How to Restore a 1930's Decorative Fireplace

Updated November 21, 2016

If your classic 1930s-era home is fortunate enough to have an authentic fireplace, it is no doubt the focal point of your room. Whether it is functional or decorative, it can make a bold statement. If over the decades your fireplace has lost some of its lustre, try a restoration project to bring back some of its integrity. With some tiles and a fresh coat of paint, your fireplace can return to being the shining feature of your home.

Clean your work area. If your fireplace is authentic to the period, it may have been painted with lead paint at some time. Wear safety goggles, a face mask, long-sleeved clothing and trousers to sweep, strip paint or sand as needed. Cover or remove all the furniture in the area to contain the mess to one area.

Assess the problem areas with your fireplace. Because it is an antique, it is doubtful that you want to demolish the whole thing so it can be recovered. Rather, there may be some loose tiles or discolouration. Analyse which areas can be salvaged and which need to be replaced. Based on your assessment, collect your materials.

Focus on keeping with the time period in which your fireplace was created. During the 1930s, "art deco" style was the prevailing design aesthetic. These fireplace hearths were usually framed with delicate ceramic tiles in bold, bright colours in contrast with white tiles. Geometry was also very influential; with fireplaces, tiles were used to create intricate geometric patterns.

Remove any pieces that need to be replaced. Tile can be popped off with a crowbar, although you may need to break the tile first to make it easier to remove. Replace any wood framing that has rotted or warped over time. Sand your wood with fine-grit sandpaper to prep the surface for tiling or painting.

Use wood filler or a levelling compound to fill any holes or cracks in your fireplace. These dry hard, making them ideal for this purpose. Caulk does not dry hard, so it might not work this purpose, especially if you plan to tile over your caulked areas.

Tile your areas as needed. If you are staying with the current design layout, simply replace any tiles by applying a layer of mortar to the surface and the back of the tile with a trowel. Place your tile in place and allow it to dry for a full 24 hours before continuing.

Mix up your grout and use your trowel to apply liberally over the surface area of your tile. Use your finger to fill the cracks completely with grout. Wipe up any excess grout with a wet sponge and let it dry for 24 hours.

Paint your wood or tile surfaces as desired. High-gloss paints were popular during this era and are consistent with the art deco design scheme. Consider using interior latex paints in bold colours to add visual interest.

Things You'll Need

  • Tiles
  • Mortar
  • Grout
  • High-gloss paint
  • Sponge
  • Wood filler
  • Levelling compound
  • Sandpaper
  • Protective clothing
  • Crowbar
  • Trowel
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About the Author

Liza Hollis has been writing for print and online publications since 2003. Her work has appeared on various digital properties, including Hollis earned a degree in English Literature from the University of Florida.