How to re-purpose a faux fireplace

It doesn’t get much better than free.  So when Whitney’s mother offered us her old electric fireplace, we couldn’t say no, even though we weren’t exactly sure what we’d be doing with it.  But like all people that secretly wonder if they’re hoarders at heart, we knew we’d think of something.

Despite our enthusiasm, we failed to remember that not only were we moving two states away with nary an inch left in the back of the moving van, but that we’d have no place to put it while we were renting our basement apartment.  We reluctantly parted with our free treasure tucked neatly into the corner of my mother-in-laws garage for safe keeping.fireplace

Fast forward one and a half years later and voila, problem solved.  Somehow in that time we had acquired a 2700 square foot home, a minivan, and an empty living room.  Our moment had arrived.

Seeing as how we’d never really done much to furniture other than paint it with oil-based black paint (our thinking was that it would increase durability.  Not to mention it would then match everything else that we owned, which consequently had also been painted black – but that’s another story), we decided to venture outside of our little black box.

It was a decided fact that the electric fireplace insert had to be removed.  As for the wood, we read a couple of blogs and searched a few DIY forums before coming up with our plan.  First we’d thoroughly sand the project, then prime it, paint it, lightly sand it, and top it off with a clear coat finish.  Sounded easy enough.

So, the real reason every piece of furniture in our house was black relies simply on the fact that I’d just as soon have a cavity filled then use a sander, and Whitney ranks it slightly worse then waxing her legs. But, we’d committed to this piece, and we were determined not to be intimidated by some 100 grain sandpaper.

Turns out the the tops and sides weren’t that big of a deal, especially with the palm sander, but those rounded columns presented a unique challenge.  It was then that we decided that perhaps a little paint stripper would be be helpful.  Thank goodness we did.  It made all the difference, and also served to speed up the process.  We found the trick that worked best was to ignore the instructions altogether and instead of letting it sit for 5-10 minutes, we waited only about 30 seconds before using a flat tool to scrape off the varnish.

Even after we had stripped the piece, we took a second pass at sanding, this time with 200 grain sandpaper.  This helped smooth out the surfaces and remove any dried paint stripper that still lingered.

That brought us to what I think is our biggest mistake with this piece.  Instead of going out to purchase the right type of primer, I used whatever I had in the garage.
Like typical DIYers, I have left over cans of this and that scattered throughout the place that once housed my car.  I have to admit, I think I used a combination of white automobile primer and a little of something that had long since lost it’s label.  The result was a somewhat spotted zebra type of design, but we reasoned that it was just the bottom coat, so nothing to really worry about. Unfortunately, we were too embarrassed to snap a photo of the whole thing, so just thing in your mind…ugly.

It was finally onto painting.  Once again it was off to the garage to pick out some cream colored paint, and seeing that we only had the satin variety (Oops paint from Home Depot no less), we promptly picked out a color and started to brush it on.  No sooner had we streaked our first stroke then we realized that our method would result in a piece that would look like WE had painted it.  So it was onto plan B – we dropped by our local Harbor Freight to pick up a spray gun that would work with our compressor.  At only $20 bucks or so it was tons cheaper then the other models we had reviewed – even if we weren’t entirely sure it would work all that well.

Harbor Freight Spray Gun

With the paint now dry on our brushed piece, we reluctantly got back to sanding it, desperately trying to get rid of the brush marks that annoyed us so.  With the skill of a pharmacist (or a kid playing with mud), I added water to the paint to thin it down, thus helping it to move smoothly through the gun.  What resulted was a beautiful silky finish that wouldn’t catch the light of all those tiny brush strokes – eureka!

After a few coats of paint to ensure we’d covered every bit of our disaster priming job, Whitney topped it off with a light sand using 320 grain sandpaper and a water-based clear coat of Varathane polyurethane, all while hoping that our finishing touches would make removing the inevitable child fingerprints that would soon adorn it, a bit easier.

Although it was never intended to be functional, we love having the fireplace look in a house that wasn’t designed for one.  We’re still debating about what we should put inside it, but we’ve been on the look out all summer for just the right thing.  Any ideas?

Update: We’ve moved things around as part of the master bedroom project, you can check out the latest look of this fireplace here and here.

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  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. You have really interesting blog, keep up posting such informative posts!

  3. I keep seeing this around & wanted to come over & tell you I LOVE it! We don’t have a fireplace in our house but I really want a mantel. I’ve been looking for examples of fake mantels & fireplaces & yours is one of the best! Thank you for sharing!

  4. I love this! Stopping by from Better After – I love it even more with the stacked wood. Gorgeous!

  5. LOL it looks amazing in spite of yourselves 😉

    I am seriously jealous!

  6. You write good stories about your pieces that you redo and you do such a good job AND you guys are fearless, so I am now your newest follower. Come by and check me out maybe we can be inspiration for each other.


  1. […] kicked things off way back in September with our faux fireplace redo. This was a multi-phase project, although it wasn’t intended to be. First we painted it, […]