Dated Fireplace Mantel Turns to Rustic, Modern

Updated April 18, 2016
before and after fireplace makeover
Before & After: brick to cement tile

Fireplace Mantel Makeover Contest: Lori Dennis

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If you're tired of the way your fireplace looks, but not quite sure how to tackle the transformation, check this out for some inspiration. I just tried my hand at transforming this frumpy, fireplace façade into mantel magic.

First, the homeowner and I designed and prepared the space — moving furniture and taping plastic. We also demolished the existing mantel.

before and after fireplace makeover

Design Decisions

I spent a few days scouring design magazines and searching for inspiration online to find the perfect look for this mantel makeover. If you’re making a similar change to your mantel, be sure your ideas coordinate with the existing, interior architecture and style of the home. The space had a rustic, modern vibe with exposed beams, oak floors and clean white walls, but it felt a bit dated with the red brick and brass glass doors.

before and after fireplace makeover

I decided on a clean, cement tile (which I purchased from Tile Bar) with a rustic beam.

Prep and Demo

One of the most important (and time consuming) steps in any DIY project is protecting the existing space from dirt, dust and damage that could occur during the renovation process. Remove all furniture, rugs, lighting and accessories from the space, and carefully tape walls and floors in the immediate vicinity. It's important to use clean sheets of plastic and affix them with painters tape. This will prevent the surfaces from sticking to the tape and removing the finish when the tape is pulled away.

before and after fireplace makeover

Get your hammer and chisel out and start removing the existing brick and grout. It will begin to crumble and fall off.

Tile Application

We laid out tile to be placed on the fireplace façade. Once you settle on a design you like, begin to cut the necessary tiles to the correct size. (Disclaimer: This part is a little tricky. You may consider finding an experienced tile cutter if you're uncomfortable operating the tile saw.)

Follow the directions on the bucket of ceramic tile adhesive to apply to the wall in preparation for the tile. Pay attention to the directions regarding drying time and be sure to apply ceramic tile prior to the adhesive medium becoming brittle.

You'll need to place tile spacers in between each row of tile to leave room for grout. If you're going for a seamless look, select the smallest spacers and grout that matches the tile. Apply and remove grout according to directions on package.

Mantel Application

I bought my mantel from Tony Murphy at Finishes. He's an expert in rustic materials and he helped me find the perfect size and style for my mantel.

before and after fireplace makeover

Drill holes in the mantel to attach it to the mantel support, a concealed rod or bracket. Install the bracket to the wall above the finished tile. It’s important that the bracket is installed into studs in the wall. If it doesn't have adequate support, it will fall off of the wall.


Now that your mantel materials are in place, you can begin accessorizing. For my composition, I wanted to keep it simple, like the fireplace design. A round mirror seemed the perfect shape for counter balancing all of the straight lines. I found mine at LampsPlus and hung it with a 50-pound anchor, so it would stay securely on the wall.

before and after fireplace makeover

My color palate was very basic — white, cement gray and wood — so I brought in some color with turquoise ceramic vases from West Elm. To top it off, I like displaying a unique item in the space to show the homeowner’s personality. A calcite stone from Mexico was the perfect touch of something feminine to contrast with the masculine materials.

before and after fireplace makeover
before and after fireplace makeover
before and after fireplace makeover
before and after fireplace makeover

I learned a few lessons on the way to a new mantel. First, this is not a day project. Don’t commit to it unless you have several days to do it or you have a lot of help. Second, it’s hard work. Forget to stretch and you’re sure to exert yourself. Third, treat yourself to an Epsom salt bath after you’re all done. Then, you can sit and enjoy a book next to your fireplace.

Total Cost: $1,883

Lori Dennis is the star of “The Real Designing Women” on HGTV. Find her on Twitter at @loridennisinc.

Vote for her Fireplace Mantel Makeover submission here

before and after fireplace makeover
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