Transforming Your Brick Fireplace Mantel: A Modern Upgrade Guide

Transforming Your Brick Fireplace Mantel: A Modern Upgrade Guide

There were a lot of homes built in the 80s and 90s that had fireplaces with hearths and mantels basically formed from a wall of very basic brick. Different builders and designs had different styles, and colors, and finishes to the brick, but over the years it has really become dated. Homeowners can update these fireplace mantels cost-effectively. Whether the fireplace is used, gas, wood, or whatever, it can look better than it does now. If you are concerned that fireplace mantels have to be stuffy and stodgy architectural throwbacks, don’t be. You can go in another direction or stay with traditional profiles. Our goal is to help you transform and modernize that wall and to create an awesome focal point for the room.

Fireplace Mantel - Seattle Wood
Fireplace Mantel – Seattle Wood Co

Fireplace mantels are interesting projects. Layering boards, crown, moldings and more to frame a fireplace. No visible connections to the wall, imperfections in finish and seamless joinery, without overcrowded or imbalanced fluff.

Fireplace mantel projects start with 1-3 visits to the home where the wall and fireplace are discussed in detail. Not just what it should look like, but how to get it there. We have to dig into details like how plumb and straight walls are, but also is the floor sloping and what tile, stone or other components may impact the build and how cleanly the mantel installs. With this critical information along with specifications on color, profiles and patterns we are ready to build.

We build architectural pieces in our shop with solid, plywood and MDF as needed. For example, 3/4″ MDF or plywood may be used to build the ‘legs’ or pilasters depending on the project, but we use plywood for large horizonal spans, unless solid wood is called out to prevent future sagging. Depending on the project we will prime/paint or finish 5-6 components for install. We dry-fit the entire piece before the arriving for the install. Some projects need a second visit to the home in order to dry-fit components such as the mantel shelf prior to the actual install. This is sometimes called for depending on the installation’s complexity (For example, wavy walls or pre-existing tile and stonework).

Fireplace mantel discussions need to include reference to the specific clearances around the fireplace. This means from the opening of the firebox to the interior space surrounding it, from the exterior of the fireplace box to the interior framing. If there is a hearth, then code for it needs to be taken into account as well.

It is important to talk about fire and the codes that make fires (And damaged finishes) more preventable. This article was shared with me recently. It is the best read explanation I’ve found on code requirements for fireplace clearances, and why they make so much sense.

Common Terms and Rules for Designing a Fireplace Mantel

  1. Mantel Shelf: This is the flat, horizontal piece at the top of the mantel. It can be simple or ornate and is often used to display decorative items. The depth of the mantel shelf should be proportional to the fireplace size and room layout.
  2. Surround: The surround frames the fireplace opening and can include legs and a header. This can be constructed from a variety of materials, including wood, stone, or metal, depending on the desired aesthetic.
  3. Legs (or Pilasters): These vertical elements support the mantel shelf and can be as simple or detailed as you like. They add structure and a sense of grandeur to the fireplace.
  4. Proportion: When updating a fireplace mantel, it’s important to keep proportions in mind. The mantel should complement the size of the fireplace and the room. For instance, a small room may benefit from a sleek, minimalist mantel, while a larger room can handle a more substantial design.
  5. Style Cohesion: Whether you choose a modern or traditional mantel, ensure that it aligns with the overall style of your home. A contemporary mantel can refresh a room and provide a clean, updated look, while a traditional mantel can add timeless elegance.
  6. Materials and Finishes: The choice of materials can drastically change the look of your fireplace. Wood can be stained or painted to match your decor, while stone can offer a rustic or sophisticated touch. Consider finishes that enhance the room’s aesthetic while being practical for maintenance.
  7. Height and Clearance: Ensure that the mantel is installed at a height that is both visually pleasing and adheres to safety regulations, especially when dealing with heat from gas or wood-burning fireplaces.

By keeping these key design elements in mind, you can transform even a brick fireplace from the 80s into a stunning focal point that enhances your home’s ambiance. Don’t be afraid to experiment with styles and materials to find the perfect look that reflects your personal taste and complements your living space.

Updating your fireplace mantel doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With a bit of creativity and attention to detail, you can achieve a modern, beautiful transformation that breathes new life into your home. Let’s set up a time to meet and discuss the possibilities.


Author Since: March 21, 2023