DIY Fireplace Mantel Makeover – How to Regroup When Your Design Goes Awry

Last week I shared my plans for our DIY Fireplace Mantel Makeover, but, things don’t always go according to plan. And sometimes it’s the plan that is the problem. When your plan goes a little sideways, it’s important to know you can always get back on track. No matter how much we measure, plan, and design, sometimes a project goes off course. It just requires patience and flexibility. I know, because it just happened to me in the middle of my fireplace makeover. Read on to find out how it happened and how to regroup when your design goes awry.

Admittedly, I had been chomping at the bit to get our fireplace mantel makeover underway, so when I finally decided to go for it, I leaped before looking. Thankfully, the original design for the mantel was solid, probably because I had put a lot thought into it over the years! On the other hand, my design for the overmantel (the area above the mantel) was less than well-formed.

Here’s what happened

After I constructed the new beefed-up mantel (tutorial coming soon), I started on the overmantel. The original overmantel design was intended to cover the grooves in the panelling for a custom look. It consisted of a large framed rectangular perimeter with two narrow shutter-looking frames on the both sides with wider shiplap boards running horizontally in between.

Original overmantel design drawing
Original overmantel design drawing

I installed the large framed rectangular perimeter, as well as the boards that make up narrow shutter-looking frames. Then I stood back to admire my handiwork and compared it against my design. That’s when I saw the flaw on my original design drawing – Shiplap! Uh, no!!

The design called for shiplap running horizontally from just under the crown moulding to the just above the mantel. Don’t get me wrong, shiplap is lovely, but, it’s better suited to Farmhouse design than a modern Colonial. Thankfully I hadn’t installed it yet, but there it was on the design. What was I thinking?!? I wanted a modern take on our home’s Colonial architecture, but that’s not at all what I designed. Zoinks!

Here’s how I fixed it

Regrouping, I scrapped the original overmantel design and went back to the drawing board. I needed a solution that would cover the boring painted paneling above the mantel, something current, and not overly elaborate. My husband suggested leaving the large framed rectangular perimeter, filling in the panelling grooves with joint compound, and building three different Colonial-style grids for the overmantel.

DIY Fireplace Mantel Makeover - When Your Design is Wrong - husband's handwritten design
My husband’s overmantel design

Unfortunately, my husband’s design was a little too ornate for me and the idea of filling in the panelling grooves sounded very time intensive since the process would most likely require several re-applications of joint compound since panelling grooves are wider and deeper than the average drywall crack. On the other hand, filling in the grooves would provide a smooth surface for a completely custom look. Hmmm?

But this was no time to make another snap decision like the one that led to the poor design in the first place. I needed time to ponder the possibilities to be sure I got it right. After all, we’d see it everyday!

The next day, I searched Pinterest for inspiration and came up with three new overmantel designs for us to choose from. I also decided to go ahead and fill in the panelling grooves with joint compound. Here’s a glimpse into what the final product might look like.

New Design No. 1 – Four panels each lined with trim moulding
Design No.1 Vertical boards evenly spaced above mantel
New Design No. 2 – Eight well-proportioned panels each lined with trim moulding
DIY Fireplace Mantel Makeover - When Your Design is Wrong - Design No.2 Well proportioned squares above mantel
New Design No. 3 – Twelve small panels each lined with trim moulding
Design No.3 - twelve small squares above mantel

Stay tuned to see which design we chose and a tutorial on how I built our new fireplace mantel!


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