Carpentry Projects
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How To Use Trim To Finish A Fireplace Surround

Moving into our town’s historic district takes patience. This need for patience is not due to a lack of homes because there are plenty. Rather, it is because so many of the properties have been the victim of what I can only describe as thoughtless remodels. During my house search I walked through dozens of homes and often just shook my head and wondered what the former owners could possibly have been thinking. “This poor home,” I would say to myself, “it must be embarrassed to look like this.”

It was love though from the very first moment I walked into the house that would become ours and thought unless I saw something absolutely horrible, this was the house we would buy. As we walked from room to room nothing let me down. Then I walked into the family room, an addition done in the 1970’s and there it was – 30 feet of glass looking out to the backyard.

“I’m home,” I said when I saw that wall of windows.

So when I turned and spotted the seven-foot wide by eight-foot high massive brick fireplace  – a structure so out of character and scale to the rest of this 1940 cottage, because everything else had been thoughtfully and carefully maintained, because the house had, as they say, “good bones” I knew I could do something with that brick monstrosity.

Well, plans have to wait sometimes. My time was busy raising the kids and money, well there was always something more pressing, more higher up the priority list than remodeling the fireplace. So we lived with it. And now, 14 years later, its time has come.

After doing the demo, and the framing, and tiling, it was time to build the surround. The fun stuff! And even though I always knew what I didn’t want – brick – I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted until I saw this image in an old issue of Better Homes and Gardens…

Original inspiration 1 pic


I loved everything about it: the fireplace, the wall treatment above, the flanking bookcases and the windows. It was what my space could be. So with the picture in hand, I set to work to create the kind of fireplace that had occupied my imagination for more than a decade.

It was a rather straightforward job. The design of the inspiration photo’s fireplace was very simple. And since I began the work right around my birthday, I got a new tool! Oh my gosh, I LOVE my new compound miter saw. It made the work SO much easier…

Birthday present.jpg

First I installed the three 1x12s that made up the facing…

first layer of trim

For the wood around the surround I found this material at Home Depot. It’s a primed finger joint pine board and what attracted me to is was how smooth the finish was. There were no knots and I really liked that because even with primer and a good paint job, over time those knots have a nasty way of reappearing.

For this step I trimmed the boards to the right lengths and attached them to the wood frame with my nail gun. And, except for a little trim where the boards meet, I was done.

Or so I thought.

Even though I had before me the beginnings of the likeness to the photo, I found myself shaking my head no.

It wasn’t right.

In my space, for the size and scale of the fireplace, it wasn’t enough. It was flat. The little trim that would cover the junction of the boards would not be enough. It needed more dimension. Knowing this is how the design process works – build what I wanted to discover it just isn’t “it” – I was not deterred.

And so because I have found myself in this head scratching place before I knew exactly what to do next.


Yep, I went to Pinterest and began scouring photos of fireplaces and found this…

Revised inspiration pic

Inspiration photo #2.

It had the same feel as my first inspiration photo and the same trim treatment above the fireplace but it also had the additional layer of trim that I felt my fireplace needed. So back to Home Depot I went and purchased 1x3s boards of same material as the 1x12s and with my handy miter saw got to work adding rails and stiles.

in process

Do you like the little paper shim holding the trim in place while I was setting it exactly where I want prior to nailing it permanently in place?

temp shims

A whole lot of leveling went on to get all the trim straight. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to attach your boards temporarily (shims or minimally set nails) until you know the trim is placed exactly where you want it. And remember, not only do you have to make sure it’s level to the piece of trim next to it but the trim also needs to be level to the trim on the other side of firebox as well.

This requires patience.

And even with patience trust me I pulled off the trim multiple times until I had it set just right and even now (this is one of the little discussed DIY consequences) because I did the work I know where those little problems pieces are that no one else can see and even though I did my best, sometimes, when I am sitting on the couch months later, supposed to be watching tv, in my mind I am moving a piece of trim just a smidgen up or down.

That said, be patient, take your time to do it right, but also, accept that when the sawdust settles there will be little quirks in your work and that is OKAY, those quirks make it yours.

You can also see to the left of the fireplace in the photo above my pile of trim samples. The final design has crown molding, a medium-sized trim where the wood and tile meet and a base trim. To help make these trim choices, I went to Home Depot and cut 12″ samples of any trim I thought I might want to use. I needed to bring them home, hold them up to the fireplace and see their scale and how they interacted as a grouping of three. It took some trial and error but I think the final choices worked well with the simple shaker style design.

Finally, I would be remiss to overlook perhaps the most important ingredient to any project and that is making sure you have fun while working.

This step cannot be emphasized enough.

In whatever you are doing, if you enjoy yourself during the process, that enjoyment will show in the finished product.

I like to pop a movie in while I work, it’s company, and well, I prefer company that makes me laugh…

Hard Day's work

Here is the fireplace with the completed trim. I liked it so much better with the added dimension.

trim done

A close up of the shaker style trim treatment…

close up

Look at those mitered corners! I think they might make my hero Tommy Silva from This Old House proud. It was his video I watched to help refresh my miter cutting skills…

Look at that miter cut copy

Next it was time for the finishing touch – paint. It is said the key to a good paint job is the prep. I agree. And it is with this project I began to really enjoy the sanding process. I used to see it as a necessary evil but there is loveliness to the tactile experience of sanding.

And it is relaxing.

As I sand I just block out the world and just go into it. One hand holds the sander while the other hand glides over the surface of the wood, using touch rather than sight to determine when the right amount of smoothness has been obtained.


Following the zen work of sanding :-) I primed the plywood mantel (the rest of the trim came preprimed, another bonus) and I caulked and painted. I used the same can of Benjamin Moore Advance paint I was using for my kitchen cabinet refacing project. A basic white with a touch of yellow to warm it up.


Enthused from the progress I made with the finished surround, I began prepping for the bookcases. Being a visual girl, to help see the space the shelves would take I used scrap trim to represent the top of the bookcases and some drywall pieces to check the scale of 16″ high solid facing that would make the bottom of each bookcase.

My fireplace had wings.

I also went a little crazy with some sample paint. You kinda can’t miss that in this photo…

looking toward the bookcases.jpg

Yeah, just a little crazy.

I promised my husband I would incorporate his favorite color, green, into the space. And well, since I seldom do things the easy way, I don’t paint just a little patch of test color. NO sir. I paint a whole wall. This I don’t recommend doing because when you change your mind about the color, like I did (back to of all colors, the original yellow) you have just given yourself a whole lot of unnecessary work.

With the fireplace done, next up, you guessed it, the bookcases are coming! The bookcases are coming!


  1. Yeah! You’re back! I not only “like” this….I LOVE it! What a beautiful fireplace! Oh my! You did a wonderful job – certainly worthy of admiration. I’m so impressed with your talent, and the time you took to describe all the work, steps, etc., that went in to building this amazing piece of furniture! I really love the look. We have something similar – not built in, and not in white (which I love, btw)…but the style is about the same. I’ve seen a lot of photos with the bookcases on either side of the fireplace, and have been thinking that I would like to do the same thing. Maybe someday…but I won’t be building them. I am really looking forward to your finished project, and it is so nice to hear from you again!

    • Oh Becky how nice to see you in my comments, it feels like I am back in my blogging home! Thanks for your always kind words and yep I am trying to get back into my blogging ways. I have loved doing this project, getting knee deep in sawdust and experimenting and creating and mistaking and fixing. I have loved it. And being so engrossed has helped with the transition of my youngest heading off to college and all these changes going on. It has been my good fortune to be so involved and so contented in my little carpentry world. The bookcases are wonderful. I sit and look at the room and it feels beyond awesome to smile and think to myself, “i did that!” More to come. Thanks again for your message, it added more sunshine to my day! ::)

      • I certainly understand the need to step away, and focus on the transitions in life. For me, it’s spending time in my garden, working in the dirt, trimming, and planting. And when it’s all done, it does fill good to step back and admire the effort and work gone into making it all happen.
        I hope that everything has gone well for your daughter… and you. It certainly is a big change, trust me I know!
        Looking forward to more “Charlotte DIY’s”!

      • Thanks Becky! My daughter is doing great. She made President’s List her 1st semester – all A’s and was named a Parent Ambassador for the school so she will be there all summer working with the parents during Freshman Orientation. She also got an RA position in her dorm next year and is beyond excited about that. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is excelling and she is happy. Doesn’t get any better than that! :-)

      • Wow! She’s amazing! I’m so happy for her, and for you too! She sounds like one amazing young lady – must take after her mom! :)

  2. Pingback: How To Frame A Fireplace Surround | Life&Ink

  3. It’s good to see you back – I apologize for being late to the party. I’m juggling two jobs and it’s madness. I love that you fell in love with your miter saw – that’s easy to imagine. And you do a great job of showing the whole process, including the way it changes direction. And, needless to say, the outcome is stunning. Beautiful proportions. And the white wood against the black stone is handsome. Too bad I couldn’t drop by, smell the sawdust (which I love) and see your smiles. I thought of you the other day as I passed Kenmore Air (that’s where you flew, yes?). Be well!

    • Yes! Kenmore Air… that’s my place!!!! :-) I am kinda back, you know what I mean. Being pulled in many wonderful fabulous directions that I am having difficulties sitting down and focusing on just one thing! It’s all good. I hope you are doing well too and that the two job madness is good in the It’s all good kinda way. Thanks for the kind words, we are enjoying the family room and each and every time my husband smiles and speaks of how he loves the space I am so happy because, well, I was just making it all up as I went along (and spending more money than I am used to!)… it is a scary good feeling you know what I mean. Fortunately the scary good had a very happy ending! Oh, just yesterday I printed off and framed four of your prints. Three are in my gallery wall and one framed on the new bookcase. Thank you for letting me share your beautiful art. I can’t find the little piece of paper I wrote the posts on to let you know which pics but I will do better than that- when I can focus I will do a post on the gallery wall and take some shots of your images. One came from Saturated that I remember. I smile when I am surrounded by familiar objects for there is no better space than a friendly space and so glad you are part of it! :-)

  4. Hey! Oh I can relate to being pulled in many directions, so I’m happy for you. The two job madness is not so good but IT’S TEMPORARY. Key to remember that, right? It must be very satisfying that, not only are you pleased with the outcome but your sweetheart is, too. I like that! I’m so excited to see the photos framed and on the wall – incredible! Bated breath…your words are gold. Thank you.

  5. Pingback: How To Build a Bookcase, Part One | Life&Ink

  6. Pingback: How to Plan a DIY Refacing of Your Kitchen Cabinets | life+ink's RENESTING

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