From White Painted Fireplace to Modern Elegance

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

Fireplace Mantel Makeover Contest: Monica Benavidez

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Living in a 1970s ranch home comes with its challenges, but it's nothing that some DIY elbow grease can't resolve. Following our move to the home in 2010, we made a few changes to upgrade our boring, formerly beige fireplace. But these changes were minimal. This year, we did an overhaul, really calling attention to our fireplace.

before and after fireplace makeover

Here’s everything we did — from prepping and shopping to building and installation — and a guide to do this project yourself, if you like our style.

Tiling the Mantel

We laid the marble tile for our new fireplace surround first. Follow these steps:

1. Remove the previous mantel and tape off the area that will be tiled to give you a guide for step 2. Also, thoroughly clean and vacuum the area to ensure it’s free of dust and debris.

before and after fireplace makeover

2. Place a drop cloth on your fireplace hearth. Using the pre-mixed thin-set mortar and the no-notch finishing trowel, apply a coat of mortar to your fireplace to fill in the grooves between the bricks.

3. Smooth and level out using the trowel. Allow the first coat to dry about 10 to 12 hours before following up with a second coat. The point of this step is to create a level surface to lay your tile, so check with a level after each coat to identify low or high areas. In the photo below, you can see the difference between one and two coats.

before and after fireplace makeover

4. While you're waiting for the second coat to dry (about 10 to 12 hours), lay out your tile and pencil or bullnose border on the floor the way you plan to tile your fireplace. If your tile is from multiple boxes, mix them up a bit to vary the pattern. Use your measurements to determine the overall height and width, and mark which tiles will need to be cut.

before and after fireplace makeover

5. To make your cuts, a wet saw is ideal. Tile nippers do not give the clean, straight-edge cuts that a wet saw does. Install a diamond blade onto your wet saw and prep to make your cuts. Always remember to wear eye and hearing protection when working with power tools.

6. To prevent tiles from chipping, wrap them with painters tape before cutting. It'll save you so much frustration and time. Make all of your cuts. If any cuts remain a little rough on the edge, you can file it smooth with a tile file. Tip: When using a wet saw, go slowly and let the saw do all of the handwork. Our $99 wet saw easily cut through marble, glass and a very thick, marble pencil border that needed mitered edges.

before and after fireplace makeover

7. Layout your newly cut pieces with the rest of the tile that you laid out in step 3.

8. Using a laser level and your fireplace measurements, find the center point for your mantel/surround. This will help you start off on the right foot with straight, centered tile and pencil/bullnose trim. You'll work from that point outward.

9. Once your thin-set mortar is dry, you're ready to begin tiling. Using your notched trowel, apply a layer of thin-set on an area one square foot at a time. Then gently comb through it using the notched side. Return any excess accumulated on your trowel to the mortar bucket. On those loose tiles for the edges, you can spread thin-set on the back of the tile and adhere it to the wall.

10. Adhere your tile to the thin-set you just applied and move it into place until it is level and in the right spot. Once it's where it should be, use a rubber grout float to gently press the sheet in place. Don't use your hands since they won't apply even pressure. Double-check to make sure the tile remains level and that no tiles are sticking out further than others.

11. Apply any spacers necessary before moving on to the next sheet.

12. Repeat steps 8, 9 and 10 until you've laid all of your mosaic sheets and bullnose trim. The marble pencil trim we used was heavy, so to keep it from sliding we used painters tape to hold it in place.

before and after fireplace makeover

13. Once you're finished tiling, let the thin-set dry for 72 hours before grouting.

14. Mix your grout in a 5-gallon bucket according to the manufacturer's instructions. A drill attachment is handy to mix grout. At this point, go ahead and remove your spacers.

15. To apply the grout, place grout on a rubber float and apply it to the tile at a 45-degree angle. Remove the excess at a 90-degree angle and place back in the bucket. It's important to note that grout dries fast, so either work quickly or mix small batches of grout at a time.

16. Once all of your grout is in, let it set for about 20 minutes before using a damp grout sponge to wipe and remove excess. Keep a bucket of clean water handy to wring out and clean your sponge as you move along.

17. Wait two hours and use cheesecloth and marble cleaner to wipe and remove the grout haze.

18. Caulk any edges where horizontal and vertical surfaces meet.

19. After 48 hours, seal your grout.

Building the Mantel Surround

1. We made nearly all of the cuts we needed for our pine and MDF at Home Depot. We needed to make minor cuts/adjustments at home, but overall planning measurements ahead saved us time. If you need to make cuts, a sliding miter saw or table saw will be handy.

2. To build the legs, you’ll need six one-by-six MDF pieces cut to the exact same height. Using your Kreg Jig, drill pocket holes into both of the long edges of two boards. Hold your boards in place with clamps on your work surface. These two boards will serve as the center or front-facing part of our mantel support legs. We had a total of 10 pairs of pocket holes on each board.

before and after fireplace makeover

3. Take a board and join it to the center board using the drill bit that comes with the Kreg Jig, use 1¼-inch Kreg Jig screws. Repeat this with the other board. You should have two L-shaped sections.

before and after fireplace makeover

4. To finish up the leg, which will eventually be U-shaped, you need to fasten the third and final board to each L-shape. This may create a tight spot where a cordless drill won't fit, so you may need to use a small ratcheting screwdriver and manually drive the screws in.

5. Now you have the basic structure for each leg. You can now measure, cut and nail in your baseboard to serve as the decorative base for the bottom. You'll need to make simple 45-degree miter cuts.

6. Once your baseboard is on, it is time to cut the 1¼-inch lattice pieces to make recessed boxes. For this part, you need to do the sides first and leave the center portion for last. Measure the width and height of each leg panel and nail in the lattice on the side panels. It's easiest to do the top and bottom pieces and then fill in the sides to complete the rectangle.

before and after fireplace makeover

7. After the sides are done, measure across the front panel. You'll notice you can see the side lattice panels from the sides, but this will be covered up once you adhere the front lattice pieces and it'll all blend beautifully.

before and after fireplace makeover

8. Set your legs aside, and now let's build the mantel shelf that will rest on top of the legs. You'll be using the Kreg Jig again to create a box. A one-by-six will be on the bottom and will rest on the legs you just built, followed by two one-by-eights cut to identical widths (73 inches in my case). One of the one-by-eights will serve as the back and will be used to mount the mantel shelf, and the other is the front facing part of the mantel shelf.

before and after fireplace makeover

9. Adhere the back panel (one-by-eight) to the one-by-six bottom shelf using your Kreg Jig to drill pocket holes and secure with screws. Hold in place using clamps. Take into account any overhang needed to achieve your desired look. We had a ¾-inch overhang all around, therefore the side and front panels were fastened about ¾-inch from the edge. The back panel was flush.

10. Repeat step 9 and adhere the side panels. You should have an open box without a front.

11. Take your legs and your mantel shelf box inside to mark where you're going to drill (illustrated in photo in step 8). You'll need to mark both your fireplace and the one-by-eight so you can drill pilot holes. We used five lag shields (placed in our brick) and lag bolts (which will get screwed into the lag shields) to ensure a sturdy mantel.

12. Drill holes for your lag shields (using a masonry bit and wearing eye and hearing protection and a respirator).

13. Drill your pilot holes in the one-by-eight large enough that your lag shields fit.

14. Take your legs and open mantel shelf back to your work area and attach the front panel using the Kreg Jig for pocket holes and ratcheting screwdriver to drive in the screws. You will have an open box that can be accessed from the top.

15. Fill in any nail holes with wood filler and caulk any seams/edges for the recessed box panels.

16. After about two hours of dry time for the caulk/nail filler, you can prime and paint. At this point, you'll also want to paint the top of the mantel (mantel shelf), and the 1½-inch lattice pieces.

17. You will need to sand between coats to ensure a smooth finish. We initially used 80 grit sanding blocks and for the final coat we used 220 grit to get a smooth finish. Then paint. We did a coat of primer and two coats of paint. Let dry for 4 to 6 hours.

before and after fireplace makeover

18. Once your legs and mantel shelf are dry, take everything back into the house. Put your leg supports in place, followed by the mantel shelf. Position and tighten your lag bolts into the lag shields after making sure you're level.

before and after fireplace makeover

19. Place the top shelf on the mantel box, check its level, and secure with a nail gun making sure to not nail in too close to the edge and puncture through.

20. Adhere the lattice strips to the side panels and front (in that order) of the mantel shelf. We added extra strips on the front panel to create three recessed boxes.

21. Fill in any holes/corners with wood filler/caulk and touch-up paint. Enjoy your new fireplace!

This took us about 10 days to accomplish, and we worked a lot on weekends and after work. The most challenging part was dealing with all of the woodwork.

before and after fireplace makeover

The total cost for us was about $1,450. However, that included investing in several tools (wet saw, cordless drill, Kreg Jig, laser level and new saw blades, which cost us about $400 total), gorgeous marble tile and pencil edge ($275), and we also invested in good quality wood, paint and materials to ensure a successful project.

before and after fireplace makeover

The biggest lesson I learned? Measure more than twice to ensure you only have to cut once. Measurements are absolutely key on a project of this scope, down to even 1/16 of an inch. The second most important aspect is to make sure things are level/square. And finally, caulk can help hide little imperfections along the way, so don't stress too much.

There's a lot of waiting during the first part (tiling) so use that time to begin building your legs and shelf. It'll help your project move forward in a timely manner.

Total Cost: $1,450

Monica Benavidez blogs on Monica Wants It. Find her on Twitter @monicabenavidez.

Vote for her Fireplace Mantel Makeover submission here.

before and after fireplace makeover
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