A fireplace should steal the show in a living room, not drag it down. At Kevin and Layla Palmer's 1950s home, in Prattville, Alabama, the gathering space's dreary gray fireplace was more homely than homey. And once the room's knotty-pine walls got a much-needed coat of cream-colored paint and the wall-to-wall carpet was pulled up to reveal warm oak floors, the fireplace became even more of an eyesore.
To turn it into a centerpiece, Kevin and Layla first opened it up by removing the bulky woodstove. Though they never used the fireplace, they wanted to refurbish it to code, so they painted the firebox and surrounding brick with black heat-resistant paint. Next they built a mantel by gluing lauan plywood to the rest of the brick surface, creating legs with 1-inch-thick medium-density fiberboard (MDF) ripped 4 inches wide for stiles and rails. They added thinner, ¼-inch panel frames between the legs and, for extra dimension, glued a strip of MDF above the firebox and another one below the mantelshelf, then painted the whole assembly white.
A rustic new mantelshelf—inspired by old railroad ties—sits on top and was created by boxing out the existing shelf with distressed, stained pine boards. "It just jumps off the wall," Kevin says of the new fireplace. "It was so drab before, but now it's the first thing you see."
The Project Tally
Removed the woodstove; painted the firebox, brick border, and hearth with black heat-resistant paint they had on hand. $0
Created a flat face for the new mantel by gluing up sheets of lauan plywood. $33
Added mantel legs with 1-by-4-inch MDF cut to length and glued in place. $10
Made a top panel from ¼-inch poplar. $15
Filled all the seams with paintable caulk. $3
Helped the woodwork pop with a coat of white paint. $13
Boxed out the existing mantel shelf with stock pine lumber that they distressed and stained themselves for a rustic look. $13