It finally happened. The Internet let me down. I had to check outside to see if any swine had sprouted wings or if the American Girl store was suddenly frozen over (for those of you who have never been in an American Girl store, it’s the closest thing to hell I’ve experienced). Thankfully, the world wasn’t ending but I was concerned that Chris and I had DIYed ourselves into territory even unknown to HGTV. Is that even possible? But let me start at the beginning.
Presenting, our fireplace.
Not bad. Nothing to brag about either… meaning a change was needed. I wanted more of an “oh-la-la” pop and less of a “Hello! 70s flashback” pop. The mantel was getting lost in the wall of brick. We needed to do something to make it stand out. Case in point- the Where’s Waldo mantel photo below. Seriously, where is it?
I hunted around for mantel ideas and determined that a white wooden mantel is just what the mantel doctor ordered. It would accentuate the mantel and tie in with the design of the rest of the living room. I just love the crisp white look and something that would look substantial against the brick. Here are the examples I rounded up from Pinterest.
So, the hunt was on. How were we going to tackle this project? With one of two options:
- Buy a pre-made mantel, demo the brick, and install the mantel in its place
- Make our own mantel and build it over the current brick mantel
I think we all know what option we chose but humor me for a moment. I began pricing out pre-made mantles. I found two options I really liked from FireplaceMantels.com.
Not too shabby. They only offered a stained or unfinished version so we’d have to purchase an unfinished wood and then paint ourselves. Not too difficult. Then I saw the price. Starting price around $250. And then you have to consider the cost of time and money to demo the bricks. Ummm no thanks. I looked more closely at the design and knew Chris could do something equally as great, probably better, and we could truly have a custom mantel for a fraction of the cost.
I started scouring the Internet for helpful how-to’s on how to build your own mantel. That’s when I discovered… Nothing. Zilch. ZERO RESULTS! My first thought: holy cow, I had stumped Google. My second thought: maybe there’s a reason no one’s ever tried to build their own mantel over an existing one. But, seriously? NOT A SINGLE RESULT? Dear DIYers everywhere, I’m shocked that none of you have catalogued building a mantel and posted it on the Internet for my creeping eyes to find. Step it up people.
Now, how to break the news to Chris? Chris has recently determined that anytime I start a sentence with, “Hey, Chris, I have an idea,” it doesn’t bode well for him. All I can say is thank God for father-in-laws. His parents were in town for a visit and his mom and I decided to go fabric shopping. Unbeknownst to me, Chris had mentioned my idea to his dad. I guess it sparked his interest enough that when his mom and I came home from our shopping trip, the mantel had taken form. Key learning- obviously I need to go shopping more often. Look what magical things happen as an outcome!
This project ended up being a tad more difficult and lengthy than I originally thought but it was so worth it! Pop is an understatement! And we saved quite a bit of money. We ended up spending about $80 on materials AND the mantel required no demo. Not too shabby compared to the other $250 option.
As an avid DIYer, I think the most frustrating things people say is that they wish they knew how to do that stuff, that they could never do that stuff because they’re not handy, or that they wished someone had taught them how to do all that stuff, etc. It’s true that most of what I know, I learned from my dad- as he worked on projects around the house, he taught me how to do stuff, too- and he learned the same way. About ten years ago, though, we were replacing some water heaters and he was showing me how to solder copper. I finally asked, “how do you know all this stuff?” Much to my surprise, he said that he didn’t, and that he had looked it up on the internet. I recently found out that my grandfather used to go to the library and take notes on all the stuff he needed to know for a project (he’s probably the most dedicated DIYer I know- he’s 84 and still replacing his own garage doors).
I mention all of this to highlight a point- that no one “knows” how to do these things, and that you can only be taught how to do so much- at a certain point, you have to make your own way and teach yourself, which is exactly what happened with my last project.
Julie decided that she didn’t like the brick mantel, and that we needed a white one instead… but of course, she didn’t want to paint or remove the brick. On top of all that, she didn’t want to drill into the brick in any way, and wasn’t really sure she would like a white mantel. So, of course, that meant I had to build a removable mantel. My dad and I built one while Julie and I mom were out shopping one day, but it turned out that we apparently had two very different concepts of what this thing was supposed to be, and I ended up having to start all over.
The first attempt:
Maybe people just don’t build their own mantels or something, but I found absolutely nothing online about it. No how-to. No before-and-after. No “that was like that time I built a mantel”. Nothing. I was flying solo on this one. Now, this is where true DIYers prevail- I was at Point A (no mantel) and knew where Point B (mantel) was, but no directions on how to move between the two, which meant that I had to carve my own path.
I knew what a mantel looked like, so all I had to do was put things together in the proper dimensions and I’d have one. The problem, though, was that Julie wanted it to hide a substantial amount of brick, meaning it would have to be quite a bit larger than most. On top of that, I had a limited width and an even more limited depth when compared to the overall height. Another issue was that while the brick was stair-stepped in the front, it was flush from on the sides, so I could only stagger the width by a certain amount.
Staggered front, flush sides:
I thought I was done at this point. According to Julie, I was only halfway there:
So I started with a board. This would ultimately define my overall dimensions, as it ran the length of the fireplace and limited me to a 12″ depth (any more and it would have stuck out awkwardly into the room. Next, I fitted some crown around it to hide the first layer of brick- it sat flush with the board in the front, but there was slight overhang on either side. It was already looking like a mantel.
Next, I nailed some casing trim below the crown, and I had completed my mantel- or so I thought. Julie wanted at least one more layer to hide more of the brick, but I was running out of lateral space. I managed to find some VERY thin wood, so one more layer was possible. Once I got it nailed together, I displayed it on the mantel (get it? HA!). I excitedly showed Julie our new mantel and, true to form, the first words out of her mouth were simply “it needs another layer.” Doh! After finally losing that battle, I was scratching my head as to how to build another layer on the side, as I was completely out of room. Eventually I came to the realization that I’d have to actually stack another piece of the thin wood (as opposed to staggering it). How do you put two pieces of wood together without using nails? Simple: glue and staples (yes, you read that right- I stapled my mantel together like a third grade art project).
Um, excuse me? Staples?? This is the first I’m hearing of this…
Anyway, I finally had the stupid thing constructed. I didn’t want it to look like a third grade art project, so I had to do some real prep work before painting. I sanded every edge and corner, caulked every seam, patched every nail hole, and even blended the seams held together by those damn staples. I primed, sanded, painted, sanded, and painted again, and was finally done.
Putty and paint makes a boat what it ain’t!
Look how much wood is on this stupid thing!
All-in-all, I’m pretty satisfied with how it turned out. I built a removable mantel without any real guidance, and it actually looks pretty decent. Best of all, though, I don’t ever had to hear “we need to finish the mantel” ever again.
And now, for everyone needing a mantel building 101 guide, we’re about to make your day. Here’s a guide showing what kind of wood we used for each section of the mantel which will hopefully help in your quest for building your own mantel.
I claim thee… MANTEL!
P.S. Like the awesome vintage scale I bought Chris for his birthday at a random antique store on the side of the road in Bastrop, TX? We’re obsessed.