffet if you don't need it and just leave it blank. There is something so simplistic and beautiful about a brick wall. Not every niche or shelf has to have something on it. I would also put some big comfy chairs in front of the fireplace, a lamp, and a rug and just leave it be.

    However, if it really bothers you, then the best course of action is to knock off the protrusions and drywall it.

  • 14 years ago

    I wish I had an answer for you, but as you know I have my own issues with respect to this matter. I'm not sure what I'm doing, but I clipped this photo as an idea. Still provides texture and dimension, but lightens everything up. I know it's not a fireplace, but it could certainly be translated as such. Not sure if you saw it in my DR table posting.

    Here is another "example":

  • 14 years ago

    Midcentury niches call for midcentury pottery. This is actually earlier, but would bridge well with the kitchen.


    Or you could go all out midcentury and go for something by Bruno Gambone.


  • 14 years ago

    mahlgod, I did see your post, and it's why I decided to post this one! thanks!

    justgotabme, can you elaborate on what you're envisioning covering the niche? Also- unfortunately the shelf and niche lip are not in a line (my architect step-mom already thought of that, one long piece of wood... but it would have to be too fat to cover both, and look out of porportion:(

    djsaw, I don't think DH will go for taking the case away. It is one of the very nicest, most special pieces we own: beautiful hand-shaped midcentury Danish teak. In fact we designed thie space for it in our new floorplan, and there's absolutely no place else in the public space -or really anwhere for that matter, it could go. It's a TIGHT floorplan!

    So here are some very roughly photoshopped mock-ups. (Especially the last one where the fireplace is a clipping I just stuck on there!)

  • 14 years ago

    I have some vases like that one, but they are smaller. Most of my best pottery are bowls :(

    But, yeah, I could look for something... good idea.

  • 14 years ago

    The more I look, the more I think your lovely teak case is competing with the fireplace. I think it's bothering me more than the asymmetry. BUT, when I look at it all within the context of your kitchen, I think you should keep everything as-is, except maybe fix up the fireplace a bit-- clean the brick and get a little more unusual screen.

  • 14 years ago

    Not sure I explained myself well, based on your response. I am notsuggesting wrapping the brick wall in wood, and the wood i am suggesting would match your cabinets. I am suggesting a panel of cherry that runs in a vertical line the width of the fireplace (after covering the brick surround and one brick width wider all around that in a dark granite). The rest of the wall would remain brick. The wood panel would cover the arched niche (once you knocked off the lip). You could easily add a mantel then, perhaps in the same wood or even a rectangular box of stainless steel) on top of the wood panel.

    The ledge may be at eye level,but that in now way precludes you from leaning a piece of art on it. Check out how art is hung in galleries and in collections in homes, and not all of is (or can be if in a grouping)at eye level.

    I wish I could photoshop this to better illustrate my thoughts.

  • 14 years ago

    The mockups just confirm for me that you should leave the brick as is. The blank wall is just not special!

    And I love the case, and it aligns well (ironically) with the shelf.

  • 14 years ago

    White wash the fireplace, and get a big white marble fireplace mantel to match those gorgeous countertops.

    By white washing it will look aged and I happen to love old and new together.

  • 14 years ago

    I like both of the photoshopped versions that put drywall on the side where the teak case is. That case is a beauty! It isn't getting its due with the brick competing with it behind. So I'd go with the drywall on that side. I like what some drywall, mixed with the brick, does to that whole wall. The case looks good and the quantity of brick is not so overwhelming.

    Or I personally would like whitewashing the whole wall of brick. You get the texture without the overwhelm.

    Love the pics of your previous house too. Great style!

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