September 13th, 2011

A little while back Laure and I went through her storage and pulled out a few portfolios filled with large scale photos she had taken during art school. We framed one great landscape for her bedroom and it looked so crazy amazing that she graciously let me borrow this softly colored desk shot so I could have a big ‘ol framed photo as well.

I hung it and looked at it and then texted her a picture of everything installed.

While it’s a great piece, we both agreed that it was being completely overpowered by the fireplace. Off to another spot with you!

The area above the fireplace has been an ongoing struggle, with many unsatisfactory incarnations including these – HEREHERE HERE.

The problem is scale.

Our ceilings are a standard 8′ tall, but the fireplace rides pretty high on the wall allowing for a mere 37″ of white space above the mantel. Two thin windows flank the fireplace on either side and their top moldings create a weird invisible horizontal line across the wall. When anything hangs near or above this strange visual trickery the ceiling begins to feel really low, while conversely, the art appears to be hung way too high.

Then there’s that mantel.


Overly fussy and completely under-scaled, this has been one of those “I’ll get to it projects” that never seemed to be gotten to. All I’ve ever imagined doing was installing a simple but chunkier wood mantel over the top of this thing. Something boxy, something easy to build, something budget friendly.

Excuse my terrible photoshopping, but a solution as simple as this uncomplicated wood box would be better scaled and suited for the fireplace mantle, easily constructed and pretty cheap materials-wise.

Screw it. Why not go all change crazy and paint the brick a lighter color like a soft gray/almost white. Or go slightly less nuttier and paint the thing a true black.

(I’m leaning lighter – if for no other reason than to shake things up)

Over the mantle art-wise is still an issue. I’ve hunted for the perfect long and lean piece to snuggle up into that strangely proportioned spot and have come up with ZERO things after almost four years of searching. Time to DIY.

Surprise surprise. I can’t afford a Stella or a Judd or any blue chippy art. I mean, I wish I could – that would be INCREDIBLE – but I can’t even find an affordable no-name modernist abstract painting or mid century fiber art wall hanging, let alone ANYTHING that’s both famous and super long and lean.

Making some fauxart has long been a noodle in my brain (and something I have done before). Why not. Faking it is fun.

I’ve been mocking up a few different (easily made) options – but SHOCKER – this long/thin composition isn’t widely popular with artists whose work I dig. Or really any artists. ‘Cause it’s weird.

Firstly, a fake Ed Ruscha, well actually it’s from his art book THEN & NOW. I don’t know, it’s not a favorite – I just always liked that project and this typography. Plus this would be so easy to make.

Next idea was a fake Matthew Brannon. I always liked his larger scale installations – like the Whitney limply coiled eel, a reoccurring motif in his work. It’s the right scale and I love an eel.

Otherwise, most of the artist’s work that I love looks awkward as hell squished into a format like this or is too labor intensive for my quick and dirty faker style. I though I could pretty easily pull-off something text based like a Weiner or a Holzer or a Shrigley or a Nauman or even a Baldessari – but nothing felt quite right (even though I love me some Weiner).

I’ll always remember this story a teacher once told me about going to another rather famous artists studio. He was admiring all the Jasper Johns and Warhols (or things equally blue chippy) and asked about the pieces. “Oh those? They’re all fakes – I just made them. Come on, I can’t afford that shit.”

Mantel first, forgery later, methinks.

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  1. d r e w on 09/13/2011:

    i used to have a fake franz kline hanging in my living room that i made with a store-bought canvas and some tempura paint. if you like it, rip it off… it’s just for your home… it’s not like you are trying to make money off it it.

  2. The brick house on 09/13/2011:

    Oh yeah, it’s not like anyone is trying to take this stuff to Christies. Sometimes you gotta just fake it for yourself. I’ve done stuff like this on occasion to figure out how they did it originally – it’s a great way to build some new skills.

  3. Callista on 09/13/2011:

    I LOVE your teacher’s story.

    Also, have you seen/considered doing something like Jordan Ferney’s abstract art DIYs? I don’t know if it’s quite what you’re looking for, but it’s a start.

  4. lawny on 09/13/2011:

    like the new fp ideas – wood/light
    L-O-V-E the eel!!

  5. Lauren on 09/13/2011:

    I’ve recently also been tempted to create a piece of long-n-skinny art to cover an ever-attractive electrical panel. Easy removal for access to the panel but at least I won’t have to look at the darn thing. I’m also considering a text-driven approach as I don’t trust myself to try a replica. However, Imitation IS the highest form of flattery…

  6. Joseph on 09/13/2011:

    I like the photo better than the knockoffs – it just seems more genuine and contextual; especially with the wood mantle.

  7. Ness on 09/13/2011:

    I LOVED this post! My friend Jenny Komenda from posted my DIY Franz Kline and shiz hit the fan with some artists! I thought I must have been transported to the twilight zone. You can see the post here: You’ve got to read the comments. Hilarious.

  8. Lisette on 09/13/2011:

    Not the easiest solution, I guess, but how complicated and workable would it be to bring that mantle down a notch? That way the scale would be more workable, especially in view of the ceiling action going on… just a thought!

    (and so far, the leaves art work has been my favourite art work above thfire place)

  9. Lisette on 09/13/2011:

    Not the easiest solution, I guess, but how complicated and workable would it be to bring that mantle down a notch? That way the scale would be more workable, especially in view of the ceiling action going on… just a thought!

    (and so far, the leaves art work has been my favourite art work above the fire place)

  10. L on 09/13/2011:

    Maybe do the light/wood thing with the fireplace, then try the photo again? That picture is gorgeous!

  11. Laura on 09/13/2011:

    Your mantel idea is perfect. I’m all for DIYing art but does have an ok selection of serigraphs (Stella, Pollock, etc) and you can search by width (maybe just for inspiration). Whatever you go with, I think an extra-tall narrow vessel on the mantel combined with your wide-low art might help with the odd proportions of the fireplace.

  12. brandeye on 09/13/2011:

    your house is so great. it makes me wish i switched things up in my house more often. anyway, did you ever see this shop?
    i had a similar narrow, odd spot to fill and they made somethig custom for me. i love, love, LOVE it.
    might look cool in your house with shades of white with a little black thrown in. just a thought!

  13. Bob Urbanowski on 09/13/2011:

    I loved the original photo, but the positioning wasn’t good.. tough one. Maybe a 3-frame piece? Along the lines of:
    but, obviously, something shorter. (I think that image may be by the artist Leonid Afremov – very similar style, at least.)

  14. the brick house on 09/13/2011:

    I’m going to build the mantel and paint and then figure out from there. Maybe things will work better- or I can find a long lean vintage mirror. Ugh. Stupid fireplace.

  15. RJ on 09/13/2011:

    i had a similar problem and scored an antique lithograph map of the alps off ebay. go to ebay and search “panorama” and “alps”. most of them are 24 inches long though. (and the whole mountain theme may be a little weird given that you live in the middle of the desert). if you search “panorama” and “long”, you can find some other vintage photographs that stretch 48 inches. just an idea.

  16. windy on 09/13/2011:

    Have you thought about painting the upper third of the fireplace the same cream color of your walls, keeping the lower 2/3 black? That might help with the overwhelming scale and might also be a cool modern touch, like a two-tone ceramic vase that’s been dipped in black.

  17. jennifer on 09/13/2011:

    that mantel will be great! i like shaking it up with white brick, too

  18. Tom on 09/13/2011:

    I say knock the fireplace down, or at least bring it down a few bricks. It’s obviously been a thorn in your side long enough!

  19. Christine on 09/13/2011:

    I know this is in the same vein as the leaves sculpture that you nixed already, but when I saw it on etsy it seemed perfect for above your mantel.
    A little spendy, but maybe you could get them to come down on it.

  20. Love the photo. I like the wood mantel idea and then maybe that photo would look good there. I already thought it looked good there, but maybe by doing something different to the mantel, you’d be happy with it there.

  21. jeannette on 09/13/2011:

    did you see anna dorfman’s post on the fake hirsts?

    i think i’d much rather have you make money off fake weiners.

  22. jh on 09/13/2011:

    I could picture a slat screen (like you have out front) box extending down to cover 2/3 or so of the top of the black brick surround.

  23. pianoarthur on 09/13/2011:

    I like ALL of your ideas Morgan!
    Here is my idea:
    The photo above the fp is here:
    (I think the line just below ceiling level adds a bit IMHO.

  24. pianoarthur on 09/13/2011:

    What is up with the comments dates? 2.13.11?

  25. THE BRICK HOUSE on 09/13/2011:

    i don’t know…thats weird.
    Trying to fix.

  26. modernhaus on 09/13/2011:

    How do you feel about cement? I think you should build out the fireplace all the way to the ceiling and then cover it in cement (concrete? Like trowel it on and leave it natural) Kind of loft like, you know?

  27. modernhaus on 09/13/2011:

    How do you feel about cement? I think you should build out the fireplace all the way to the ceiling and then cover it in cement (concrete? Like trowel it on and leave it natural) Kind of loft like, you know?

  28. jkc on 09/13/2011:

    What about covering a long, thin canvas with an interesting textile? You have such beautiful rugs with interesting colors/patterns…maybe get some of that beauty on the wall. And love the wood mantly photoshop…that will be gorgeous!

  29. jill on 09/13/2011:

    i don’t have a fireplace, but oddly i have a couple of pieces in just the shape/size you are talking about. one is a crazy needlepoint thing that i actually found on the street – i love ny. i recently pulled it out of retirement – it was in the closet. my neighbor walked in and freaked out – “wheeere did you get that?!” apparently her friend had one. maybe this one. who knows. anyway, i digress.

    personally, i am weird about the knock-offs, but i get it. i’m sure you can rig up some fantastic knock-off, but i also think you could probably make something original and awesome too.

  30. Ed on 09/13/2011:

    I’ve always wanted to make a fake Motherwell, something that looked like a lost member of the Elegies to the Spanish Republic. Those have the right shape for your space, but you’d have to make a little one and it might look all wrong at that scale. Just a thought.

  31. donna on 09/14/2011:

    My husband makes some pretty fun and funky digital art, if you want to look. He does it for himself as stress relief so cost is pretty minimal.

  32. Tonia (@ChicModern) on 09/14/2011:

    Fireplaces like that are always tricky, but I’m sure that you will find a great solution that you are happy with.

  33. niamhy on 09/14/2011:

    I love your fireplace, its supersexy painted black..I’m in a rented place and have a similar fireplace but in a very sickly shade of brown stone. Can I ask what you painted your fireplace with and if this is a working fireplace do you have any problems with the paint blistering etc while the fire is lighting. My local paint store thinks painting mine is a bad idea as it wont hold up to the heat.. have you found this a problem? Thankee kindly

  34. Carla on 09/14/2011:

    Eel it!

  35. Kris on 09/14/2011:

    First of all, the light version sounds fabulous and once you have done that, I think you might have another rotating art session on your hands.
    Second, the long artwork kind of make the room also seem lower.
    Third, someting along the lines of what Modernhaus was saying, about building it all the way up, then you could put the mantel where you want it, and all would be good. If you like the brick, you can just continue that up, or do the whole cement thing over it.

  36. Donald on 09/14/2011:

    My suggestion, which is totally AWESOME, is one of these…

    But larger scale the same width as the fireplace, and the angle where the wall meets the ceiling, so the mirror looks down on the top of the mantle as well as out into the room. AWESOME, I know.

  37. Something Gorgeous on 09/14/2011:

    I would paint the fireplace white and I think your idea to ‘fake’ some art is fabulous….go for it!

  38. Lunaluna on 09/15/2011:

    Love the eel !

  39. thisisveryimportant on 09/15/2011:

    love the idea of a built-up-then-cemented-to-the-ceiling fireplace. or a fake motherwell. (reassuring: even he didn’t get it in one stroke. had to edit in later with white.) but i’ve always envied your black fireplace. go true black!!

  40. Erik on 09/15/2011:

    I think you should paint the wol thing a really GLOSSY black, like joseph dirand has in his place:

    Remember who told you first.

  41. erin orea on 09/16/2011:

    You could get two bookended peices of live edge wood and have one as the mantle and the second could attach to the wall directly above your mantle butted up to the first piece so the grain lines matched. Kind of like a wood wrap around on a piece of furniture, but instead of wrapping around it would climb the wall. Then there would be no need for some ill fitting art because the mantle would be its own sculpture.

  42. Erik on 09/19/2011:

    Glossy black fireplace:

    Look! But exchange the baroque mirror to a mid-century danish rosewood one, hanging it horizontally. Put some candles and ceramics on that bitch and you’re good to go.

  43. Adrienne on 09/21/2011:

    I actually have a large hunk of rustic walnut type wood on my brick fireplace, which at the moment is still brick. For almost a year I’ve been planning on plastering it(to soften up the sharp brick lines), and painting it white to create a more sleek look. (I really love white and walnut wood together). But I am too chicken…will I mess it up, lower resale value of home, etc. I was wondering if you guys did paint your brick, and how difficult or time consuming was the process? BTW, I of course am leaning towards your white brick fireplace with the wood chunk mantle… with perhaps a bit of color in the art placed above it…maybe even a tapestry of some kind?

  44. julia wheeler on 09/22/2011:

    bahahaha! so true… wise teacher. i like the white bricks + wood mantle combo. i’ve been trying to figure out how i can rip off robert indiana’s “eat” sign or some other typography forgery too. what a bunch of cheap assholes.

  45. erin@designcrisis on 09/23/2011:

    Something oval or organic/sculptural would be nice. There’s a whole lot of rectangle bizness going on already.

  46. Dianne on 10/28/2011:

    Hello “The Brick House”

    I just discovered your web site and love that you painted your fireplace. I noticed through the comments that several people asked about how you painted it. Would you be willing to share that information?


  47. Sadface on 12/22/2011:

    Knock off art? Thats really lame and disappointing. Would you get a fake Knoll piece or head down to your local Nood and buy an imitation Barcelona chair renamed “Madrid chair”? I love your house because you try to stick with original finds…and putting a copy of a painting would really compromise what this house and blog is all about. Maybe you can’t afford a Stella or Kline (who can?!), but there are a lot of other artists both contemporary and from the same time period as those art giants that would be affordable.

  48. trinity on 04/27/2012:

    what is the paint color and brand of paint used on your fireplace? it looks really great!

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