Guys, I finished my faux fireplace! I’m so excited that I’ll have a place to hang stockings this year, and I can’t wait to style it out for Christmas.
But before I get to styling stockings, want to see how I made my own faux fireplace?
Sometimes when I’m working on a project that involves doing stuff I’ve never done before, I get frustrated with myself for making a lot of mistakes. But I’ve decided that instead of “mistakes,” I need to think of them as “refining my design,” and I did a lot of that on this project. I probably put together and took apart this faux fireplace surround three or four times before I finally decided I was happy with it, and I added parts that I originally had no intention of using. There was a lot of problem-solving, but I really like how it turned out in the end.
I wasn’t sure about the styling, so I tried a bunch of different things. Ideally I think I’d have one big horizontal piece of art, but I didn’t have anything suitable, so I had to make it work (said in Tim Gunn voice). (Triangle mirror tutorial here.)
Faux Fireplace DIY Details
To get started on this project, I stared at a lot of fireplaces on Pinterest, and read lots of write-ups by people who have built their own faux fireplaces. If you want to check those resources out, I added them to this post. If you’re building a fake fireplace from scratch, and not covering anything up or making it removable, there are plans you could just follow. But my situation was more complicated, so my plans were, too. Aside from stocking styling, the real purpose of this mantel was to disguise this little attic door:
First, I measured the location where I wanted to put the faux fireplace. There were a couple of constraints, mainly the size of the existing door, the slope of the ceiling, and the location of the power outlet. I worked out a plan so that the mantel would go just above the door, and end just before the power outlet. What I didn’t think about at the time was that since I was covering up the door, I could have made the mantel wider and just not centered it in front of the door, and I did end up mounting it off-center.
The next step was to go shopping for wood. Actually, first I poked around in my garage to see if I had anything that would work, and decided I needed some more bits and trim, so I went to my favorite resource, The ReBuilding Center. While there I spotted some salvaged vintage lintels that seemed almost perfect for this project. What’s a lintel? I didn’t know, either, but it’s “a horizontal support of timber, stone, concrete, or steel across the top of a door or window.” The doors and windows in my house have decorative lintels with crown moulding on top, and the lintels I found looked very similar to the ones already in my house, so I thought they’d help make the mantel seem more authentic and original. Ironically, I later realized that aside from one exception, none of the windows or doors on the top floor of my house where the mantel was going have the decorative moulding that the bottom floor windows and door lintels all have. But whatever, I bought it, used it, and like it, even if it did make my life more difficult in some ways.
Next I built the two columns to fit the space, and the lintel. I used scraps of 1×8 boards to create the fronts and sides, and cut it at the back edges so that it would fit around the quarter-round and baseboard mouldings. Knowing that I would be adding trim to the front, I attached the front and side pieces with screws through the front panels. I tested it out in the space, decided the columns needed to be a bit shorter, and then cut the front pieces about an inch too short. It was fine, though, because I knew I was going to cover the bottom gap up with additional trim.
After making the surround, I moved on to the faux firebox. I used my jigsaw to cut it out of 1/2″-thick plywood, and fastened it to the surround with screws through the front, since I knew I’d be covering up the screws with tile.
At some point I decided I wanted to try to add some marble tile around the fireplace opening, and after finding some online, I thought I had figured out how to add it without cutting any tile. I don’t own a tile saw, and didn’t want to buy or rent one. But after I bought the tile and laid out my design, I realized that the 3×6 size the tile was sold as wasn’t the ACTUAL size of the tile. I’m used to that with wood, but not tile. So my original plan wouldn’t work, and I had to spend forever re-configuring the area where the tile would go to avoid cutting it. I almost threw in the towel on the tile, but figured out that if I added another crosspiece of wood, it would work.
Once I had the structure finalized, I used wood glue to attach lattice trim, and nailed the chunkier trim on the bottom. Then I filled nail and screw holes, sanded, and primed.
Finally it was time to add the tile. The only tiling I’ve done before this was at my back door entryway, but this was actually much easier. Because I’m not stepping on the tile or subjecting it to any force, I skipped the cement backer-board and attached it directly to the plywood. I used pre-mixed tile adhesive (so easy, and perfect for this small project) to attach the marble tile, then sealed it with some tile sealer I already had, and grouted. Googling for what color grout to use lead me to this unsanded grout in platinum, which was the perfect color for this marble.
After the grout had cured, I caulked between the tile and the wood, and anywhere else that needed it. I hate caulking, but love the results. After the caulk cured, I painted with my go-to paint for cabinets and trim, Benjamin Moore Advance semi-gloss in Cotton Balls, which matches the existing trim and mouldings in the house.
Ok, now onto the interior of the firebox. I originally intended to use this faux brick paneling, (or this one that isn’t available for shipping or pickup at my store), but I ran into a problem. They won’t cut it in the store (something about the type of material not being compatible with their saw), and I know that a 4′ x 8′ panel won’t fit in the back of my hatchback Prius from the time that I bought a 4′ x 8′ panel of beadboard. Miraculously, a nice man with a truck who saw me failing to fit the beadboard in my car offered to bring it to my house because he was going someplace nearby, and he did, but I can’t always depend on the kindness of strangers. (Can you order a Lyft or Uber for this? If not, somebody needs to start this service.) So I started looking for faux brick alternatives. After I ordered this stick-on faux brick panel, I found this faux brick drywall compound tutorial, so that’s another option.
I wanted black brick, so I tested a corner with the matte black paint I already had, chalkboard paint. It seemed like it worked, but would need a couple of coats for full coverage, so I opted to go with matte black spray paint that says it is compatible with plastic. It seemed great, but I discovered later that I should have gone with the chalkboard paint.
This faux brick is a soft, foamy material, and some of the pros are that you can just cut it with scissors, and stick it on with the adhesive on the back. But the paint chipped quite a bit when I cut the brick sheet apart to stick in the firebox. I touched it up before and after sticking it on, but it continued to chip and flake with the slightest handling. So after installing it I gave it a coat of chalkboard paint, and now it seems stable and sturdy. Lesson learned, I should have used regular paint in the first place.
Overall, I like the texture of the brick, but it was barely enough to cover the 18″ by 18″ by 5 1/2″-deep firebox, and the paint was tricky, so if you can, I’d recommend you go for the faux brick paneling.
Let’s see, what else. The faux fireplace is attached to the wall with two keyhole hangers on the back. The screws for those are on the corners of the door frame, but you should attach yours to wall studs if you don’t have a door frame. It definitely isn’t going anywhere, but it can be removed if necessary.
The actual mantel is a piece of 1×12 I had laying around in my garage that happened to fit perfectly. I attached it to the top with trim nails, then filled the holes, sanded, and painted.
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