Use a non-functional fireplace to heat up your home decor

A crackling fire roaring merrily away in a fireplace is a common New England sight. Homeowners are happy to use their fireplace to add to the holiday atmosphere or just add a little warmth to the living room.

Although fireplaces can be attractive to look at, their popularity has been on the wane. The feature has been criticized as being inefficient, a safety risk, and a health hazard. Fireplaces are often outfitted with inserts to make them a more reliable source of heat, but some homeowners may use insulation to block them off.

If you have a non-functional fireplace, or just one you don't use, you might consider how it can better contribute to the overall look of the room. The recessed space provides a unique environment for creating a focal point or contributing to a theme.

One option is to hint at the fireplace's traditional use, even if you aren't breaking out the kindling. Elizabeth Lilly, writing for This Old House, says you might set up a few pieces of wood on the log holder and keep a set of fireplace tools nearby. Alternatively, you could fill all or part of the firebox with stacked logs. Janell Beals, writing for the home design site Houzz, says homeowners who take this approach usually cut the logs to size and stack them horizontally so the ends of the logs are facing out.

If you want the ambiance of a fire without the hassle of fiddling with the damper, you can use candles in the space. Regency Real Estate Brokers, a company in Orange County, Calif., says putting in pillar candles of varying heights will create a pleasant glow when lit. Lilly says you'll want to use the fireplace's screen when lighting the candles.

For bibliophiles, the fireplace can be a perfect place to store some books. Larissa Runkle, writing for Realtor.com, says you can create visual interest by putting in books of different sizes and stacking them in a variety of ways.

Building shelves within a fireplace lets you showcase books or any other items you wish to display. The home design site Freshome says you can easily create a collection or other display in this site. The nook created by the firebox can also be a perfect place to put in artwork, sculptures, or other larger items that can be a central part of the room.

The fireplace can also be a good storage space for your wine collection. Regency Real Estate Brokers says portable wine racks may fit the space well, allowing you to keep bottles easily accessible during a gathering of friends.

Consider using the fireplace to display or highlight a houseplant. Beals says foliage will create a livelier look in the room, and can be changed with the seasons for an upgraded look.

You may want to cover up the firebox with a more attractive item. Runkle says you can hang a poster or other large piece of art, with the fireplace bricks serving as a natural frame. You could also put in a decorative element such as a chalkboard or piece of beadboard.

The fireplace itself is often an attractive element, though it may need an upgrade to make the feature a true focal point. Lilly says you can spruce up its appearance by painting the bricks or adding an ornate summer cover. You can also consider putting in decorative elements such as wallpaper to cover the back of the firebox, perhaps combining this step with another upgrade such as the addition of shelving.

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