Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DIY Cardboard Faux Fireplace

It looks like a real home now, with a cat in front of the fireplace and everything!

I have officially turned the corner into Crazy Craft Person Land. The other day, as we were coming home from a trip to the mall, I spotted a giant cardboard box in the dumpster (balanced on top, in pristine condition, not dirty at all) and told my husband I was going to bring it home and make it into a fireplace. I think he was seriously concerned; superhero dresses out of somebody's old sheets was bad enough, now we were going to have a fireplace out of an old box? Well, I figured if LiEr of Ikatbag can wrestle old boxes home to make amazing toys for her kids, I can do the same for my...errr...small fur child. Actually, no, this is all about making me happy.

[cue soft tinkly music and blurring of the picture to indicate that a nostalgic memory is taking over]


Imagine these hanging above white leather couches and gold and glass end tables. From here.
Some of my fondest winter childhood memories involve a fireplace and cardboard. See, when we were younger my mom used to work part-time for this laser disk rental company that would let her take home brand new cardboard promotional displays. You know, like the kind you see at movie theaters with the characters all cut out and all. Seriously, for a time the highlight of every week was finding out which movie she scored, and then assembling the giant cardboard stand. My mother should be nominated for sainthood; I'm not sure what normal mom lets her children turn a pristine, beautifully decorated living room into an entire themed room advertising Fern Gully. Or Thumbelina or Batman Returns. The best was when Jurassic Park came out and there was not only the huge cardboard dinosaur, but signs proclaiming Dinosaur Crossing and Danger: High Voltage. Anyway, in the winter we got to cluster all the cardboard displays around the fireplace to make a little fort and then we would sit around a roaring pyramid of fresh pine branches feeble fire of one Duraflame "log." And then try to toast three-year-old marshmallows from that one time we made Rice Krispies treats.

TL;DR summary: Christmas without a fireplace just doesn't feel complete, so obviously I had to make one. Also, we have no Christmas tree to put up and decorate, so it's about time I started decking out the apartment somehow.

I started by wiping down the box with a damp towel to remove all the dust and mental dumpster association. Walnut helped welcome the box into the apartment by rubbing his cheek all over the corners. Then I used duct tape to secure the corners so that it would stand up on the flaps.

To make space for the fire, I used a box cutter to cut out a rectangle on one side.

Since the box was pretty wide, and I didn't want it to take up too much space against the wall, I cut the box in half.

It was still pretty short, so I sawed off the flaps on the other half of the box and hot glued them to the bottom of the fireplace. This raised it to a nice healthy mantel height of four feet. At this height, though, the horizontal part looked all out of proportion, so I cut it in half and inserted some extra cardboard. I reinforced it with lots of tape and more cardboard inside.

At that point, I decided that it would be just a little too ghetto to follow my original plan of drawing directly on the cardboard. I mean, a DIY faux fireplace made out of a box you pulled out of a dumpster is pretty bad; let's dress it up just a little bit. I went to Staples and bought a roll of brown paper (I only used a fraction of the roll, so I still have plenty for making patterns and wrapping packages with string). I carefully measured and cut and folded to get the paper to fit the weird shape of the fireplace. Definitely one of the odder things I've wrapped. Before I taped the paper down for real, I drew all over it to get a more realistic (ha!) fireplace look.

I knew I wanted to give a nod to the Art Nouveau aesthetic, as it is probably my favorite period in architecture/furnishings/promotional posters. Looking to my Mucha book, clip art from Dover, and pictures of Art Nouveau fireplaces online for inspiration, I came up with this lily design. I really like that I was also able to pay vague homage to Rohan and the elves in my laughable knot-work. The hardest part was that once I drew the first column, I had to sketch a mirror-image on the second column. I'm really bad at it, but I didn't feel like digging out tracing paper and carbon transfer paper to make sure it was perfect. I mean, this is a a cardboard fireplace, after all.
Oops, I see some pencil that I forgot to erase.

Check out my sad attempt at mitered tape corners!

You can see more of my sketchy taping on the side.

After placing the box against the wall, I folded a dark red poly-satin fabric from my stash on the mantel and set up some frames leftover from our wedding tables, birthday cards, Christmas cards, and two handmade stuffed cats from when I was experimenting with softies. Also, it is the perfect place to put my LOTR plaque!

Instead of a fire, I set up a box with some gold glittery fabric and Christmas lights wrapped around a pillar candle. I think it really adds a homey holiday feeling to our living room! And best of all, my husband has moved past his initial, not totally unfounded skepticism and loves it.

Materials: Cardboard box, duct tape, glue, brown wrapping paper
Tools: Hot glue gun, box cutter, scissors, pencil, Sharpie
Hours: About 2.5 for the actual construction, another four for the designing and drawing and securing to the cardboard
Will you make this again? I'd forgotten how much I like working with cardboard! I'm toying with the idea of making a new fireplace every year with a different drawing. This website has some great ideas for classic fireplace surrounds, conveniently already in line-art form. But ideally one day we'd have a house with a real one.
Total cost: The roll of wrapping paper was $6, but I hardly used any. The tools and tape I already had, and obviously the box was free, so probably about $1, total! But I'll confess that I bought Christmas lights for $5 from Target just for this.
Final thoughts: We had a bunch of business school people over for a dumpling-making party last night, and they were all surprised to hear that I just up and made a faux fireplace. Not sure if it was a pleasant oh-wow-I-can't-believe-that-was-a-cardboard-box kind of surprise or a gosh-that-wife-of-Eric's-is-weird surprise, but it makes me happy. I don't know how long we'll leave this up (it does seem a little bit weird for year-round decor), but for very little money and some time (which was fun, and not chore-like at all), we have a beautiful mood-setting piece in our living room!

Linked to Made by You Mondays at Skip to My Lou, Take-A-Look Tuesday at Sugar Bee Crafts, and Tutorial Tuesday at Hope Studios.


  1. I pretty much love this and everything about it! You can hardly tell it was once a cardboard box! Well done :)

  2. This is brilliant, Cindy! I absolutely love it! I think it makes your place look very inviting and Christmas-y! Your post also made me laugh out loud! Thanks;)

  3. That is so cute! Just perfect that I have plenty of cardboard saved. Me and my kids would love making a faux fireplace to hang our Christmas Stockings and what not. Thanks for sharing!


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