Another Before/After – Fireplace Mantle Makeover

Well, it’s that slow time of year again that happens right after the holidays.  It’s not dead slow, but everything calms down a bit.

2017 is my year of the DIY projects.  As you may remember, I spent two years as an accountant, traveling way too much daily and I was unable to really accomplish my personal projects.  I left that position in June, and with moving the horses, etc., life has been full (let’s not forget our angry neighbors and the ordeal with Maryland Department of the Environment).  I sport two tennis elbows, a shoulder injury, and an AVM in the palm of my hand, but I’ve been working on projects around here, and I love every minute of it.

It’s time to turn back to the indoor projects.  I have so many planned including larger projects such as built in benches/breakfast nook with a “barnwood” table that I will be starting on this week and smaller projects that involve turning an ugly old bathroom vanity into a furniture style vanity.

What’s really fun about these projects is that I am taking a lot of elements from my previous commercial studios that I stored and using them to create things that cost nothing.

There is nothing I hate more than clutter – clutter in the house clutters my mind, so storing things randomly bothers me.  This isn’t a project, but remember those wooden bowls we all got years ago for newborn photography?  A coat of dark stain and a rustic big candle, and I have a nice cozy coffee table centerpiece (and I can still take it to a newborn session if I need to ;))

wooden bowl


before fireplace mantle

We are the third owners of our house.  The first built it, the second was only there for six months but they redid the family room.  I have always hated the fireplace that they put in even though it was brand new.   It was a stark bluish gray and as Dean said, looked like a polar bear exhibit.  Isn’t this ugly?  I’m sorry previous owners, but what were you thinking?  None of these elements go together!

Years back, I used a transparent brown glaze and toned the color down and painted the brass areas black.  It was better, but what I still hated was the yellowish mantle and the style of the mantle looked terrible with the stone.  I tried my best to distract from it as you can see by my painted trees on the gray fireplace mantle


Yesterday I had enough.  I looked at it and thought – this will not be here another day.  15 years I have stared at this ugly thing but I didn’t change it because I thought it would be difficult.  I didn’t want to take it down and have to figure out how to replace it and attach it to the stone.  I hadn’t thought about building around it.

I went downstairs to my home studio, took one of my old floor boards (remember I distressed and stained 12 boards and posted a blog about it), stripped it to 5-1/2 inches wide, and used finish nails to nail it to the front of the original mantle.  I stepped back.  NICE!

I boxed out the sides.  It was still missing something.  I hadn’t planned on capping it off on the top, but why not?  I grabbed another board, stripped it to 8-1/2 inches wide, and fitted it to the top with a slight overhang.   Without the overhang, it was nice but looked too modern.  I wanted to bring it to a more rustic yet different.

fireplace storage

I sanded down the storage areas on both sides of the fireplace, roughly sanded off the edges of the new mantle, and got out some Minwax Special Walnut stain, and went to work.  I also used some black acrylic paint (yes, acrylic) diluted with water, and made a little wash to go over it to bring out flaws and make it look even more rustic.

fireplace mantle

I love my mantle now!  This is exactly what was needed in here.  We now have a great focal point that matches the room.


and the best part of creating something rustic is it does not have to be perfect…. flaws are embraced!  It’s very stable, though, Dean came in yesterday and I saw him tug on it.

Future Family Room Projects

I plan to sand all the furniture down in here as well as the wood floor and stain them all a darker color.  I’m considering doing the hardwood in a weathered gray.  I can’t wait to start that project, but I want to wait until our old big dogs are no longer with us.  It wouldn’t make sense to work on that while they still hang out in our family room.  They have done a number on our floors for years.