fireplace makeover
DIYs for the Home

Fireplace Makeover

Including a DIY Mantel and Painting the Tiles

Follow along as we made over our fireplace, including a DIY mantel and painting the tiles. This makeover shows that just a few small changes can make a big impact! I wanted to create a more modern and sleek look with our fireplace and the surrounding built ins. Really to the whole family room, but the fireplace wall is the focal point. Just a few adjustments really transformed the space, and for not a lot of cost. The main changes we made were creating a new mantel to encase the old one and painting the tiles.

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The Fireplace BEFORE

For fun, let’s take a look at what the room looked like when we first moved in, around 20 years ago.

Here's the fireplace and family room before.

We tore the wallpaper of that wall immediately…

The fireplace and the family room around 20 years ago.

The tv was in that armoire. Eventually we painted the fireplace off white (and removed that railing separating the rooms), until we were ready to update that whole space.

The before of the fireplace wall.

This is what it has looked like basically for the last 10 or so years. I still thought it was pretty, and there wasn’t really anything wrong with it. Although it did need a new paint job where it had yellowed a bit. The overall look though was still very nice!

How the mantel and tile looked before the makeover.

I started to crave a more modern look. I also loved stenciling the wall in our entryway, and I started thinking that stenciling the tiles would be a fun change, too! (You can check out the entryway wall here:

Then I wondered if we could change the mantel a bit without having to redo it completely. This is where Tim would come in. He was able to build a mantel top that encased the old one.

The fireplace after the makeover

How to Make the Mantel Top

Materials and Tools

  1. 3/4 inch oak boards (We got ours from Lowe’s.)
  2. pocket screw jig

3. pocket screws

4. drill

5. circular saw

6. clamps

7. sander (optional) and sandpaper (180 grit and 220 grit)

8. stain, foam brush and rags

Making the Mantel Top

1. Measuring

First thing is to measure out on your fireplace where you want the new mantel to be and figure out how much wood you will need. There are 3 parts to consider: the top, front and underside of the new mantel top.

building the fireplace mantel

2. Choosing the Wood

When choosing the type of wood, we went with oak because we liked the look of the look of it and the fact that it’s cost effective and durable.

Oak boards at our local Lowe’s had lengths more than long enough to cover the length of the mantel. However, because of the depth of the top of the mantel, we needed to put two boards together to cover it. We made sure to have the two pieces meet towards the back so that the seam would be less noticeable. You can hardly see it, even up close!

3. Building the Mantel

Because we didn’t want to have any exposed screw heads or nails on the outside of the new mantel that would have to be filled and might be noticeable, Tim decided to attach the boards together on the backside using pocket screws. We used the Kreg jig kit which (along with a good set of clamps) gives you everything you need to do pocket screwing like an expert. Both the jig and the included pocket drill bit for making the pocket holes have attachments and settings that can be configured for the exact thickness of the wood selected, in our case 3/4 inch. As recommended by the kit, he also used Kreg fine-thread 1 1/4 inch hardwood pocket screws.

Building the new mantel top

When making the pocket holes the jig has guides that show where to place it, and it should be clamped down well before drilling the pocket hole. The directions for the jig give guidelines as to how close the screws should be together.

Using clamps to build the mantel top

Make sure all the edges where the boards come together are flush. Then clamp the ends tight, and pocket screw the ends first. At each remaining pocket hole location along the edge, double check that the edge is flush and clamped near each hole before putting in the screw so that the boards don’t shift or separate while inserting the screw.

Pocket screws in the new mantel top

Once the boards were all pocket screwed together, he just had to measure out and cut a piece to fill in the gap on the top piece of the mantel since it wasn’t quite deep enough. Then that piece was also pocket screwed together.

4. Staining and Installing

Staining the diy mantel top

After staining it in the garage, Tim placed the new mantel top over the old one. The fit of our new mantel was tight enough to where it took some elbow grease to get it in place, but it’s now staying put. Had we needed to attach it to the existing mantel, we would have simply applied wood glue to the top of the existing mantel and then placed the new one over the top of it.

Fitting the new mantle top over the old one.

The Rest of the Fireplace Makeover

At first I was just thinking we’d cover up the mantel top and be done. Then I wondered if we could remove the decorative trim pieces for a sleeker and more modern look.

Taking down the decorative trim pieces for a more modern look.

Luckily they came off fairly easily with a putty knife without too much patch work to do.

Fireplace after removing decorative trim
Fireplace after removing decorative trim

We filled in the holes with wood filler and sanded it down with 180 grit sandpaper in the sander. The I primed and painted it (SW alabaster).

Painting the Tiles

The painted tiles on the fireplace when the makeover was completed.

So as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to stencil the tiles. Well, that turned out to be a fail! The texture of the tiles I think was the problem. It just didn’t work. It was going to be small white hexagon “tiles” with black “grout.” After the stencil didn’t work, I went with all black (SW iron ore). As these fails often end up, I now love the all black look and can’t imagine it the other way!


  1. cleaner of choice to wipe down the tiles (I used a little dish soap and water.)
  2. sandpaper
  3. primer

4. paint (SW iron ore)

the paint we used on the tiles

5. paintbrushes and small foam roller and paint tray

The Prep and the Painting

NOTE: On our fireplace, the tiles don’t get hot. If your fireplace has tiles that get hot when it’s running, you may need a heat resistant type of paint instead of what we used. Contact a paint professional for a recommendation.

First thing is to clean the tiles. Next we sanded them down with the 80 grit to rough it up, then the 180 grit to smooth it out. After the sanding, we did another quick wipe down and vacuumed all around the tiles.

Now you are ready for the primer. I did 2 coats.

priming the tiles before painting the tile

Next is the painting. You will need to do 2-3 coats. The paint we used was fantastic (see above under “materials”)! You cannot tell the tiles have been painted. It looks like we re-tiled with black tiles!

painting the tiles with a foam roller
Painted the tiles and behind the shelves black (SW iron ore)

As a side note, I also decided to paint the same black color behind the shelves. I like how it ties in with the tiles and the way especially white objects look against the black background.

The Fireplace AFTER

I painted black behind the shelves as well as the tiles. Here is the DIY mantel up close.
The fireplace makeover completed, including a DIY mantel top and painting the tiles black.
The fireplace makeover completed, which included a diy mantel and painting the tiles black.
Updated picture (March 2021)

Here’s a final look at the whole room, before and after. I painted the walls white (SW alabaster), changed out the curtains and pillows, put decorative items on the shelves instead of books, changed out the cabinet hardware, added a new coffee table (moving the old one under the window as a bench) and added an area rug.

The family room before the makeover
The whole family room after the makeoover including painting the tiles and the DIY mantel.
The family room makeover completed, which included a diy mantel and painting the tiles.
Updated picture (March 2021)
The DIY Mantel and painted tiles all completed

I am thrilled with this makeover. It feels so bright and I got the modern and sleek look I was going for!

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  • Amberly Brown

    Way to go! I love LOVE the result and I’m getting ready to paint the tiles surrounding my fireplace as well! Questions:
    1. Does the heat from a roaring fire not escape from the top vent of your enclosure? I’ve never noticed our tiles getting hot, but the enclosure does, so I was wondering about the painted tiles. I will check with the SW guy!
    2. What in the world did you do with your library? I’m so torn about this. Does one need this many books anymore? On the other hand, a lot of hours and expense went into most of our library, so I’m in a real pickle!!! LOL!!!

    • Liz

      Thanks so much! Yes, there is a vent right at the top where heat escapes. However, at least on this particular firepace, the tiles themselves don’t get hot. We even tested it out at the highest setting to make sure!
      Haha, I know the book situation was a dilemma! I weeded out a few, but I kept most. I decided to hold onto all of our best and favorite children’s books and have them all, along with photo albums, in the bottom cabinet behind the closed doors. Then I found an inexpensive narrow white book shelf online at Target that fits perfectly in our upstairs hallway. I just couldn’t let the books go, but I am loving this new look in the family room!

    • Shelly

      This looks so great! I was considering stenciling too, but this looks perfect (and easier perhaps😆). Did you paint the grout the same iron ore too? We actually have iron ore on an accent wall that opposes our fireplace, so I think this will be great! Boring beige tiles right now…looking to update, thanks!!

  • Tiffany

    Beautiful remodel! Did you use the same iron ore emerald paint for both the tiles and the bookshelf backing? I’m headed to the store ASAP 😉

    • Liz

      Thanks so much! Unfortunately, I don’t have an exact stain color to share. We ended up using a combination of things to get it to the shade we wanted after the first stain didn’t look quite right. Wish I could be more help!

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