I personally feel that one of the best changes one can do to a dark paneled room or with a fireplace that is just to dark or just does not look right, is to paint it.
My fireplace in our den is painted and it really created quite a focal point. Its very easy to accesorize and to fix up for festive occasions. It looks great with brass.
We painted ours PureWhite with a emamel gloss. It is striking.
As far as maintenance, it is pretty non existant. We do burn alot of wood and around the fireplace enclosure, some smoke stain does crop up. But it comes off with any cleaner. The hearth area cleans up nicely with windex. I do, because I don't mind it, put a coat of paint on the fireplace every year or so. This to me is not maintenance, but to some it could be.
This year alone, I would guess that I have painted 15 fireplaces around town. People want things lightened up and fashionable. A painted fireplace, accessorized right can be just that.
I also understand the majority on the issue. Brick is brick and it does not need any care, but with a coat of paint on the brick, you do make it where it needs cleaning up occasionally.
Here is what I did: I cleaned off the bare brick with vinegar and water to remove any grease or grime. This stuff cuts grease very well.
Then I put on four or five coats of primer. I wanted the mortar to be smooth. Therefore the paint had to fill in alot of gaps and crevises. On some areas, I caulked the brick to fill in other holes and defects.
Then I put on two coats of final coat paint. The fireplace really came to life. We do get many comments on this. Matter of fact, four of the customers that I painted their fireplace came to my home to see the actual finish product.
When I do this, I repeat several times that you cannot go back to the original brick again. The fireplace is committed.
oNe comment, regardless of what color you use, make sure you go only semi gloss or glossier. Never go flat or satin. The maintenance would wear you out.
Flat has many pores, which makes the dirt settle in the pores and hard to clean. semi gloss and better are actuall almost non porus and therefore very easy to clean. Its like cleaning glass.