DIY Fireplace Built-In Tutorial

Today I am giving a warm welcome to Monday. We took the weekend to focus on family fun activities and hosting some friends and family. It felt really good to take a break from projects and the renovation, Bryan and I both needed a bit of a breather.


It is still a giant post day! I have finally compiled all of our photos and notes to share our fireplace built-in project, which we revealed here. We started purchasing the supplies on a Friday evening and about a week and a half later, we were tossing items onto the bookshelves for final photos. A total of ten days in the making, this wasn’t an overnight project, but it is one we are so incredibly happy with. Given the number of photos and steps, I probably should have broken this into a couple of posts, but it always creates confusion down the road so I am piling all of it in a single place today. Who’s ready?!


Things have already changed a bit in the living room since the reveal, however, I will share more about that in an upcoming post. Nothing major, just little tweaks as we live with things. But now that you have seen the finished fireplace project, let’s start back at the beginning.


A fireplace has been on our wishlist for many years, and as an effort to keep this our “forever” home, we decided it was now or never. Of course, we love how they look, but more importantly, it will be a nice source of heat for over half of the year in our cold weathered climate. And is there anything better than curling up near a fireplace with a good book or magazine? I have already done this multiple times and I have to say, it is fabulous! Truly a home dream come true for us.


As we began visiting local fireplace companies to get the scoop and research our options, we also started gathering ideas and coming up with a design for the built-ins. The following items were on the built-in wish list:

  • Wall mounted television to allow us to view it while cooking at the island in the kitchen, while sitting at the dining table and of course, while relaxing in the living area.
  • A combination of open and concealed storage.
  • Hidden component cords.
  • A design that would mimic the style of the cabinets in the kitchen to marry the two spaces.
  • Narrow enough to reduce the amount of lost floor space.
  • Salvage the DIY’d glass doors we created last year.

Based on those bullets, I whipped up a design that fit all of our wishes and presented it to Bryan.


Given the overall size of the built-in, we knew it would have to start in the corner of the room, vs. being centered and leaving negative space in the corner. After we measured out the existing mirrored cabinets as well as the fireplace insert, we came up with the remaining measurements for the surround and shelving. In total, the built-in ended up at 134″ wide x 92″/96″ tall x 16 1/2″ deep.


Supplies used for this project:


Because we wanted the fireplace mantle to be embellished with decorative moulding, the moulding needed a solid surface to return to on either side. That surface would be the sides of each bookcase, and we ultimately landed on a 3 1/2″ wide frame for the bookcase walls (using the poplar 1×4’s on the bookcase faces).


We began by using 2×4’s and the 3/4″ birch plywood to create a box to surround our previous mirrored glass bookcases. We pre-measured our components with their cords attached, and determined we needed shelves that were at least 16″ deep to hold the electronics. Once the exterior of the box was built, we added a 1/4″ birch plywood backing. Wood screws were used for building the 2×4 frame while the brad nailer was used to affix the plywood sides and backing.


We had a few shelving options, but I preferred something that offered flexibility vs. affixed permanent shelves. We simply used pegboard to create a template to drill shelving peg holes.


We were able to time the building of this unit with our electrician, and he was on-site running the wires for the outlets, fireplace and television as we constructed the unit. He was able to have our outlets moved to provide electrical for lighting and electronics in our bookcases.


The beautiful bookcase frame was finished and we held our breath as we inserted the previous glass-doored unit. Wahoo, it fit like a glove!


Once the first bookcase was built, we used the measurements provided to us by the fireplace company to construct the fireplace surround from more 2×4’s.


Speaking of fireplace, prior to ordering, we asked 1,265 questions. Here are some questions we asked that we found extremely helpful come build day:

  • Can the fireplace be set on flooring and if so, what types are OK? (The answer for our model was yes, it could be placed directly on our laminate floors)
  • What are the model’s surround requirements? (Tile recommended)
  • What are the model’s overall installation dimensions? (We were provided the installation specs by the fireplace company)
  • How/where does the fireplace vent? (The fireplace was vented directly out to our garage and then piped up and out through the roof, which prevented the need to have the piping run directly up the wall behind the television inside of our home)
  • What type of clearance is recommended for a television above? (Recommended to add a minimum of a 2″ lip/mantle past the face of the fireplace to displace the heat.)

As I mentioned, I really didn’t want to see component cords. I find them to be visually distracting and was ultimately trying to achieve a nice and clean look. Not wanting to do anything permanent that we wouldn’t be able to access once everything was built-in, Bryan came up with the solution to add a PVC tunnel to run all of the cords between the television and components. That way, should we swap out a DVD player or need to replace our Dish receiver, we can do so without any difficulties. Electrical, Internet and cable was run by our electrician to a location behind the television and eventually boxed into the built-in, while the PVC pipe was installed to run between the TV and side bookcase cabinet.


And this is where we were at the end of our first weekend of building. We needed to have our building inspector check on the electrical and gas updates Monday morning, prior to the fireplace insert installation (which was also scheduled on Monday).


We didn’t install the fireplace, we hired that part out (we went with Comfort By Design for this). Once again, we sighed with relief when everything fit like a glove. Above, you can also see how the television boxes were placed and everything was concealed by another piece of the 3/4″ birch plywood.


For the crown moulding, we used IKEA moulding on the outer cabinets and primed moulding from Home Depot for the center unit. The outer bookcases were built to the exact height as the cabinets in the kitchen, which will also be moulded with the IKEA trim. This was one of the ways we began creating cohesion between the kitchen and living spaces.


We also added small stripes of trim to the faces of the 3/4″ plywood shelves. Wood glue and brad nailer for the win.


Now that the fireplace was installed and the moulding, shelves and built-in were complete, we were able to start tiling the fireplace surround.


To prep the fireplace for tile, we purchased cement backer board. The board cut like drywall, scored with a utility knife.


To affix the boards to the 2×4 framing, we used special backer board screws.


I originally had selected a herringbone marble from The Tile Shop, but when we were walking the aisles at Home Depot, I spotted a herringbone tile like nothing I had seen before. It offered a basketweave-like texture, which I loved because it almost looked more like a stone than a polished marble. We were able to borrow a friend’s tile saw, and it cut like butta!


We drew out a template of the fireplace on a board to utilize while measuring and cutting each sheet of the tile. This allowed us to be sure that everything was going to line up and install without issues once we began spreading the adhesive.


To affix the tile, we went with a tile adhesive which we spread on the backer board with a fine tooth trowel.


We followed the directions on the container and worked our way around the fireplace accordingly.


After all of the tile is set, we recommend holding it in place with painter’s tape or masking tape to prevent any shifting while it dries.


For now, we have not grouted this tile because it is so tightly woven and the texture would make it nearly impossible. In fact, Home Depot told us not to use grout, however, we are still looking into that because we have never not grouted a tile project before (and we can add grout at any point in time). Once we decide, we will also add a sealer to the tile as well.


After the tile was set and cured, we began constructing the mantle. The mantle was another piece of the 3/4″ plywood paired with the decorative crown moulding. We also finished adding 3/4″ boards to the perimeter of the tile.


The lattice strips were cut and affixed to the surround and upper TV portion to add a decorative embellishment (based on my diagram above – I forgot to photograph this simple step).


We also added some iron-on edging to the cut edge of the mantle as well as the top moulded cap, and proceeded to fill in every last nail hole and gap with painter’s caulk for a seamless look.


When it came time to paint, I used Zinsser Smart Prime paired with Benjamin Moore Advanced Paint in Simply White Satin. I was really happy with the quality and finish of both.


I used a microfiber roller on all of the flat surfaces, and my favorite brush for all of the cracks and corners.


One coat of primer and two coats later, it was already looking good! The paint really cleaned up the entire build and made it feel like one meant-to-be unit.


I ended up doing one more coat before pulling the tape and celebrating!


The TV mount offers both tilt and swivel features, allowing us to pull it out and face it wherever we would like.


We started off with a variety of shelving pegs that we found in our tool box, however, I ended up purchasing some smaller pegs that were less visually distracting.


We eventually plan to create a “faux” panel that I can add to the backs of the bookcases when the painting or wallpapering mood strikes. That way I can change things up without doing anything permanent I may regret down the road. We also hope to add decorative lighting to the tops, and the outlets added to each side will come in handy when that day comes as well.


I am so in love with the tile and all of the moulding and trim details. The final result is definitely a functional moment-maker!


Most of this project was far from pretty and I had multiple moments throughout the construction process where I wondered if it would all come together as envisioned. But it did! In fact, it exceeded our expectations and we are happy we were able to achieve all of the goals and finally check off a big home wish list item. Just in time for the hot summer, ha!


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