Mantel Photos

Starting at the end and working backward.  I finished building the majority of our mantel the other day.  I used Google’s free application, SketchUp, to crystallize the final design.  The original mantel looked like this:

Kelly came up with the idea to replace our old oil furnace with a highly efficient Mantis gas fireplace.  When we decided it was the right thing to do, we also rearranged the whole living room.

Once we improved the living room layout, part of which involved purchasing a flat screen, I proceeded to build a structure around the old brick chimney/fireplace. I didn’t mention it when I posted about building the structure how I tied into the wall framing and the mantle top.  I basically screwed 2x4 legs into the wall framing.  The legs each incorporated two 2x4s tied together in an L-shape with some 1/2” plywood to give me enough room to run 2x4 horizontals across the front of the chimney.  Then I built a couple of rectangles out of 2x2s so that any plywood facade could be tied into framing.  Here’s what I started with the other day:

Next, I used 18 gauge 1” nails (as I recall) to attach bead board and some finish grade plywood to the sides and top center of the mantle.  I had a good supply of bead board I had purchased during the summer for prototyping the exterior soffit (but then abandoned using bead board thus leaving me with a surplus of 1 1/2 4x8’ sheets) so I decided it would help distinguish the columns I was envisioning on the right and left.  Here are some links to the soffit project (my post; Kelly’s post) and looking back I see that we need to post the final caulked and painted photos because the finished version looks really good.

Taking down the mounted TV was a definitely a 2-3 person task but I managed to not throw out my back or make a $900 mistake when I brought it back down off the wall.  Ever since I had mounted the TV I had been a bit nervous about it not crashing off the wall so getting it down and knowing I was going to build a much stronger backing was a real motivation for getting this project underway.  Once the TV was down there was no going back because God knows we couldn’t survive another day without watching The Closer :-).

Here I have the 3/4” cabinet grade plywood fastened to the wall with screws and 12 gauge nails.  I’ve started nailing in the MDF 1x6” across the top of the mantle and on the base, 1x4” and 1x3” legs on the left column.

Before I attached the legs, I had to build out from the 2x2 and 2x4 structure at the edges around the fireplace flange so that I would have a single plane to attach the MDF.  When I previously fastened the plywood, I left a buffer of about 1/2” so that I wouldn’t have to cut the plywood perfectly so that it would be flush with the outside of the mantle and the inside (near the flange).  I ripped down (using my table saw setup) some MDF 3/8” strips to get me close to the plane I wanted.  This helped me get flush in three dimensions (with the plywood and into the fireplace opening with the plane of the 2x2s).  It’s hard to see but when your strips are very small, MDF splits pretty easy when you hit it with a nail so I switched over to staples.  One split I had to rip out and put in a small piece (Robert had a name for this practice/piece but I can’t remember it at the moment).  While my work wasn’t perfect, I decided it was good enough and pushed on.

Before remounting the TV I put 1/4” bead board across the breadth of the plywood backer.  I needed to cut one sheet into two 42” tall sections so that the beads would line up vertically and so that I could use the lap edging that adorns the long sides of bead board (the lap edging allows you to butt the long side of the sheets together so that the joint just looks like another bead).

If you made it this far… thanks!  Now go back to the beginning and hopefully you’ll appreciate the final (almost) product.  After I re-attached the TV mount, Kelly helped me get the TV back on the mounting arm.  Fortunately for me, she came home at the perfect time—all of the construction was done and I was starting to sweat bullets that I couldn’t get the weighty TV back on the the mount by myself.

To finish the project I need to run some more MDF vertically toward the ceiling from the top of the mantel.  In my mind this will carry the outside lines of the two columns up toward the ceiling and emphasize the chimney.  We also need to finalize how these legs will someday tie into crown molding: so there is a horizontal detail at the very top of the bead board (where it meets the ceiling) that still needs to be worked out.

Thanks for reading!


Living room before and “after”

These photos might be nominally referred to as “before and after,” but “after” is not an accurate description of where we are.  Let’s go with “in progress.”  

Fireplace Before:

Fireplace in progress:

Other living room Before:

Living room in progress:

Apologies for the bad lighting and overall messiness.  If you can overlook those, I think you’ll agree that the new floor plan (which we’ve been anticipating for well over a year) is much more open and makes the new fireplace the focal point of the room.

New features: 

  • Mantis fireplace insert (with new hearth).
  • Wall-mounted TV over the fireplace.  Also got cable after not having it for the past 2.5 years.  Which is proving to be a bit overwhelming for me.
  • New Ikea Manstad corner sofa (yes, both sofas would look better without blankets draped over them, and I have a solution in mind for that, but for now this is how we roll because we enjoy having dogs on the furniture)
  • Rearranged most of the furniture in the room and gave away or sold several items including the TV stand.
  • When guests enter through the front door, they are no longer funneled into an awkward area behind the couch.
  • More room to do workouts in the living room.
  • New yellow shelf above and to the left of the fireplace - our friend and former (sniff!) next door neighbor Robert built this for his house, which is identical to ours, and since it’s a custom shelf for a space that only exists in the houses on our street, he had no use for it when he moved.  It was black until Matt painted it yellow.
  • Dog crates are now under the wood table, where they fit perfectly.  We gave the chairs away, which was a little bit sad for me.  I got the table and set of 4 chairs at the Salvation Army in my hometown almost 10 years ago right before I moved into my first apartment after college.  I’ve used them in every home I’ve lived in as an adult.  The table was my desk for the past two years, but now that’s not possible with the dog crates underneath, so I’m using a folding table which you might catch a glimpse of (see my laptop in the last photo?)  Also note to self: get some folding chairs so people can sit down if we have a dinner party.
  • New Ikea Ektorp Bromma footstool with a tray on top replaced our coffee table.

Many more improvements are still on the To Do list, but we are feeling mighty fine about this batch of changes.  We are ready for fall and winter: we will be so cozy snuggled up on our couches with dogs and our fireplace keeping us warm.


Mark Frauenfelder on the Colbert Report

I just watched Mark Frauenfelder’s appearance on the Colbert Report and thought it was well worth passing along.  I may be a bit biased, since in my opinion all Colbert Report videos are worth watching, but this was all about DIY.  Mark is editor-in-chief of MAKE Magazine, co-editor of the blog Boing Boing and author of the books Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World and Mad Professor: Concoct Extremely Weird Science Projects.  Want to make your own Useless Machine (featured on the Colbert Report)?  Instructions from the inventor can be found on


Why wait until a current project is finished, start 3 more!

While Matt has been working tirelessly on the fence with Robert, and somehow finding time here and there to build some raised garden beds and do some other landscaping work, I have been researching and preparing to begin some other major projects this summer.  I spent a lot of my spare time last week and the weekend researching replacement windows, picking Robert’s brain about installation (which we are currently planning to tackle ourselves) and other details, and measuring our rough openings.  Soon we’ll order custom windows for our almost 60-year-old house.  Goodbye single paned aluminum, hello Energy Star and (hopefully) maintenance-free vinyl.  I considered wood, but after doing some research and conferring with our real estate agent, decided vinyl was more suited to the level of our house.  Higher quality materials don’t pay when they’re disproportionate to the overall value of a home.  I also wanted casement windows, which is what we have now, but Matt worried he’d walk into them around the house.  So we’re probably going with sliders, which I like second best because they leave a lot of viewing space when open or closed.  We almost bought them from Lowes to take advantage of a 20% off sale on custom orders, but the ones we were considering were rated “poor” by Consumer Report in wind resistance.  Back to the drawing board.  The good news is that if/once we are customers of the local natural gas company, they offer rebates on energy efficient windows and exterior insulation (if professionally installed - is it worth it? - maybe).  I also need to continue moving on the whole natural gas / new furnace / tankless water heater decision-making process.  Decisions, decisions.  Oh yeah, I have all the supplies to install the light/fan combo in the bathroom, and would like to get that done soon.


Machines at the gym

I admit it: I use all of these.  I lack the motivation to run outside in the cold and rain, or even on the 1/9 mile indoor track at the gym.  Doing my cardio on these babies gives me an excuse to watch all those magnificently frivolous cable channels I voluntarily gave up at home, and that gets me moving.

Usually I think nothing of it, but occasionally it strikes me as ridiculous that when I work out, I use machines that consume electricity.  Why don’t they make human-powered cardio machines, so that when you perform work, it charges up a battery that powers the timer and TV?  You’d have to maintain a certain activity level to create enough power to keep the TV on (motivation!).  For that matter, the resistance on all the machines in the gym could feed batteries to run the lights and other electric needs.  A few enterprising people have done something similar with stationary bikes, so why not the machines at the gym?

Sometimes I also question my justification for exercising indoors when I live in a pretty mild climate and a city full of beautiful parks and paths, several of which are within walking distance of my house.  I don’t have any physical conditions or other good reasons for working out indoors; I just like the comfort and convenience.  This past weekend was gorgeous and all the trees are in full bloom (this could be problematic as it’s turned cold again since), so Matt and I enjoyed a long walk-run around the neighborhood and a nearby park.  It was pretty great.  So maybe when Matt graduates this summer and we get booted from the fabulous university gym, we’ll ride our bikes, run through the park, and snag a few free weights (from freecycle!) instead of a new gym membership.  Maybe.


[cardio machine photos from and]