Fireplace makeover!

Fireplace makeover

The fireplace in our study is all fixed up, and it even provides heat now! We gave this disused fireplace some cosmetic updates, and last week we had a heat pump installed inside of it. ICEBOX NO MORE.

Fireplace, before.
Fireplace plastering
The first stage in fixing up this fireplace was to build a brick hearth at its base. (I also painted it all white, while I was at it.) We knew that we’d get a heater installed in there, so once the hearth was cured and painted, I got to work cleaning up the rough interior.

The back was badly patched with mortar, so I spent a few days applying mesh tape and giving it heavy passes of joint compound to fill it all in. (I used a sponge to wet-sand the ridges.) Once everything was wiped down and ready, I painted and primed everything.

Painted fireplace inner

So far so good. With the insides painted black it looked like a little moonscape diorama. All I needed to do was finish off the floor inside it.

We got a quote and scheduled a date for a heat pump install… and then learned that the floor model would not be freestanding. The heat pump would need a wall or surround to attach to, and the installers planned to bolt a sheet of MDF + colorbond onto the face of the fireplace.

So not only did I waste a heap of time prettying up the interior, it’d have an ugly surround to boot. Oh.

The heat pump guys were happy to let us make our own surround, though. They gave us dimensions of the heat pump (and comped us $80 on total install) and let us know that it could be recessed, so that only about 50mm of the heat pump itself would protrude past the surround. Nice! They were good to work with.

Fireplace frame buildingInsert flooring

Jamie attached a simple frame inside the fireplace, and cut down a sheet of 12mm plywood to use for the inset surround. He used a hammer and cold chisel to bash out extra bricks, and then cut another couple pieces of plywood to lay flush at the base. He used hardwood framing timber and plywood, for durability.

(The base of the fireplace had already been smashed clear through for heating hookups, possibly when the previous owners had a gas heater installed in the lounge. So that was convenient.)

Caulking a heat pump surround

And then, the heat pump guys came around and installed the thing. This was the first time we’ve had to hire out work, and it was GLORIOUS. They turned up with plenty of tools and knowledge, got the job done in half a day, and then cleaned it all up afterwards. Fan-tastic.

We just had to apply a couple of finishing touches: caulking the seams in the plywood surround, and then painting over it in charcoal stone-effect paint. (I used Dulux Tuscan Effects, the only brand that came in a sample-sized pot.)

Complete fireplace makeover

All done!

Now, as far as aesthetics and ambience go, a heat pump is not my #1, #2 or #3 choice. It’s not a cozy focal point, and frankly it’s kind of an eyesore. (Kinda wish they had a model in black.) Mid-century modest, indeed.

These were our reasons for installing one:

  • A heat pump is 3-4x more energy efficient than a standard electric heater. No panel heaters ever again. Our Daikin model is meant to be decent, and bonus: it’s quiet.
  • We wanted a continuous heat source. This room is at the coldest aspect of our house, so it sits around 8-10º C on a winter’s day. We make a lot of use out of that room, though, so we keep the heat pump going during the day at a baseline of 13º (56º F) whenever we’re not in it and bump it up to 17-18º (64º) when we are. Having that higher baseline makes such a difference in comfort levels, let me tell you. (And as far as efficiency goes, running a low base temperature is roughly in line with constantly shutting it off and making it heat up the whole room again and again.)
  • The heat pump is also, of course, reversible, which means we can cool this room down and have ourselves a chilled retreat for the handful of hot days we get every year. (Usually fewer than ten over 30º C. I know, how adorable.)

So yeah. Function > form.

Cost wasn’t a factor so much. Jamie had earned a decent stipend from three weeks’ work in Papua New Guinea, so we had that earmarked for heating. Floor models are dearer than wall-mounted heat pumps (a $500 difference seemed to be standard) but the whole shebang, including installation, was well under $3K. We had thought it was going to be more expensive than that, so we were totally okay with that figure.

Complete fireplace makeover

It almost feels strange, not having this room be a total icebox. Almost.

Fireplace mantel
Fireplace mantel prints

All the stuff on the mantel is freebie posters, thrifted goodies, or sentimental artifacts. Images of places in Australia (terrace houses on some street in Melbourne) and the western USA, posters from local creative events. The ‘let’s have a toast to modern art!’ print was from a letterpress classmate in art school. I admit that I’m not great at styling or vignetting, but I figure that a good place to start is with objects that mean something to you.

Complete fireplace makeover

The magazine holder to the right holds paper stock swatches and other sample products. The plant on the left is a group of fake fake fakey fake monstera leaves from Freedom. It’s a dark room, I’ll live with my tacky fake plant leaves.

What do you think – is it a fireplace makeover success? Anything else I should know about a heat pump? And how do you feel about f-bombs and other swears on a blog? Because there’s a sneaky one pictured above.

Check out the first stage of the fireplace makeover: Building the brick hearth.

Other updates in the study: Initial plansfurnishingsflat file storageDIY linen-weave roller blinds.

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15 thoughts on “Fireplace makeover!

  1. Your pictures were slow to load on my computer (probably dicky internet my end) so I read all the text before viewing any pictures. So it was a pleasant surprise to see your heat pump, given the negative rap you gave it for its looks. Your fireplace surround (I get all the correct terms muddled) looks fabulous. Once again, a first class job. As for the f photo bomber. No problem. Used sparingly, it also can have a place in blog writing, though I’m not a fan of it in post titles. When used cleverly by writers who otherwise have a good handle on English, I think it’s OK. When it’s used because the writer’s vocabulary doesn’t extend to a better word, then I move on.

    1. Thanks Jo, I’m glad you like the end result!
      Heat pumps themselves aren’t visually offensive, but mounted in a fireplace, it just felt… conspicuous? Especially since there’s so many electric heaters that mimic flame. I only found one other image online of a heat pump in a fireplace and it didn’t make me any more keen on the idea. (No offense to these guys!) But yeah, function ultimately trumps form, and we couldn’t be happier with it functionally.

      That poster is sure to make more appearances on this blog, so it’s good to hear what you think re: swear words. I think there’s more room for creative professionals in Australia to get away with swears than elsewhere.

  2. It looks fantastic. I so envy you living in Tassie. I’m in Qld and I yearn for colder weather and real changes in seasons. Would love to live in Tassie or New Zealand. Looking forward to your next story.

    1. Hi Mel! Sorry about your comment not showing up there, it fell through the cracks (yikes). Hopefully you have enough cool days up north to wear all your fine knits!

  3. I like it in white, good contrast with the surround and goes with the new hearth. And I like the surround in charcoal rather than black, makes the contrast a little softer. And sometimes, with some things, it’s better to have a skilled person who knows what they’re doing. I think you have a wonderful grasp of language, love reading your blog. And if anybody says otherwise, tell em your mum said “Eff Off!”

    1. Oh, my mom, you mean? Haha.

      Yeah, we definitely had to call out for the heat pump installation, as you want someone HVAC-certified to do the job. (I’m sure there’s laws about it here.) Jamie and his dad have a lot of DIY skills between them, but they’re not dummies, they’ll call people in when necessary.

      I’m glad you like the end result! Thanks, mom.

  4. Steph, it is great! And I like your vignette-ing. Function wins over style in our house too, I admit. Always. So many things, so many times we have done something in our home only to have our interior design or stylist friends say “but oh doing it this way would look so much better?” and I know what they are getting at – yet at the end of the day a house is to be lived in, practicality makes us happy and I think comfort will always win out in the long run! We recently installed a wall mounted heat pump in our bedroom which gets freezing cold, it’s definitely not the prettiest thing in the room but it makes it so much more pleasant.

    1. Thanks so much, Maya!
      You never see heat pumps as a design inspiration, no? I’m always more impressed by the designers who can match form with function. Hell, that’s what you SHOULD do as a designer: make things function better.
      Enjoy your newly-warm bedroom this winter (with baby!!!!). We’ve got a honking great dehumidifier in ours 🙂

    1. Hi Claire, cheers! 🙂 I’m sure you feel super homesick when you’re checking the weather forecast during winter, haha.

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