Mandi’s Fireplace and Media Center Makeover

fireplace wall makeoverLast June, I moved into a basic suburban home straight out of your favorite ’80s teen movie in every way. Okay, so someone did us the favor of removing tired wallpaper and painting everything tan and brown. But we loved how much the peculiar floor plan exactly fit our particular needs, and I was really taken with this grand living room. It didn’t exactly look like a grand space when we moved in, but I saw its potential for the fireplace of my dreams, and was enamored with the tall ceilings complete with skylights and weird sofit-clad nooks on the walls. (You can see the plan of our first floor in this blog post.)

The living room has finally undergone its transformation, and I’m so excited to share the process with you! We now have a bright space with a beautiful stone fireplace that accentuates the high ceilings. Below the fireplace is a long hearth, worthy of any mid-century masterpiece, but still fitting in with our ’80s home. We aren’t shy about the fact that we watch TV, and I decided to show it in all its glory, since this is the family room in our home and hey, our family likes movie nights, and sometimes movie days!

media center fireplace wallWhen I first drew out the plans for the fireplace wall makeover, I had planned to build shelves above the TV, as well as the shelf you can see below it. I wanted to wait until our TV was installed to see how the space would feel, and was surprised that I felt it was perfect without shelves above the TV. Maybe that will change someday, but we are building a shelving wall in our study, so I can’t imagine that we would need any more book storage. I do like how minimal it feels, allowing other areas of the room to shine, like the gorgeous stone fireplace!

From the moment I first saw this space, I knew it needed a stone fireplace that went all the way up to the ceiling. Since there was already brick in place, we opted to use a stone veneer, rather than demo the brick or waste square footage by using large stones. In fact, after doing quite a bit of research, I settled on using manufactured stone, called Cultured Stone by Boral. It looks like real stone, but it is 1/4 of the weight of full-thickness stone, and since it is a veneer, it is not as thick either. You can purchase corner pieces to achieve the look of a thick fireplace, but since our plan was to do some drywall work next to the stone, we didn’t end up using corner pieces. I selected the Old Country Fieldstone in the Summit Peak colorway, and used a sanded grout with a wide mortar set. I was thinking I’d like to use an overgrout style, but my husband vetoed me and we met halfway. Check out the dramatic before and after below!

fireplace wall makeover before and afterfireplace wall makeoverAbove is a cellphone picture of me in my excitement after the first day of Boral stone installation. I had considered doing this project myself, and know that I could’ve (hear me roar). But since we were taking on so much work elsewhere in our home, I decided to hire someone to do the work, and I’m so glad we did! My friend Jeremy Miller did a great job. He added a moisture barrier and metal lathe to the drywall section of the wall above the old brick fireplace, and then covered everything with a coat of mortar. It took him two days to place the stone and fill it in with sanded grout. We chose a white grout, which when mixed with the sand makes an off-white color. I liked the contrast and also wanted it to tie in with the hearth and walls around it.

after demolitionBut let’s take a step back to when we first got the keys to our house! I had made all of the plans for the space while waiting for our mortgage to close, so I confidently began demo in the living room on the very first day of homeownership! Out came the carpet and baseboards, down came the mantle, and out came the old cabinets. I had originally planned to remove the platform inside of this media center nook, but when I pulled up the carpet, I saw that the platform beneath was actually the subfloor that went under the walls, not a platform that was built onto the subfloor. Then I pulled up the subfloor to discover plumbing pipes, electrical conduits, and vacuflo tubes going through the space. My plan was foiled! The platform had to stay.building a long fireplace hearthAfter an afternoon of frustration with The Platform That Came To Stay, I came up with a plan B I liked even better than plan A! I decided to embrace the platform and build it out on the front to meet the depth of the hearth. I decided to create a mid-century style hearth that extended all the way from one wall to the other, to be covered in concrete for a sleek, minimal look that would tie in with the floors and walls, allowing the Boral stone fireplace to take center stage. (More like stage left, but you get the idea …)

concrete feather finish hearthAfter we built out the platform, we covered it with sheets of Wonderboard that we screwed into place with Rock-On screws, and then I prepped the area for a couple of coats of Ardex Feather Finish in white. Prepping simply involved putting fiberglass joint tape between boards and where the Wonderboard met the brick of the fireplace. This step prevents the concrete feather finish from cracking as the structure shifts with house settling and temperature/humidity changes that affect the wood structure below it.

Ardex feather finish is a material typically used as a floor leveler or to repair subfloors before laying the finished flooring material. But it’s become a trendy finish for countertop refinishing and other home DIY projects with a modern flair. The technique I used on the hearth is actually the same process that was used in the old ABM studio house countertops to cover the formica countertops. On the left side of the fireplace, I was smoothing the Ardex over Wonderboard. On the right side, I was smooshing it into the spaces of the brick.

Ardex is a lot of trial and error, but I learned to only work with small batches at a time, because it sets up quickly and becomes very difficult to smooth out. After about 30 minutes, I went back and scraped off any majorly uneven areas, such as the globbyness around the front ledge of the hearth. I absolutely couldn’t get photos of this because I was working along and also working against the clock with the Ardex.

White Ardex is very difficult to find in my experience, but you can order it some places online. I would try calling around in your area to see if you can buy it locally to save on shipping costs. I didn’t have any luck here in Canton, Ohio.

media center before and afterNow for the nook where this very ’80s midwestern media cabinet used to reside. Of course, some of us older folks remember when TVs used to be monstrosities. In fact, until I graduated high school, my family had one of those huge cabinet televisions that was an actual piece of furniture with a dial on the front. A DIAL. When I designed the new space for our flat-screen TV, I knew I wouldn’t need the depth required for an older television, but ironically, I wanted enough room for my turntable and receiver. So my dad (who has done all of my drywall work for me—thanks, Dad!) moved forward the back wall so I had just enough space to build a shelf for my vintage record equipment and a shelf for my speakers and albums.

media center fireplace wallAfter the drywalling was complete, I built supports for the chunky nook-style shelving using 2x3s, as shown below. I attached the supports to the rear wall and side walls after making sure there was enough room to comfortably fit my records, and of course making sure the shelf support was level.built-in nook shelvingAfter the supports were anchored into the wall, I attached the front 2×3 and covered the supports with 1/4″ plywood. I planned out the support size so that the 1/4″ plywood would make the front of the shelves flush with the drywall around it. After nailing on the plywood, I did a lot of sanding to compensate for any unevenness in the plywood, then I primed, wet sanded, and painted the shelves to match the walls.

I had planned to take more process photos of the shelf-building when I built the upper shelves, but since I decided not to do upper shelves, I don’t have as many photos as I would’ve like to have shared. Feel free to ask me any questions about this process in the comments at the end of this post!

long fireplace hearthBecause we will be using a 2″ sound bar mounted to our TV (situated at the bottom of the TV) and a wireless subwoofer, I decided to keep my record player on its own speaker system. I actually bought “new” vintage speakers that perfectly fit in with my record shelf, and have drilled holes in my shelf to connect all of the wires out of site. Also, since we built the wall that the TV and shelves are on, I added electrical outlets behind my turntable and receiver, as well as behind the television. And when I said I added, I mean Dad added. (Thanks again, Dad!)

fireplace wall makeoverSo there she is! I finished up the hearth just in time to decorate for Christmas. I’ll be sharing more of the before and after of this space very soon! Check out the list below to find out where everything is from, and stay tuned for the full reveal! – Mandi

Living Room Materials and Product Sources:

Wall paint: Benjamin Moore’s Super White
Fireplace stone: Boral Cultured Stone Old Country Fieldstone in Summit Peak
Flooring: Lumber Liquidators engineered bamboo
White Ardex: eBay
Rug: Lulu & Georgia
White Chairs: 1st Dibs 
Coffee Table: Chairish
Sofa: Welles sectional from Joybird
White side table: LexMod
Vase, floor lamp, and art are all vintage.

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with A Color Story Desktop.
  • I’m not going to sound very original, but it is an amazing transformation. You should be really proud of this project.

  • Can you see the TV when sitting on the couch? I think the makeover looks great but was wondering about practicality.

    • We have it mounted on a bracket that pulls the TV out from the wall and rotates it. Right now we pull it out and rotate it when we’re watching TV, but we’re actually going to be changing out sectional in here to a full L-shaped one. This one used to face the TV, but we changed it around as we were doing construction on the fireplace and decided to leave it until the new Joybird sofa arrives. Check out the other arrangement here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BY36vjNhqCQ/

  • This transformation is so incredible. Such vision and so much hard work and attention to detail! I love Mandi’s posts here.

  • This is truly inspiring! Great vision, beautiful job. Love these kinds of posts highlighting gritty projects with great before and after photos- keep them coming! Totally hear you about how hard it is to take lots of progress shots- once you get going it’s hard to pause for a photo op!

    -Ann

  • My fireplace is a very large brick fireplace built in 1976, not a metal insert. I talked to flooring people about laying stacked stone tiles but they said no as it’s too heavy and the fireplace had firebricks in it. Would your stone and method of attaching work for me? You did a fantastic job!!! I’m at an age where I can’t do this kind of work any more. Kathy

    • I’m 99% sure you could use this cultured stone product! I would e-mail someone at Boral to ask about it. I e-mailed and within ten minutes got a phone call from someone in my area.

  • Daaaaaang I wish I could comment with gifs because words can’t describe how amazing this is. One of my favorite before-and-afters on the internet of all time. You’ve got incredible vision.

  • Impressed by the way the room looks so much bigger with the fact that you went all the way to the ceiling with the stone wall.
    I personally prefer wood (professionally actually) , but I have to admit the Chairish coffee table is gorgeous.

    Keep up the work, love your posts.
    Paul
    http://www.kuatas.com

    • I love wood coffee tables too and have only had wood coffee tables in my entire experience in decorating my home, for the past 10+ years. But I’m loving the sophisticated feeling that stone lends to the room. A fancy change! 🙂 My old coffee table was a live edge one.

  • what a beautiful room, I love the transformation! my only question is about the layout; what made you choose to have the sofa largely facing the wall without the t.v.? do you move the furniture for movie nights?

    • We used to have the sofa facing the fireplace wall, but we had to move things around to make space in front of the fireplace when I was working on it, and then I liked this layout so much I left it that way. The tv is on a bracket that pulls out from the wall and rotates. Also , I am waiting on a larger sectional from Joybird to put in here which will also make for more space when watching movies— It’s a full L-shaped sectional, the Ellington model. Excited about it! (Check out how the living room used to be arranged here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BY36vjNhqCQ/)

  • Beautiful space! Love the fireplace, and love that you aren’t ashamed of your tv! As a total homebody I love my tv, too! 🙂

    • Yeah, it’s just not realistic to hide away the TV, because it would spend more time uncovered than covered. 🙂 But I know not everyone loves to watch TV as I do! ha

  • Absolutely amazing transformation! I love how you thought to connect the bottom of the platform to the hearth – genius! It all looks seamless and flows together really well. I think the thing I love best about these “before and after’s” is the creative problem solving we get to witness when coming up with solutions! There are so many different ways to tackle a problem!

    P.S. BM’s Super White is the best white! Haha!

    http://www.shessobright.com

    • Thank you! I always wonder how another designer would choose to go about it, like a choose-your-own-adventure design story. Haha! It would be fun to see!

  • For the thick shelf, did you also add plywood to the front of the shelf on top of the board? Or did you just use plywood on the top and bottom?

    I love this space, I have showed my husband the transformation via Instagram every time you post an update:)

    • I did add the same 1/4″ plywood to the front of the shelf as well. I used wood glue to attach it but also nailed it on at each stud. This was the trickiest part only because when I build the studs, I had to make sure there was exactly the thickness of the 1/4″ plywood remaining on the front edge, so when I added the plywood, it met the wall edge perfectly. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but some sanding with the power sander helped! Then I primed, caulked, and painted it.