In DIY Projects

How to restore an antique fireplace

You may remember from our bedroom makeover plan that we found an antique fireplace in our back garden. Which, for a salvage-hungry interiors addict in the middle of a low-waste renovation, is the equivalent of stumbling across a winning lottery ticket on the ground – albeit a pretty low value lottery ticket. But now we needed to figure out how to restore a fireplace, because it was in very poor condition.

Finding the fireplace

It was shortly after we moved in. We were clearing debris from the bottom of the garden and spotted what looked like an old static washing line stashed down the side of the shed. But when we tried to pull it out – washing lines don’t weigh a literal metric ton…

What we heaved onto the lawn was a tarp-wrapped, rust-encrusted cast iron fireplace. Sadly, it was clearly not Victorian – too big and not as ornate as traditional Victorian fireplaces. My research puts it as Edwardian – about 30 years too late for our house.

But it was beautiful, deserved to be on a wall, and we had a big blank chimney breast problem for our bedroom makeover, so we decided to throw historical accuracy to the wind and get restoring. We did some frantic googling around how to restore a fireplace.

How to restore a fireplace

This piece had been outside for some time, and it wasn’t immediately clear how much damage the rust had done. The first job was to carefully take it apart to check its structural integrity.

Is it still structurally sound?

Yes! A couple of fixings broke away, but it was unlikely we’d be able to use the original bolts anyway. We were confident we could restore each part then successfully get it back together again.

Removing rust

There’s an easy way we could have repaired this fireplace – by sandblasting and powder-coating. But those are professional trades and would have meant paying to have the piece picked up, treated and returned. We’re on a budget, remember? There had to be a DIY option.

So we sanded. And sanded. And sanded…

We used a palm sander on the flat areas, starting at 40 grit and moving up to 80 grit to smooth out the finish. For the finer areas, we used handheld files to chip rust and debris out of the detailing.

Priming & Finishing

Two coats of industrial spray primer went on every piece. Then three coats of black spray paint restored a beautiful matte black finish.

You’ll want to do any work like this outdoors, with masks and old clothes because spray paints are nasty and go everywhere.

Fireplace Tiling

Unfortunately, the burgundy metro tiles were the only major casualty of taking the fireplace apart. They’d been cemented onto the backing piece, so most of them broke as they were removed. They were also badly chipped and scratched from their time living down the side of our shed.

Wanting the next best thing, we sourced from vintage metro tiles on eBay to replace them. Copious amounts of tile adhesive secured them into their railings, and we used black grout to keep up the monochromatic theme.


This was the trickiest part – we took the old rust-caked bolts and fixings to B&Q to find the most similar sizes and reassembled the whole thing in situ. There was a small amount of give when reassembled in the original way so, as the competent DIY experts we are, we bunged a load of metal adhesive in every join and crossed our fingers.

It worked! It’s secured to our chimney breast with two hefty bolts and it’s super sturdy.

Home is where the hearth is

Another lovely challenge of our bedroom makeover was the patch of concrete in front of the chimney breast where there had previously been a hearth. Without floorboards, it had previously been covered with a rectangle of loose OSB which wasn’t quite the look we wanted.

Instead, we used a thin piece of plywood (taking the chance to make it central and symmetrical across the chimney breast – Victorian fireplaces are notoriously off centre in upstairs rooms that were serving staff quarters), screwed it down on all four corners and laid some simple white tiles to match the fireplace surround.

The finished piece

Restoring a fireplace is a lot of work if you intend to do it yourself. It’s dirty, tiring work to repeatedly sand and spray – never mind moving six separate pieces of cast iron in and out of your house throughout. But I’m absolutely thrilled with the finished effect – this slightly-wonky, wrong-period fireplace is the centrepiece of our master bedroom.

And best of all, it’s another flat surface to style and restyle to my heart’s content…

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Posted on February 1, 2019

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