I installed a fireplace in my apartment

Guest post by katie

The idea to build a faux fireplace bubbled up slowly during my first few months of medical school. It wasn’t going to be functional — no flue, no chimney, nothing requiring structural intervention (we rent, after all). I just wanted to inject a little more soul into our place. We had this whole wall in our living room that we weren’t using — why not make something awesome?

I acquired a trunkload of bricks that someone was giving away for free on Craigslist, and dry-stacked them (no mortar, just gravity) on top of a folded-up old sheet, to protect the floor and the wall.

Since I wanted an alcove in my bricks, they’re two layers deep, with a board supporting the outer layer above the alcove. At this point the “fireplace” part was done, but I still needed a surround and mantle to bring some polish and make it look like something other than a stack of bricks.

I spent “who-knows-how-much” time (hours? days?) doodling plans in the margins of my school notes, striving for the perfect balance of “cool to look at” and “not too hard to build.” At one point, I emailed Ana White, the champion of the do-it-yourself Home Maker, and asked her to pretty please come up with a fake fireplace plan that wasn’t difficult to build. Lo and behold, she did! Some modifications were necessary to wrap the surround around my brick pile, but at this point I was ready to go.

The awesome thing about this plan is that all the cuts can be made for you by the friendly staff at your local Retail Chain Hardware Store (Lowe’s, Home Depot, Menard’s, etc.), other than the arch in the front piece — which is classy and awesome and easy enough to do with a jigsaw, which I borrowed from the Berkeley Tool Library. Sometimes they charge a quarter or two per cut, but for the ease of getting it home in a little car — and also not having to worry about cutting my own fingers off — it’s definitely worth it.

It took a little while to find the time to tackle the building stage of this endeavor, but once the semester ended I was on it. In just a couple hours, I had everything cut, sanded, and attached – enough to hang stockings and lights and call it good for Christmas.

Finding a suitable piece of lumber for the mantle top took a few months — of course I needed an odd size, which can be pricy – but once I did, things wrapped up quickly. A neighbor who runs a cabinet shop out of his basement put a nice beveled edge on the wood for me, and with some paint and some stain (both of which I already had, from other projects) there you have it!

Altogether, this cost around $150 for supplies and labor and took only about three afternoons’ worth of work — getting and stacking the bricks, building the surround, and painting and staining — spread out over nearly a year. Now that it’s finished, I’ve been burning a few candles in it most evenings, and they give such a wonderful warm glow to the room. I’m hoping to score some wax LED candles on a post-holiday discount, so that I can fill the whole alcove with candles without concerns about catching things on fire. Also, since I can’t bear to put new holes in it and stocking holders simply aren’t up to snuff for my family’s celebrations, I’m using 3M command strip wall hooks on top of the mantle to hold up the stockings and lights.

Anyway. This is the story of how I installed a fireplace in my apartment, without doing any damage!

Comments on I installed a fireplace in my apartment

  1. This is brilliant! I had some friends who did this a few years ago in their apartment, but without the bricks. One of them built a fake mantle that they basically just sat up against the wall. I can’t remember if they had anything inside the “fireplace,” but I do remember it being adorable they way they decorated it up. Two of them were interior architecture majors, so of course they had the prettiest living room in the whole apartment complex.

  2. Oooooh, I adore this! I had dreams of building a corner fireplace many moons ago when we lived in an apartment but it never panned out. I have a vintage cone fireplace now, though, that we’re not going to be able to install as I’d hoped but that I’m reluctant to sell and I’m trying to figure out where it might possibly fit in our house as a candleholder.

  3. You can fill that space with normal candles right now, the brick is fireproof and the wood over the candles is quite high. It will blacken from soot, but it won’t catch fire. The only likely issue is that if you use a lot of tapers they might melt each other, and it will be hard to get the wax out of the bricks.

  4. I love this! It adds such a lovely atmosphere.

    We have an old fireplace, probably decomissioned (it currently has a fugly old oil heater in it). I was already thinking of adding a wider mantle to the top, but I love the idea of framing it out as well to give it a bit more presence in the room.

  5. I’ve thought about doing this FOREVER, but the only two walls where it would work in my place have a heating grate or a power outlet RIGHT where I want the fireplace to go. Boo for me. But yours looks brilliant!

    • ours does actually cover an outlet — you can see the cord for a power strip in all the non-finished photos above. =) i plugged in an outlet strip, left an alcove in the brick around the plug, and cut out a notch for the cord at the bottom of the side piece. since the wooden surround is mounted to the wall with L-brackets and the top is just resting on it unsecured, all of that can be moved away if we need access.

  6. I’ve been planning a faux fireplace for about 3 months- I just aquired an already assembled mantel. I’ve been looking for ways to use bricks as I want to it feel real even though it’s not. Love what you did here!

  7. Can you share a view of the side? Curious how deep from the wall to the front is and how many bricks do you think you used? I so want to put this in my apartment, but I can’t cut wood 🙁

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