“It was super dark and dated and just not our taste,” Megan Brakefield, founder of Brakefield Design Collective, says about the den in her “’80s colonial” Mequon home. “Maybe if you plop it in a cabin somewhere?”
Low, 8-foot ceilings and “rustic, beat-up beams and no overhead light at all” made the den so dark and uninviting that Brakefield and her architect husband rarely used the space. But they spotted potential.
Improvements included gutting the ceiling and covering it in drywall, adding recessed lighting and removing a chair rail. Then they tackled the fireplace, creating a natural-wood framing that forms a mantel. Replacing the river-rock façade with eye-catching midnight-blue ceramic tiles from Clé Tile transformed the fireplace into a true focal point.
Adding a built-in to the right of the fireplace – formerly “dead space,” she says – allows for books and decorative objects to add color and organic shape to the room. A sculptural sconce to the right of the fireplace also adds visual interest.
As with any family’s remodel, compromise is key. One thing Brakefield’s husband insisted on keeping was the leather sofa. Fortunately, with the den’s new light and brightness, the dark leather provides pleasant contrast. And while Brakefield was initially against adding a TV, she caved when she found Samsung’s The Frame, which displays art when the TV’s off.
Refreshing fireplaces is a common request from Brakefield’s clients, “especially when you get up into Ozaukee County and you have a lot more development from the 1980s,” she says, just like her own home. Now she can use her fireplace redo as inspiring proof of her expertise.
Accessorizing is also personalizing – and the fun and easy part. “Even if you don’t have a natural wood-burning fireplace, you can add beautiful birch logs in a basket sitting on the hearth, some pretty fireplace tools, a set of vases or candlesticks on the mantel, and a beautiful piece of art above,” says Brakefield. But be wary of too much clutter. “Less is more to allow your refreshed fireplace to be the center of attention it deserves,” says Brakefield.
3 Tips from Brakefield
Weekend Warrior Project: To brighten a room, consider whitewashing a fireplace’s brick surround, suggests Brakefield. Another easy décor switch is painting the fireplace frame black.
Inspiring Idea: If you’re dealing with a floor-to-ceiling fireplace, “adding millwork on top of the brick, leaving some of the brick exposed, can make it feel more artisan,” says Brakefield. This also helps weave the fireplace into the rest of the room and not feel like an obstacle or eyesore.
Know When to Call a Pro: “We are experienced DIYers,” says Brakefield, “but still hired pros for the demo, electrical, drywall, carpentry and painting. This proved to be the most efficient and allowed for a well-executed design.”