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How to Create an Antique Fireplace Mantel with a Whitewash Technique

I’m not going to lie, I was super bummed when we bought our home a few years back and it didn’t have a fireplace.  As silly as it might sound, a fireplace is such a statement piece and creates so much warmth (even with no fire, no pun intended). Christmas’ just aren’t the same without stockings hung by the fire, amiright?!  As impatient as I am, I couldn’t wait for us to scrounge the money to “add” a fireplace.  That’s when I decided I would create my own Antique Fireplace Mantel with a whitewash technique.

antique fireplace mantel

You know I love antiques and anything with history.

I don’t have much of a budget to work with, so finding a great fireplace mantel was hard. It took me about 6-8 months of searching craigslist and thrift stores to find what I was looking for.

Vintage fireplace mantel from Craigslist

vintage fireplace mantel
vintage fireplace mantel
vintage fireplace mantel

Here she is in her original glory!

This vintage piece of history was salvaged from an 1890’s home.

I could tell there were many many layers of paint and polyurethane that needed to be stripped off.  After all, a furniture piece this old was for sure to have lots of lead paint.  With my very curious 2 year old, I try my best to keep anything toxic out of our house.  The first step in restoring this beauty to gather supplies and begin to strip the paint.

By the way, check out my easiest paint stripping method. I promise, you will be amazed!

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Supplies to transform an antique fireplace mantel

  1.  Paint Stripper – I used the gel stripper that I’ve attached here. It seemed to work well to strip nearly 8 layers off.
  2. Plastic Scraper
  3. Gloves – make sure you use rubber gloves because the paint stripper will surely eat through skin!
  4. Sandpaper
  5.  Sander – I’ve attached this sander because it comes with a bag to collect the dust. This is VERY important when sanding lead paint because the dust is toxic. And it makes the clean up A LOT easier.
  6.  Paint stripper after wash – this is an important product to use to remove all the extra “gunk” that the excess stripper and old paint leaves.
  7. White paint

I followed the instructions on the paint stripper can and began to slowly strip many many layers off of this antique mantel.

Stripping the vintage mantel

It took about 8 applications of the stripper (and waiting and sanding in between each layer) to get to the bare wood. And after we stripped all the old paint, we used the stripper cleaner to be sure the surface was free of any old sticky “gunk.” Below are some progress pictures:

stripping the fireplace mantel

The fireplace mantel pictured above is shown after stripping about 3 layers off.

fireplace mantel stripped off paint

Finally, after about 8 layers of stripper, it’s down to almost the bare wood.

Next I gave the salvaged fireplace mantel a whitewash finish.

I still wanted to see the wood grain, but I also wanted to mute the red tones from the wood. In order to whitewash the wood, I used a mixture of 50% water to 50% white paint. I used a Valspar white paint, but any white paint will work. I applied the paint with a rag all over the mantel, and let it sit a good 20 minutes to dry. After I made sure the paint was dry, I sanded it with a fairly fine grit sandpaper.

White washing the antique fireplace mantel

  1. Mix one part water and one part white paint
  2. Apply the mixture to the mantel with a brush IN THE DIRECTION of the wood grain
  3. If the finish is too heavy, use a rag to wipe the wood

Note; I wanted to be able to see a lot of the wood grain so I mixed 1 part water to 1 part paint. If you want more of a “white” look, mix 2 parts paint to 1 part water.

Pretty simple huh!

Now that my historical antique fireplace was finished, what would I do inside the fireplace?

I wanted to create the look of birch wood in the middle. I was inspired by a photo from the infamous Magnolia Market shown below.

faux fireplace mantel

You can see all about how I created a DIY birch wood fireplace cover for a faux wood insert.

Spoiler alert; it was so easy!

DIY Birch Wood Fireplace Cover for a Faux Wood Fireplace Insert

My antique fireplace mantel

antique fireplace mantel with white wash finish
antique fireplace mantel with white wash finish
antique fireplace mantel with white wash finish
fireplace mantel
vintage fireplace mantel
vintage fireplace mantel

Even though I live in a new home, I love having pieces of history too!

I’m pleased with the way my fireplace mantel turned out and I can’t wait to hang my Christmas Stockings up on my vintage mantel (and yes, Christmas is 10 months away!).

Update; check out my vintage Christmas mantel, spring mantel, Fall inspired mantel, and the vintage mantel’s new look on our DIY blue feature wall. Or you can see all the different looks of the fireplace mantel over the years.

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How to Create an Antique Fireplace Mantel From Craigslist

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JaneEllen Jones

Sunday 26th of November 2017

Admire your determination, looks like was worth all your hard work.Your fireplace /mantel looks great now, finally get to decorate your mantel.You'll be enjoying that wonderful well rehabbed , mantel for lots of years. Fun to decorate huh? We had a fireplace/mantel in our first mfg.home in MT, had 20 acres. Living room also was sunken so floor was closer to ground than would have liked,colder. Our first winter there in 1992 was one of coldest they'd had in years, 25 below during day for weeks in late Nov/early Dec. We moved to MT from San Diego, quite a difference but I loved it. Was coldest winter they'd had for while also.Our water pipes would freeze so had to wait to shower til mid afternoon when they warmed up a bit.Felt like a pioneer woman,lol. We now live in a single wide mfg.home in western CO, west side of Rockies, few miles west of Grand Junction on 1/2 acre out in rural area. No fireplace but do have shutter shelf which works like our mantel, decorate it for seasons, holidays. Wish I was back in MT but looks like we're here for duration, Mr Furry says we're too old to move back to MT. dadgumit. Hope you and yours had wonderful Thanksgiving.