Faux fireplace mantle
As a young boy growing up in the 1960’s, I remember every Christmas my younger brother would use crepe paper to convert mother’s sewing machine into a fireplace. After all, Santa needed a point of entry, and we needed a place to hang our stockings.
Although that was a long time ago and the memories are somewhat vague, the feelings of warmth and comfort brought about by that imitation fireplace are still very vivid and treasured.
I was reminded about the warmth and comfort offered by a fireplace when an interior designer suggested that our living room needed a focal point. Initially, I thought that the perfect solution would be the standard chesterfield along the wall, with a picture above it. However, a faux fireplace was rather strongly suggested by my significant other.
With a bit of encouragement (and recollections of my childhood) I started shopping around, and quickly found that prices were in the $3,500-$5,000 range. I realized that like my brother, I could do it myself. After a lot of reading, I decided on a design consisting of a white mantle with a marble hearth. Once I envisioned what I wanted, I went about creating some drawings that would suit my living room’s size and dimension.
The accompanying illustration shows you how the mantle goes together, and provides some general width dimensions for the one I built. You’ll need to size the mantle to suite the dimensions of your room. The materials should be readily available at your local building store.
Fire box moulding
Begin with a foundation board on which all the details and mouldings are attached. I built mine out of 3/4″ plywood. I cut 45º bevels on the sides and face panel edges to conceal any open plywood edges. Then I joined the panels with double #20 biscuits, although you could use dowels or screws. Next come the sub boards, which build up the face of the foundation board only. For these I used 1/2″ plywood, attached to the foundation board with glue and brads.
Fire Box Mouldings
I wanted to create a recessed zone around the fire box and set it off against the mantle. For this I used 1 3/4″ edge moulding for the firebox opening and 1 1/2″ edge moulding for sub board edges.
For the pilasters I looked for a vertical detail that would add shadow and create a sense of depth. I selected a finely detailed piece of 6″ wide, 3/4″ thick door casing, and a 1 3/4″ chair rail moulding for the waist trim. I gave the sides some detail by mitering the moulding along the sides at the wall. I cut the mitres by hand, as such small pieces are difficult if not dangerous on a powered mitre saw.
For the pilaster feet I mitered three pieces of 3/4″ plywood to create a 7″ tall wrapped look, and 3/4″ cove moulding to crown the top edge of the foot.
For the upper mantle I chose a 2 1/2″ Egg and Dart chair moulding and a 5/8″ bead moulding, attached across the upper mantle and along the sides. For the top I used two pieces of 3/4″ sheet plywood and 1 1/4″ x 3/4″ edge moulding to frame the smaller base panel against the top panel. I edge banded the top panel with 3/4″ x 3/4″ poplar and routed a 1/4″ round over along both edges. I chose a set of 3/8″ hardwood decorative appliquès from Lee Valley.
I covered nail marks with wood filler and exposed plywood edges with drywall compound. I sanded and primed the mantle and applied three coats of a semi gloss antique white paint.
2″ x 4″ studs secured to the wall serve to hold the mantle in place. After nailing the mantle to the studs I attached the top, and sealed the edges with white latex caulking.
I built the fire box with 3/4″ walnut plywood, cutting 45º dado mitres to fit the sides to the back. I finished it with orange shellac.
All in all I spent about $480 for materials and estimate that it took me 25-30 hours to complete. It’s been a year since I completed this project and I am very happy with the results. The living room is more inviting than before and the mantle gives a warm feeling of comfort for all who sit in the room. My brother would be proud!