Remember this mantel my mom and I salvaged at an antique auction a few months back? It tested positive for lead paint and was missing some crucial pieces such as: the mantel top, side boards, base trim and corbels. All this to say I needed to enlist the carpentry skills of my husband on this project. Its restoration has been a bit slower than usual, but nonetheless its time has come. I’m excited to share this restoration story with you.
The vision for this mantel was for it to sit under our TV in the living room and bring some old world charm into the space. Not only did I want something to compete with the large black screen, I also needed a solution for hiding TV cords and wifi wires (never cute). While I am not a fan of arranging furniture around the TV, out of respect for my sports-watching, movie night enthusiast husband, I decided to get creative. There had to be a way to make this space feel cozy and conducive to good conversations.
The first task in restoring this mantel was to remove the lead paint. When dealing with lead paint your options are to seal it in using a clear wax or sealant, paint over it, or remove it using a paint stripper. NOTE: Do not sand a lead positive surface! In the case of this mantel, the old paint was beginning to chip off so I decided to use a paint stripper. This process is easy and quite satisfying, not to mention it keeps harmful lead paint particles out of the air.
After the paint was stripped, I learned our mantel was made of a beautiful, dark-stained redwood. Truth be told, if the mantel was completely intact I would have left it as is. To me, the dark stain and creamy paint remnants worked. Unfortunately, this mantel was missing too many pieces, therefore, once assembled, it would need a cohesive coat of paint.
We cut off about 6 inches from each leg in order to create the perfect height for our living room. Additionally, we needed to add in some custom cut, old wood to restore this charming architectural piece back to what it might have looked like in 1908. For this, I decided to use the running boards of a salvaged twin bed frame. The width was perfect and the age of the wood matched that of the mantel. Finally, to add a touch more detail we attached 1.5″ thick mini corbels from Hobby Lobby to each leg. Now this piece is starting to resemble the mantel it once was. Can you see it!?
Once the side boards were measured, cut and nailed into place, we attached the mini corbels and mantel top using wood glue. The proportions were just right. This mantel no longer needed to lean against a wall. It is a free standing antique ready for a fresh coat of paint.
So I painted, coat one. Painted, coat two. Painted, coat three? That prideful redwood taught me a lesson in the garage that day…it shall not be forgotten. Pink hues from the deep stain underneath continued to surface, bleeding through my chalk paint. I tried sanding down the pink spots but this only revealed a pinker raw wood. Again, I painted, trying a new method of sealing in the stain using a clear shellac finish before adding a fifth coat of chalk paint. Still the pink prevailed. It was a battle of wills and the redwood won.
Redwood has a reputation for showing up through paint, and it can be more stubborn than the best DIYers. In the event you find yourself working on a project which involves painting redwood, I would highly recommend investing in a stain sealing primer. I hesitated to use a primer on this project because I wanted the final product to be heavily distressed, defeating the purpose of a pure opaque coat of paint, however, I ended up spinning my wheels getting the same pink results. Reluctantly, I sanded away layers of painted pride and started over…
Coat one, Primer.
Coat two, chalk paint.
Coat three, chalk paint.
Finally, I lightly distressed the edges of my wood just enough to reveal the texture of the age and sealed it up with a clear wax. For my redwood friend, I rubbed on a dark antiquing wax. Typically this isn’t my favorite distressing method, however, in this case the dark wax worked its way into the lightly scuffed up old wood and made this mantel shine.
As for the media cables, I plugged everything into a power strip and attached it to the backside of the mantel leg using a Velcro Command Strip. Extra long cables were coiled neatly with twine and connected to their modems inside a wicker basket. I’ll admit I was nervous when my husband reached for the remote later that afternoon. This was the true test of my engineering. When the blue light clicked on I was able to sit back and admire my work!
I just adore this antique mantel! It doesn’t protrude into our narrow living room while still providing dimension and visual interest. For those who enjoy a family movie night or a Saturday college football game, this is a creative (and pretty) media center solution. He gets his big TV with ample couch seating; I get a beautiful statement piece that hides the wires. Compromise! And even though it can’t produce a crackling fire, I can only imagine how beautiful it will look dressed for Christmas.