DIY Fireplace With Built-ins: One Room Challenge Weeks 1-3

One Room Challenge - Living Room Makeover with Fireplace, Projects

DIY Fireplace With Built-ins: One Room Challenge Weeks 1-3

Here we go! I’ve joined the Spring 2024 One Room Challenge to makeover the living room! Quick recap of this house: it’s a new build from (a budget builder) and everything and was completely devoid of character when we moved-in. This is the third room I will be renovating and will certainly be the most labor-intensive project. In this post, we’ll get into some fireplace design ideas and different options for fireplace built-ins!

Here is the concept for the fireplace wall. Right now the living room has a large blank wall because of the vaulted ceiling. Even though this is an interior wall, this is the best spot for the focal point because of that large blank space! Tall ceilings are nice, but they come with their own headache if the house didn’t come with any design elements.

Designing your fireplace surround, especially with built-ins, takes a lot of planning. Every space is different. You’ll have to consider the placement – will the TV be above the fireplace or on a different wall? Interior or exterior wall? In between windows? Electric or gas insert? If you install built-ins, will you have cabinets, shelves, bench seating or a combination? Let’s look at some options.


Between Windows

If you have large windows on your ideal fireplace wall, this is good news! Depending on the size of the fireplace surround you envision (usually at least 40 inches for a small fireplace surround) you can fit the fireplace between your windows. Now you have the enviable opportunity to put bench window seats on either side. This is a dreamy layout. And if you are DIY-ing the built-ins, you can create the low-seating height to meet the bottom of the window just right.

Check out these ideas for a cozy fireplace between two windows with bench seating. This stone fireplace has loads of character, yet still has a modern touch with minimalist bench seating and black windows. Love!

Are you into more traditional homes? This sitting room design by Hendricks Churchill shows a great way to create an ultra cozy reading nook next to your fireplace by placing a header and creating an alcove.

Using a Blank Wall

But maybe you have a huge blank wall you don’t know what to do with, and you don’t want to hang the world’s biggest canvas art there. Or maybe you really need extra storage! Perhaps you have a lot of books to display and want your dreamy library concept in your living room. Or (like me) you may have a lot of toys and games to hide away.  That’s the perfect spot for your fireplace and some living room built-ins.

Fireplace with vaulted ceilings via Remedy Design Firm

If you have tall ceilings, even better. This just happens to be my situation. I have 14 foot ceilings and actually did consider adding a massive art piece here, or adding built-ins on this wall and the fireplace area on the window wall, but in the end, having it all on one feature wall was the best way to go. I love what these interior designers have done with open shelves paired with built-in cabinets!

This design by Mountainwood Homes used extra deep custom cabinets for plenty of storage and added a hearth to fill the space.

These raw wood built-in bookshelves in this James May home contrast with beautiful white walls for visual interest. I’m hoping to find some nice white oak to build my bench seats alongside white walls because I love this color combo!

Don’t Be Afraid of Asymmetry

My first DIY fireplace build had one window on one side and instead of spending the money to install a window on the other side, I added a large art display roughly the same dimensions as the opposite window for an optical illusion. This balanced everything out and it made an elegant living room, if I do say so myself.

My previous DIY fireplace build-from-scratch
Finished product in my previous home! An example of how asymmetry can work out.

Here are some other great examples of intentional asymmetrical fireplace built-ins. You can opt for bench seating on one side of the fireplace and some open shelving with some bottom cabinets on the other side. 

Another asymmetrical fireplace example via DecorPad

Interior vs Exterior Wall

The first step here is to decide if you want a gas fireplace or an electric insert. If you want a gas fireplace, there will be a lot more codes to consider when choosing which wall you’re installing. It’s usually best to use an exterior wall for easy venting. When I built my gas fireplace from scratch in a previous home, the company that sold me the gas insert used our crawl space to extend the gas line under the house. The total cost was about $2000 including the insert, the installation, venting, and permits (this was 2019 though, so take that for what you will). 

An electric insert may not be the first thing that comes to mind for a new fireplace build, but it’s what I’ve chosen for this project. Here’s why. Let’s start with the obvious benefit – They’re much less expensive! A high-quality electric insert with decent energy efficiency can easily be found for $500 or less and there is no professional installation or venting required. Another reason is they are becoming increasingly common. Years ago, I chose a gas insert because I thought it would add more value to my home than an electric one, but they are on the rise. In addition, depending on the specs of the model you use, an electric fireplace is likely more energy-efficient. 

Planning your Fireplace Build

I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say that DIY-ing custom built-ins is easy. But many people do it, and there are plenty of tutorials out there from amazing carpenters. Another route is to hire a framer, then DIY the fireplace installation, the drywall and tiling, etc. I did this in the past; paid the handyman his hourly rate, and DIY’ed everything else, still saving a lot of money.

The next step is to draw out detailed plans with exact measurements. This isn’t the fun part to me, but it can be eye-opening. It’s easy to envision a 40″ fireplace insert, only to realize the tile and trim pieces will add a foot on either side and the base cabinets in your online shopping cart would be too wide for the living space!

Seriously, draw and measure everything out before getting excited about any particular product or design details.

DIY Framing An Electric Fireplace

I’ve started framing out the fireplace and bench seating, but haven’t finished just yet so I won’t share a full tutorial today. I will share my framing plans though. This plan is all 2x4s. The wider-looking ones are just shown face forward. The darker ones are the braces secured to the wall.

My fireplace framing plans for the One Room Challenge

Since there aren’t many codes to adhere to for an electric insert, most areas will give you a lot of wiggle room for how high off the ground your fireplace sits. As of now, my electric insert will be 7 inches from the floor. Always check the installation specifications of the fireplace model you’ve ordered/want to order. This could change your plans a bit.

Framing a fireplace surround is a pretty big project! I hope to have all the framing done by next week for this One Room Challenge.

1 thought on “DIY Fireplace With Built-ins: One Room Challenge Weeks 1-3”

  1. I love the french style fireplace inspiration from Decor Pad, the asymmetrical example. You are going to love the shelves and it adds so much character to the space!

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