1. Here’s the cheap and I think easiest thing: Paint it white or off white or whatever goes with the room. Put a few large candles or large plant in front of the opening. Put another slightly smaller plant and a few decorative items on the mantle (books, a painting, whatever) to distract from the skinny mantle. Or, I wonder if you could nail a piece of wide trim to the front of the mantle to make it look wider.

  2. It’s not ugly, it just needs a little love. Is it blocked just in the front or is the flue sealed shut? I would clean off the soot, paint the wall spot above it, hang a mirror or put a model boat or something nice on the mantel. If the front has to stay sealed, I would put nice house plants in various sizes to block the gray square.

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