Strip Away the Years
Ultimately, the best budget move is to buy an old house with lots of original details that can be restored with a bit of elbow grease. Of course, you can do it all yourself, but for larger pieces Kara likes to work with a refinishing pro. For $400, he will take apart a mantel, dip its pieces into chemical solvents, then power-wash, dry, and reassemble them. Afterward, Kara sands the woodwork and finishes it with an amber shellac like the one originally used in the 1920s. A similar mantel in new wood would cost $3,000.
Bonus Idea: Think out of the box. Kara swapped the hearth's ruined antique tile with marble floor tiles cut to fit.