In terms of dreamy room layouts, you can’t beat the character of a beautiful fireplace. And while the ultimate goal is to have a functioning hearth to amp up the cozy vibes in cold weather, a nonworking or unusable fireplace can be just as perfect for setting the scene—you just have to know how to use the space the right way.
“You can turn it into a design feature! Nonworking fireplaces can be an intentional and beautiful element in your space,” Decorist designer Elizabeth Herrera assures us. “You can really show your personality and sense of style!”
We turned to the experts to find out the top ways to fill a fireplace that can’t be used—read on for their ideas for making the most of this empty space.
1. Create Fire Another Way
You might not be able to have the roaring fire of your dreams, but as Amy Youngblood of Amy Youngblood Interiors points out, that doesn’t mean you can’t add some flames. “My first go-to for a non-functioning fireplace is to fill it with thick, tall candles,” she says.
“I only prefer things in a fireplace that burn, even if it is not a working fireplace,” agrees Brooke Wilbratte of Tribe Design Group. “A collection of various-sized large ivory candles inside glass hurricanes would be lovely to fill up the space.”
“I love the way candles look in a non-working fireplace,” notes Herrera. “They bring a simple, romantic feel to the space. Adding decorative candle holders is a great way to elevate the look.”
Bee & Willow Small Wooden Pillar Candle Holder in White Wash
In terms of how to arrange the candles, Youngblood gave us a few tips. “I prefer to layer them with the tallest in the back to lowest in the front with a little variety here and there,” she says. “The color will depend upon the backdrop of the insert. For example, if dark, go with lighter white or off-white candles. When you have the time and need the atmosphere, you can actually light them for a lovely glow.”
2. Find Inspiration in Nature
If candles won’t do—whether it’s for aesthetic reasons or something else—Youngblood suggests plants or cut wood arranged to fit the space for a nature-inspired look.
Herrara also thinks plants can be a natural fit for an out-of-commission hearth. “Plants are always a fun way to fill a space and can add a lush, fresh feel,” she says.
When it comes to picking plants, Lina Galvao of Curated Nest Interiors suggests planters with succulents of various heights.
But don’t just pop a plant in and call it a day. Francesca Grace of Francesca Grace Home suggests adding books or bricks to a plant arrangement to add different levels. “[Then] you’ve got yourself a green filled space with character and charm,” she says.
3. Use Fireplace Accessories
Wilbratte feels strongly that if candles aren’t an option, then logs are the only other answer. “I don’t like it when people put items like books or objects inside an unusable fireplace because it draws more attention to the fact that it’s not a working fireplace. Logs or stone balls with a simple fire-screen in front of them still look great even if you can’t use the fireplace,” she says.
Ginger Curtis of Urbanology Designs offered a similar suggestion. “Have fun with the various colors and arrangements available with ceramic, concrete, or glass fireballs,” she says. “[Or] find a vintage fireplace screen, or enjoy the clean, newer looks of one from CB2 or Rejuvenation.”
CB2 Ledge Glass Fireplace Screen
If the look you're going for is timeless, then Galvao also agrees that this is the way forward. “A classic way to do it is to make it look like it’s in use by adding a nice grate with a few neatly stacked birch logs,” she says. “Those tend to be the prettiest. Then get some extra logs and store them in a basket next to the fireplace. [This] will look super cozy!”
4. Use Things You Love to Look At
As Herrera notes, a decorative fireplace can become the perfect showcase for things you want in your sightline. “Fill it with objects you love [or] decorate with the seasons,” she says. “I love the trend of filling the fireplace with old books, magazines, or even records!”
If you do opt for old books but aren’t crazy about the mish-mash of spines, Curtis has one suggestion for creating a beautiful aesthetic. “Fill it with backward-facing books for a neutral, minimalist look,” she says.
5. Create a Functioning Storage Space
If you live in a smaller space, then you know that every inch counts. Herrera suggests taking your defunct fireplace and making it functional. “Turn it into a stunning storage space!” she says. “Create a purposeful storage area by adding a large basket to fill with kid or pet toys, or add some shelving.”
World Market Ombre Seagrass Amelia Tote Basket With Lid
6. Aim for a Minimal, Unified Look
Whether you opt for candles or plants, Herrera has one tip for sourcing your items. “Consider using the same scale, shape, and color of items for a minimal, unified look,” she says. “Alternatively, you could mix the shapes and scale, but keep the color the same for an interesting design feature.”
This will keep your display looking more intentional and less messy. “I think sticking with one design element will add a clean, sophisticated, and intentional look,” explains Herrera. “Arranging different pieces while considering the elements of design can also create a really fun focal point … As always, use pieces you love to reflect your style.”
7. Distract With a Stunning Mantel
Whether your fireplace is defunct or not, Grace says not to overlook the mantel. “I love to decorate the fireplace mantel with an overflowing exaggerated amount of flowers and greenery,” she says. “It adds so much life and color and really makes the fireplace the star of the room, which I believe should always be the case. Throw in some firewood inside the hearth and no one will ever know it isn’t a functioning fireplace.”
No matter what you choose, lean into your fireplace as an added bit of character in your space, and fill it with items that reflect you and your tastes—fortunately, you have plenty of options!