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Easy Updates for Fireplace Makeovers on a Budget

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Fireplaces are an amazing asset in a home, but an outdated design can detract from a space. We have an amazing wood burning fireplace in our guest house that I’m excited to update for week 3 of the One Room Challenge! Here are some easy updates for fireplace makeovers on a budget!

One Room Challenge Participant

Guest House Remodel

If you’re new to my guest house remodel, make sure to visit the first two posts in the series to see all the before photos and design plans! And, make sure to check out all of the ORC participants for hundreds of projects that are going to be amazing!

Fireplace Mantel Plans

Let’s start by taking a look at our existing wood burning fireplace. It is well built, however the design aesthetics are not my style. The orange stained mantel had to go!

Mantel before photo

It literally assaulted my senses every time I looked at it. In my opinion, it detracts from the stonework because it is so bright.

Simple wood mantel.

My initial thought was that I would simply sand down the mantel and re-stain it to a calmer color. And that began my brainstorming for easy updates for fireplace makeovers on a budget!

Fireplace Makeovers on a Budget

I’ve updated my fair share of fireplaces over the years. In our previous home, I designed a brand new fireplace from scratch after our house fire. You can see that design in our remodel story, however it certainly was not a budget update. I just LOVED that stone though. I would use it again in a heart beat.

Then, in our current home, I’ve done two fireplace updates that were much more budget friendly. And that brings me to some ideas for a budget fireplace makeover!

Replacing or Refinishing a Mantel

There are two basic ways to update a mantel. You can either replace it altogether, like I did with our upstairs fireplace, or you can refinish the existing mantel.

Replacement Mantel

If you’d like to see what an amazing transformation it can make to replace an outdated mantel, make sure to check out my barn beam mantel update. This cost me $10 for the new mantel and $100 for the bracket system. Not too bad for a budget mantel update!

Refinishing a Mantel

In our guest house, I sanded down the existing mantel to remove all the orange stain. This was an extremely messy project, but not difficult or expensive!

Sanding down a mantel

No more orange! It took me approximately an hour and a half to chew through all that stain. In hindsight, I think I should have stripped it rather than sanding. However, each option is extremely budget friendly.

Fireplace makeovers on a budget.

The mantel was built of affordable knotty pine, so it has some texture and character to it that wasn’t visible before.

Knotty pine DIY mantel.

Taking the mantel down to the raw wood allowed me to see what I was working with and formulate a plan. I decided to simply re-stain the mantel to a more toned down color that would help the stone pop!

Special walnut mantel stain.

I used Miniwax Special Walnut and applied a very light coat. I like to use my husband’s old undershirts as my staining rags because it’s a great way to reuse instead of throwing them out.

Fireplace makeovers on a budget with new stain.

It also helps me control how much stain I apply. I simply dip the rag in the stain, swipe it on, and then rub it in.

Updated fireplace mantel.

Changing the color of the mantel made a huge difference! It makes the stone pop more since the mantel itself is more subdued.

Fireplace Stone

Now, let’s talk about that stone! While the stone is lovely, it is not my style. I wouldn’t have chosen the red and orange hues. However, with the updated paint and mantel, the stone coloring is more palatable for me.

Fireplace stonework

My husband likes the stone as is, so I’m torn on whether or not to do my next suggestion for fireplace makeovers on a budget: german schmear!

Our upstairs fireplace has a river rock hearth. River rock, unfortunately, is also a stone that I’m not a fan of on a fireplace. You can see how I updated it with an affordable german schmear for an example of how much this technique can change the look of stonework!

Another affordable way to update a stone/brick fireplace is by painting it or white washing it. I know SO many people would say that painting stone is a “design sin”; however, I say, if you don’t love it then change it!

Updating fireplace stonework with paint is extremely affordable and can be a quick and budget friendly makeover until the time when you can fully replace it. Chances are, you will love the look and want to keep it in the end anyway!

fireplace makeovers on a budget.

I Would Love Your Vote

So, my friends, I’d love your vote! Adding a german schmear treatment (or, over-grouting) to the stone would give this space a more earthy European feel, like this example from Chris Loves Julia.

German schmear fireplace.
Design and Photo by Chris Loves Julia

I think it would tone down some of the reds and oranges since I can apply as much mortar to those stones as I want to mask the hues. On the other hand, I could leave it as is for a more cabin feel!

The rest of the guest house will have modern furniture that has a hint of rustic to it. You can see the full design plans here.

If you choose to update your stone with this method, you can get away with this budget friendly fireplace update for under $200 depending on the size of your fireplace!

Stay Connected

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog today! And, for one more update on this space, how about this before and after? The paint is on the walls! I chose Soft Secret by Behr and it has some green undertones that will work well with my rug.

I can’t wait to continue the remodel! Stay tuned for 5 more weeks of this project!

One Room Challenge Update

The project is complete! If you missed the 8 week process, catch up with the links below!

Sarah Signature
Easy Updates for Fireplace Makeovers on a Budget


  1. I was intrigued by your ideas for the stone fireplace and today… viola… Jen Webb’s blog Cote de Texas arrived all about stone houses and walls! You’ll have to check it out. Lots of ideas. Love your blog and IG too.

  2. I vote schmear! Like other commenters mentioned, I think it would balance and brighten it up and compliment the new stain along with the white walls. I love what you’ve done so far!

  3. New to your site. I think the technique would fit in nicely in the room but I would go a little lighter on the grouting than the picture shows. Just my opinion, but I tend to be conservative. Can’t wait to see what you decide.

  4. Sarah- It’s been a pleasure to be a part of your life through your blog. You’re a very talented creative person and I appreciate your focus in life and the inspiration of “grace” that you share. The fireplace. It’s a great look to leave as is if you want a cabin feel. Since your furniture will be more modern with a bit of a rustic look I think you’ll be happier if you paint it. I like the idea of whitewashing it. As this would soften up the colors of stone yet give you some great texture and bring out the mantel’s natural rustic feel. I know you will make it look great.

  5. I don’t mind the colors of the stones in fireplace. Although the colors may look different in person. The change of color on the mantle looks better than before, but I personally don’t feel it goes with the stone. I could see a soft washed grey color. A warmer color. I personally would finish the room before diving into a big project. You just might not mind the stones.
    If you are set on changing the stone, I vote for the over-grouting like your friends fireplace.

  6. My thought is that doing the German Schmear would be too much white in the room. Have you considered using a clear coat of some kind on the stone. It could slightly darken the stone and might make it more to your liking.

  7. I am not a fan of the schemas. I was surprised with the stain color you chose. What if the mantle was stained gray or painted white. I like the stone the way it is.

  8. I am not a fan of the schemas. I was surprised with the stain color you chose. What if the mantle was stained gray or painted white. I like the stone the way it is.

  9. I think you should do the german schmear treatment to lighten that corner and make a big statement! All the work in your guesthouse has been spot on and I think that would be a lovely focal point!

  10. I didn’t know what German schmear was until I binged watch Fixer Upper a few years, and I saw Chip and JoAnna use the technique in several of the houses they renovated. I say go for it. Or at least do some sort of lighter paint over the stone. I think it will look gorgeous and totally updated and great with the wooden mantel that you sanded and stained.

  11. Hi Sarah,

    Well done on getting rid of the dated and orange stain. Yes, I so would’ve done it with chemicals – but I don’t know – you look pretty snazzy in your dusty mask and all. : – )

    You asked for opinion but I am offering a little more. Hope that is taken in the light it is given – just opinion and nothing more. I know it is too late – but I sooooo would’ve have stained it a drift wood light washed out grey color. And for all the orange in the stone? Mix up a few kinds of paint and dab a little color on the stones that are too warm a hue for you.

    As for the schmear – I think it is cool – but I think if you were to “cool up” some of those stones quietly you’d be happy. And I honestly think a grey stain on the mantle would make you happier in the long run? If it can even be done at this time? Hope you aren’t cringing too much – it looks much better already.

  12. I love your sweet blog. I would definitely smear it. It would soften it. And not make you
    Feel like it was an “oh my gosh you have a big fireplace “ feeling. Believe me most of us have had that and could not sleep until we did a little makeover on it. Then the room would be easier to see where you were going with the design. Have fun.

  13. I like your updated look best, but do not dislike the stone the way it is now. That being said, since your sweet husband likes it as is, I would let him have his way. He does pitch in and help you many times achieve your dream. If he changes his mind….. go for it!

  14. Yes! Schmeer it! It will help to balance the different stone colors, brighten the space, and harmonize with all the crisp white surrounding color. GO FOR IT!

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