How to whitewash a1990’s brown brick fireplace

Sixteen months ago, we moved into our 1990’s ranch with its golden oak everything and the dirty greige walls. Every place I look in our house had brown. Floors. Doors. Trim. Carpet. Windows. Cabinets. Walls. And even our leather couches add to a sea of brown. It becomes monotonous, gazing endlessly at an ocean of brown. To ease the sea of brown, I set out to change our outdated 1990’s fireplace into a freshly Whitewashed Fireplace.

Whitewashed Fireplace finished look

Published March 4, 2021
Updated March 8, 2022
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Small Updates make a Big Difference

I have been trying to find simple and inexpensive ways to freshen our house and to bring colors and brightness. A few pillows on the couches, pictures on the walls, painting dressers and bathroom vanities have been just a few. Adding these small pops of color and simple changes can help to update a space very quickly for a small cost.

Tyler and I have not been able to pick a color we both love for the living room, dining room and kitchen, so it is still a dirty greige. Our living space is semi-open concept. I say semi-open because there is a peninsula in the kitchen that has a wall that separates the entry way and the kitchen. Other than that, the three rooms are open to each other. So, picking a color to paint will need to work with all three spaces; and not horribly clash with the orange-golden oak.

Since this post was published, we have painted the living and dining room walls and even built a bookshelf wall in the living room. The most important part of the living room bookshelf was that Tyler used reclaimed materials and did this huge transformation for an incredibly low cost. Check it out by clicking the link below!

dining room and kitchen and living room in our house

Pardon the mess, it is lived in; this is what our house typically looks like. Seriously. Until 8:00 PM when the four littles are then safely tucked in bed our house is a disaster zone. Dishes everywhere, toys everywhere and all of the things in a basic state if disarray.

To be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is still a piece of crepe paper on the ceiling fan from decorating for Elliana’s second birthday. Meh. How long will it be there!? Oh, the joy of taking mental bets to see if Tyler or I will crack first to take it down. Sometimes I find sadistic joy in leaving something like that and simply waiting to see how long it stays.

kitchen view

Does Impatience Pay?

Do you see the brown? I feel it is ALL shades of brown. So yesterday, after many hours of research and a “yes” of approval from Tyler, which basically means I take that as a green light for action, I decided to whitewash our fireplace bricks.

As an impatient and impulsive person, I typically take a yes for “sure Monica, do it NOW” when my patient husband actually means “yes, you can do it but let’s first make a plan and research and talk about it first”. I feel he balances me. A lot. Even when I impulsively go into the basement on a Wednesday morning, find semi-gloss white, do a happy dance, and start to paint.

kids playing tea party in front of outdated fireplace before Whitewashed

What to use

Whitewashing is fairly simple. Messy, but simple. I used a White interior semi-gloss water-based paint. After researching, some directions say to mix the paint and water to a 1:1, 2:1 or a 3:1 ratio. I chose to mix mine at a 2:1 ratio, which means 2 parts paint to 1 part water. In a separate pail, I poured 1 liter paint and 1/2 liter of water and stirred with a paint stick for a few minutes to make sure it was completely mixed. Around the fireplace I used painter’s tape and plastic to protect the walls, mantle, and carpet while also placing plastic on the television and electronics.

paint in container on fireplace

First coat for a Whitewashed Fireplace

Once everything was all covered in plastic, I got to work with a 3-inch paintbrush. I started at the top and worked paint into the horizontal and vertical lines then worked the paint into each brick. Watching for drips is important as they will show up so going back to a spot that has already been painted and brushing away any drips is key.

Two coats to Whitewash the Fireplace

As I worked my way from the top down on the right side, then moving to the left side, I began to see how the bricks were soaking up the paint like a desert with rain. I was certain that one coat of paint will not be enough. For a cottage style one coat would be amazing, but I am not into cottage style. I am more traditional and contemporary with a deep hatred of modern design and style.

Additionally, I have held a deep secret love of French design and a newfound love of gold accents. My newest favorite is General Finishes Milk Paint. With literally two coats, the finish is amazingly blended and covers so well. But I digress.

As you can see, the first coat soaked in and gave the fireplace a rustic and cottage feel. Not my cup of tea. As it was, I was really happy with this result and could mentally see what the finished product will be. But this fireplace will need a second coat of paint to look like a solid Whitewashed Fireplace.

one coat on fireplace with whitewashed

So, after many hours of agonizing waiting…I am not a good waiter… I started the process again and gave her a second coat of whitewash.

second coat of paint on fireplace with golden oak mantle

To do or not to do

By this point I had picked up our two oldest from school and did not take any second coat progress pictures. Forgive me. Let me just say though, that the second coat took way less time and gave the bricks a more even color. And I am in love! I am so happy with how the whitewashed fireplace looks now.

Next, I really want to tackle the mantle. Do I paint it white like my husband wants or do I sand it down and stain it a chocolate brown like I want? Decisions… decisions… But what I do know is that when it will be painted, we will be using General Finishes Milk Paint. With two coats this paint covers SO well, is so smooth to roll or brush on, and after months of being painted our bathroom vanity has yet to show wear & tear.

front view of fireplace whitewashed

Doing the Whitewashed Fireplace Mantle

As of a few months ago, I did end up sanding and then painting the golden oak mantle. I used our favorite product from General Finishes. This Milk Paint comes in a dozen colors, and we used Dark Chocolate.

Firstly, I began this mantle transformation by taping it off and laying plastic on the Whitewashed Fireplace as I did not want to get Dark Chocolate paint on the white bricks.

mantle taped off to sand and paint

Then I used a 2-inch angled paintbrush to paint the entire mantle with the General Finishes Dark Chocolate Milk Paint. This paint is so smooth and has amazing coverage. Two coats were enough, and the result was stunning!

mantle painted chocolate brown with General Finishes Milk Paint

Whitewashed Fireplace Before and After

With a few days’ work, this outdated fireplace was updated and new and fresh. I was surprised at how easy it was to Whitewash this fireplace. In addition to the fireplace redo, we created a bookshelf in the living room to display our books and get the television off the mantle. This whole process was fun and free as we had all of the paint leftover from other projects.


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