This is the first house that I have lived in, ever, that has had a working wood fireplace. It’s awesome! I remember looking at a friend’s picture of her living room years ago and thinking, what is it about her room that looks so inviting and cozy? Turns out, it’s a fireplace with an awesome fire blazing away! :) There have been a bunch of nights this winter that we have put the kids in bed, lit a fire and enjoyed the flames.
I have a bunch more pictures just like that, but I’ll spare you for now. I was loving the fires, and a fire has a timeless, classic feel to it. But the fireplace, in its entirety, was feeling neither timeless nor classic. It was looking tired and dated.
Here’s that fireplace wall in its originalest original state.
So, yeah. It’s pretty, but nothing about it makes you go “oh, that’s really beautiful.” And the tones of the mantel just don’t go with the tones of the brick, or anything else, really.
In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, and the first few weeks after Declan was born, I logged a lot of hours just sitting on my couch, looking at this wall and planning. There was just so much brassy glossiness going on here, and I knew I could tone it all down so that it all played nicely together. We started with those doors on the fireplace. They were not a good look, so my plan was to remove the insert and paint the whole thing in high heat flat black paint to make the whole thing recede.
But here’s the thing – once we removed it, we discovered that underneath that ugly door contraption was a really pretty brick arch! And right then and there we decided that the arch was in and the doors were out. We found a pretty fire screen on Craigslist for $20 and voila! – we were set.
By the way, the corners of the arch were really sooty from buildup over the years where smoke sneaked out of the fireplace doors. I googled a few different ways to remove the soot from the bricks, but what ended up working really well was actually oven cleaner! I just sprayed it right on the bricks, and then brushed it off with a stiff bristled brush. I think it took two or three applications, so I just left the windows open and worked on it throughout the day when the kids were elsewhere.
Next up I turned my attention to the mantel. I was willing to pull the whole thing down and start fresh with something more modern, but first I wanted to try my hand at refinishing it and seeing if I could make it into something we loved.
I started by sanding down the whole thing to mostly bare wood. I intentionally did a really rough sand, focusing on taking off the majority of the polyurethane that was on there, but leaving it in spots so that the wood would take the stain differently.
See how I left parts with a lot more stain and poly, and others I sanded right down to the bare wood? Lover thought I was crazy, but he trusted my vision. :)
Then I used a sales flyer to protect the bricks from the stain, which was a good call because I got stain all over the painted wall to the right there. Luckily a fresh coat of paint covered that all up. Next I stained the entire mantel in a medium, warm brown tone. I think I used English Chestnut as my stain color for this project.
I lived with that color for a couple of days while I thought about what to do next. My inspiration for this project were all of the weathered wood fences in our neighborhood that I would look at while we walked to the park. They end up with the most interesting highlights and shaded points due to all of the wind, sun and rain exposure.
So then I went back over the mantel with an ebony stain. I used this one very sparingly though, and I approached it like I used to do pencil drawings as a teenager – thinking about where the shadows would be and rubbing the dark stain into those areas.
I went over the whole thing with one coat of poly, just to protect the finish and make it a little easier to dust. I still wanted that matte, worn look to it, which is why I just did one coat.
The results were even better than I had hoped for. The deep, inky stain on the mantel gave the whole thing some presence and heft without overpowering the wall. It blends nicely with the dark fireplace screen and contrasts with the lighter toned brick.
In the end, I am super pleased with how this turned out. This whole wall is a lot more cohesive and visually appealing than it used to be. And we did it for the cost of a couple of cans of stain, some oven cleaner and a new fireplace screen so that is awesome too. It’s taking some getting used to have such a shallow mantel, our mantel at Wendhurst was over two feet deep in sections, so I’m learning all about scale and proportions in this house. I love getting the chance to tackle new challenges and learn new techniques. And then curl up on the couch with Lover and watch a fire dance away in my fireplace. Life is good!