Think of your unused fireplace as more of a frame for possibilities than a space-eating liability. The empty firebox can hold wonders---found objects from nature, part of an art collection, many alternative sources of light. Rather than cover it up with a fancy screen or set the loveseat in front of it, use the fireplace as visible storage, or turn it into a conversation piece.
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Use the fireplace for flickering flames, just the way it was intended. Only these flames come from a collection of white or natural colour pillar candles of different diameters and heights, massed together in the firebox. If yours is an old decommissioned working fireplace, just be sure that whatever is blocking the vent is fireproof, before lighting all those candles in what should be a safe place for flames.
Flickers But No Flames
Hang a flea market chandelier inside the fireplace---the more elaborate the better. A chandelier with hanging crystal pendants will glitter in the light in the room. If you're feeling really adventurous, wire the fixture and run a clear cord to an outlet so you can turn on the chandelier at night. A very, very cool look and a major conversation piece.
Stack books horizontally with the spines facing out in your empty fireplace. Everyone who has books always needs more shelf space and a decorative fireplace is made to order. Use the very visible bookshelf for those oversized art books and coffee table books that never seem to fit comfortably in a regular bookcase. Or just cram it with your entire paperback collection, filling every single centimetre of space with a book.
Paint the fireplace with at least two coats of flat white paint and place sculptures or ceramic pieces in it. The pieces can be rotated to provide an ongoing gallery. You can mount small spotlights inside the fireplace to highlight the art displayed there. Another beautiful choice for an empty fireplace is a sculptural stone. A large gem stone will look better with a dark or coloured paint backdrop. For instance, set an enormous quartz crystal in the empty space. It will gleam with reflected light like cold fire.
Put a terrarium or an aquarium in the fireplace. Live fish swimming around provide a constant show---and the aquarium isn't taking up valuable shelf or table space. If fish seem like too much trouble, a couple of hermit crabs in a tank with a layer of sand and some pretty shells are easy to care for and fun to watch. Or try turtles or lizards in a glass tank---but be sure to allow for their warmth and light needs when planning their fireplace home.
Plants---Dead or Alive
The old fallback is a Boston fern---a popular idea because it looks terrific and is fairly low-maintenance. Three things to watch out for are: drafts---block any that come through the fireplace; light---the plant will need enough and that may mean installing a grow light in or near the fireplace; and kids or pets---it's a decorative plant in a decorative fireplace, not dinner. An even simpler botanical solution is dried hydrangeas. They look wonderful, last forever and require no care. Do consider those kids and pets when putting anything interesting at mouth-level.
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