Covering the Niche/Hole Above Your Fireplace

How did this trend even start? Does anyone know? I can sort of understand the line of thinking–that folks would mount their TV in this hole and everything would be hunky dory. Whoever had this idea, though, seemed to have little design sense. I’ve never seen one of these holes look good, no matter what’s put inside of it.

Ours was especially bad. It was exceptionally deep, and had no electrical outlets so even when we did have our TV mounted, we had all sorts of chords everywhere all the time.

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Once we remodeled the base of our fireplace (read about that here), I knew the top needed to be brought up to speed. I first toyed with the idea of keeping the TV mounted, and building a surround. Like this:

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But there were a few problems with that idea. First, as I said before, there were no electrical outlets for the TV or to plug into the TV satellite, so the chords were an issue. In fact, the nearest outlets weren’t anywhere near the fireplace. To get the outlets added to the niche would have been $100-$150 bucks. And that’s not including the rest of the materials to build around the TV. Secondly, our TV needed to be mounted to a stud and the stud it was currently mounted to was off center in the hole. More time, more work, more money to correct. And lastly, I didn’t love having to look UP to watch TV. So, instead of the TV being above the fireplace, we installed Ikea Shelves to make a media center next to the fireplace:

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Then onto the top of the fireplace. Once the TV was gone, I went to work getting inspiration for how I wanted to design the top. I knew I wanted something simple and clean. I drew out some sketches:

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For the center, I was inspired by this gorgeous white fireplace makeover, by by Love of Homes

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So clean and pretty. Okay, enough slobbering over white fireplaces…

I got to work. To create the tongue and groove boards across the fireplace, I picked up some cedar planks. I found mine at a discount home improvement store in Colorado, but you can buy these at just about any home improvement store (here is something similar). Most lumber stores will have tongue and groove boards that you can cut to length. Or you can use unfinished flooring. The planks I bought, however, were actually meant for closets. As long as you’ve got boards that are tongue and groove, you’re golden.

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I wanted the boards to sit INSIDE the hole, not outside, attached to the wall. And, because I didn’t plan all that well, the planks I bought were just a little too short to reach across the entire hole. So I improvised.

First I built the frame to attach the planks to. I cut off a block from a 2×4 and screwed it into the stud that framed the hole. Then, I cut two more 2x4s to the height of the hole and screwed those into the studs. This created the frame for the boards to be nailed to.

If you’re planning to hang something in the middle of the your mantle, you’ll want to add a support in the  middle, too. The frame I created was enough to keep the boards in place, but would not have been strong enough to hold something pulling from the middle (like a heavy picture frame, etc)

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Next, I laid out the cedar planks on the floor. Many of the planks were very warped, so the tongue and grooves didn’t meet up very well. There were some huge gaps in between the boards. Not cool, but to be expected with cheap tongue and groove wood. I did my best to plan out which boards fit the best together, then used a nail gun to nail them into the frame.

Fortunately, caulk can fix just about any gap 😉

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The next step was to frame out the cedar planks (after a quick first coat of white paint just for funsies). I used 1×6’s cut to the right length and overlapped them with the planks just slightly, so all the seams would be covered.

It doesn’t really matter what type of wood you use, you don’t need anything fancy for this project. The top board was a nicer wood (i think oak?) because they happened to have it laying around at the same discount store I found the planks.

I cut the top 1×6 to be a little longer than the length of the frame. I played around with the length by using an extra 1×6 (the one leaning against the wall). I wanted to see how it looked with the different cuts and different lengths. Once I decided on 45 degree cuts on both ends, and the right length, I cut the final 1×6.

Use a level to make sure it’s level before you nail it into the wall. If it’s off, you’ll be able to tell.

I then caulked every little seam . All of the gaps between the planks, the seams between the frame boards, everything. This gave it a flawless appearance. I let it all dry before painting.

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I used one final piece of trim for the bottom. It was a leftover piece of baseboard. It took two coats of paint to get it all done, and I made a few mistakes and had to touch up the blue paint later. But the result was exactly what I was hoping for. Clean, pretty, white. These pics taken before a had a better camera, so I apologize for the blurriness.

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