Easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade – Blah to Beautiful!

In December I moved into my new place (Downsizing: I did it …so can you). Since then I have planned some improvements. I painted the upstairs but due to the rule that Gillie does not do ladders unsupervised (vertigo), I had a painter do the stairwell and downstairs. While I was preparing for her I noticed that the fireplace mantle was not unstained and clear coated like I assumed. It was completely unfinished. I was not in love with the brick “wall” and pale mantle. They just didn’t work. The plan was to create harmony between brick and mantle with an easy fireplace mantle upgrade.

With the mantle unfinished there were, all of a sudden, possibilities for an Easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade.

Fireplace Mantle Upgrade, www.moderngillie.com

Unstained Fireplace mantle

A pristine wood surface to play with!

 I was very lucky. It is so easy to leave dirty, oily marks on unsealed wood and this mantle was pristine. The dust indicated that it had been there for some time so very lucky, indeed.  I had hoped to remove it and work on it in my work (make a mess safely) area. This turned out to be impossible. The mantle is attached and is there to stay. So I taped and slipped as much paper as possible between it and the walls and brick as I could. No one enjoys this step but it is worth taking time to be thorough as it saves mess and clean up later. 

easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade, www.moderngillie.com

The halfway mark with the stain.

I gave the fireplace a light sand with fine grit paper then wiped it all down with a tack cloth. I chose to use Minwax gel stain in Black. I had debated several stains but kept coming back to the black. Many of the images I have saved on Pinterest and Houzz had these beautiful black fireplaces. I decided that the Rolling Stones were right so I painted (stained) it black.  I am not a fan of the Minwax Polyshades (Repair Damaged Furniture) so, at my painter’s recommendation, I went with the gel stain. Less likely hood of drips and transfer.  If the mantle had been clear coated the Minwax Polyshades may have been the quick solution. 

Easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade, www.moderngillie.com

Visible wood grain. Love it!

The instructions for the stain were to apply liberally then wipe away extra after three minutes. This seemed to wipe away everything with no result. After some experimenting, I found that working the stain so that it was a very thin layer, waiting 15 minutes then blotting off visible extra worked better with this wood.  I had to wait 12 hours before I could do a second coat but it didn’t need it so I sealed it with two coats of Varethane Satin Interior finish, sanded lightly between coats. I chose the Varethane because I already had a tin on hand. 

Easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade, www.moderngillie.com

Before sealing with Varethane


Easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade, www.moderngillie.com

Top of the mantle after two coats of Varethane Satin

A frugal project that may have eliminated an expensive project.

I am so pleased with how this easy fireplace mantle upgrade turned out. It was such an easy project with huge impact. Originally I was thinking about removing the mantle and brick. Seeing how it showcases my original watercolor there are good reasons to keep it.  Now it can stay. It would have cost a lot to remove the brick etc and put in a gas insert. I wasn’t enthused about this because based on previous experience I would go from a wood fireplace where all the heat goes up the chimney to a gas fireplace where all the heat goes up the chimney. I have a better more affordable plan in the works. More to come on that in a future post. 

Eat Fireplace Mantle Upgrade, www.moderngillie.com

Styled the mantle a little after waiting 36 hours for the Varethane to completely cure.

Varethane does not take long to dry. You can recoat after a couple of hours. I do wait at least 24 – 48 hours before I put anything on a surface I have finished just to be on the safe side. 

Be fearless and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Don’t forget to pin this for inspiration

image of fireplace with black mantle Easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade


23 thoughts on “Easy Fireplace Mantle Upgrade – Blah to Beautiful!

    • Gillikent says:
      There are lots of options. Sand off the gloss and use minwax poly shades over the existing finish or chalk paint can be lovely.
    • Gillikent says:
      I am glad. I perused Pinterest and Houzz and gathered a lot of pictures I liked then looked at what they had in common.
  1. Tiara Wilson says:
    I love reading blog posts like these, because as much as I want to be creative and think I can DIY crafts, I just suck!! HAHA. So I enjoyed seeing your new fireplace come to life :)

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