One of our big projects for 2016 is a fireplace mantel makeover!
Here is my fireplace, it is super duper boring. When we built the house, we decided to add a fireplace so the structure would be there, but only get the most basic mantel option to save money (literally thousands of dollars on this) and then build it ourselves later. So it has sat here for a year, looking boring and ugly and basically a thorn in my side every time I looked at it.
Whenever I went to my neighbor’s houses and saw their more expensive and fancy mantels, I would be sad that mine wasn’t like that. That’s what happens when you live in a new development, you can’t help but compare your upgrade choices to everyone else. We opted for a larger house with fewer upgrades since we can DIY so many things but that means we have to wait for time and money and live with the inconvenience or ugliness.
Anyway, we decided to upgrade the tile around the fireplace insert and raise it off the ground about 12 inches. I’m SO glad we did that because in our vast, cavernous space, we needed it higher up to be proportionally correct. I have been thinking about this project for longer that we have even lived here–I even built a tiny mockup version of a mantel awhile ago haha. But here are some of my inspiration photos (click on photos for source). You can find all of these on my Home Projects Pinterest Board also.
I wavered for a long time between doing a hearth (the ‘seat’ in front of the fireplace) or no hearth and ultimately decided to built a hearth because in the winter I like to sit by the fire and warm my buns. Plus our space can handle it. But it warn’t easy, lemmeetellya.
I had an idea in my mind about how to build it. I would built a basic wood 2×4 structure with pocket screws and self-driving screws and screw it into the ground. First I had to remove the little transition molding around that pathetic tile they put in on the ground. It was pretty easy with a butter knife, just ripped off.
No going back now!
This part gets really mathy: I measured out the width of the fireplace area and subtracted 3 inches, 1 1/2 for each side to allow for 3/4″ MDF and 3/4″ trim. It was a bit tricky to be precise here because we have rounded corners so there’s no exact spot to measure from. I tried to measure right before the rounded edge started, I think it was about 68 inches or so, but obviously you will take your own measurements. I also made the depth of the hearth just enough so that the 2×4 sat right in front of the floor tile. It’s about 20 inches.
Then I built a structure like this. Pocket holes for the bridge pieces to connect the two frames, the two frames I used 2 1/2″ Spax screws (which are my favorite because they self drive easily into the wood using an impact driver.) I also used glue on the joints. I additionally added metal brackets on the joints to help prevent it from ever swaying side to side since it’s a free-standing structure.
Once this structure was built, I removed the baseboard behind it and then screwed it to the floor. This is where it got all wonky, since this wood was just sitting in my basement and pretty warped. It’s always helpful to use straight wood, FYI. I decided to built the MDF around it, making that as square as possible and then using shims to make the whole thing square.
I carefully measured and cut the MDF so that the seams would be in a place that gets covered by trim. I glued and nailed these together. Then I set it around the 2×4 frame and had to use shims to fill in gaps here and there where it didn’t meet up right with the frame. I nailed it to the frame using 2″ nails. I used a square and a level a lot during this step and in the end got it pretty dang square. I cut off the shims that were sticking out with a Dremel.
To trim it out, I’m using 1×3 poplar wood pieces. Poplar is a good wood to use for painting, since it has very few knots and is very smooth. I wanted real wood for the trim because it has those crisp edges and smooth sides. I haven’t trimmed out the entire base yet because at this point my knees and body were killing me and I needed a break from all the crawling around on the floor (8 months pregnant, remember?)
For the top, at first I used MDF and cut it to size with about a 1″ overhang. I used a jigsaw to cut around the tile and it looked pretty good. But after talking to my husband for awhile about it, we opted to take this hearth top off and order quartz for the top. It’s expensive, but this is what is going to make it look really professional and long lasting. The quartz is the same as we have in our kitchen (Hanstone Tranquility) and I ordered it from the same company. They had a remnant in their quarry which made it cheaper. They came out to my house and did a template for it so they get the exact measurements and everything and it’s going to look great, I think. However it’s not going to be installed until the week of March 21st so we have to wait until then.
I had a couple of old backsplash pieces that we used to imitate the quartz which allowed me to start building the actual mantel. The mantel is almost done now but won’t be able to be completely finished until the hearth top is installed. I will post about the mantel in Part 2, stay tuned!
See the other parts of this mantel makeover!