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Reader Questions: Would you paint this mantle?

I am exactly the kind of person who would have an entire meal with you without knowing that I have a whole 12-oz steak in my teeth. Like, the entire cow, just dangling there. You’d be wondering: “How does she not know this is happening? How can she even talk with this large animal stuck to her face?”

It’s a talent, that’s how.

(And if that ever happens, for goodness sake. TELL ME.)

Sometimes, the same unawareness happens to me in decorating. I just wish I could see my house with fresh eyes, because I’m always worried that no one is telling me that my whole house looks like a crayola box threw up on it or something.

Can you identify? Do you sometimes wish you had fresh eyes? Someone to bounce ideas off of or give you a second opinion?

That’s why I love this new Reader Questions series – because we all need that. And since we all love to look at pictures of homes and dream of decorating in our sleep – that’s a thing we all do, right? – we gotta help a sista (or brutha) out.

(The only thing I don’t love about this Reader Questions series is how terrible I’ve been at keeping up with it. You can see the first one here, and read the second one… well, right here, right now.)

This is Laura.

This is Laura’s beautiful living room.

She has soaring two-story ceilings, tons of natural light and that amazing stone fireplace. Girl’s got style, and she knows what she likes, but she’s stuck when it comes to her living room and wants your opinion! Laura loves the airy, cottage look (a la Lettered Cottage).

She wants to know: should she paint her mantle? Here’s the sitch:

It’s a reddish wood tone which matches her red oak hardwoods.

…but she doesn’t love it, and she doesn’t love the color of her hardwoods. Eventually she wants to stain and refinish her floors in a dark walnut color, but it might be a while before she can make that happen. If it was your mantle, what would you do?

Just for fun, here’s a little mock-up of the mantle repainted white, restained dark walnut, and repainted black. Let’s hope Laura’s paint job looks better than this rendition.

Laura would also love any other friendly suggestions for wall art or accessories! What would you do? Let’s hear your thoughts on her mantle in the poll below and in the comments section. (If you’re reading this from an RSS reader, you may need to click over to see the poll.)

One other question, just purely out of curiosity: if you have something in your teeth, would you want someone to tell you, or would that terrify you?

PS: Do you have a home-related question you’d like to ask the readers here? Send me at note at kelly (at)!

Let's connect


  1. Why not paint it a rich color, like a navy or slate blue? It doesn’t seem that it would be competing with other color in the space.

  2. Frugal Design Girl says:

    Actually, the mantle color is not the problem. It is simply too small for that massive space. You need to add visual weight for balance. Instead, I would find away to add a larger surround. You can layer moulding to achieve the look. Or, creat the weight by adding giant pieces of wall “art” on either side – like some sort of personalized subway signs.

  3. I agree with Frugal Design Girl in that the mantle/fireplace is a bit small for the space. You could do some bigger plants on either side or even paint that large wall an accent color. If she likes the cottage look, adding some white in the room would really brighten and freshen (yep…those are words) the space. A big piece of art (doesn’t have to be expensive…just the price of canvas and paint…even if it were just a block of color) would help bring that wall in scale. Mirrors make rooms look bigger, but I’m not sure if that room needs to be bigger. I love dark floors and I think white and dark floors really compliment each other well. Good luck! I can’t wait to see the outcome.

  4. Frugal Design Girl is dead-on IMO! Building it out , or making a “cap” that fits over and secures to the wall would be a great way to preserve the original wood as well, in case of future moves or mind changes. Best of Luck with whatever you decide 🙂

  5. I vote for the dark walnut, but she needs something over it with more impact as well. What are the possibilities for adding a tall mirror and a couple of sconces? she could even just darken the mirror frame she has now and turn it vertically instead of horizontally. Drawing the eyes up those awesome tall ceilings!

    Oh and BTW, that’s definitely NOT what I thought when I walked into your house. I actually thought you’d been holding out on us because your house is gorgeous online, but seriously it’s STUNNING in person.

  6. What a pretty room with the light, openness and ceiling height! Definitely take Frugal Girl’s idea and run with it! The fireplace needs to be more substantial. Great idea for a series, Kelly!!

  7. I think the colour of the brick and the wood is fine and would leave that alone. The fireplace itself is WAY too small for this 2-story wall. The first (and most expensive) option is to have a carpenter build a frame that goes up high enough to bring the fireplace into scale with the wall. If she can’t go that route, using molding or a dark coloured paint will give the same effect. Just my 2 cents:))

  8. Frugal Girl is right. It’s too small. I like the dark walnut color above the rocks. I wouldn’t worry about matching wood tones especially with mid tone/light floors, going dark won’t make it look crazy mismatched.

  9. Well…. while Laura could certainly incorporate a large cottage mantle that would be a focal point on that wall and it would also look awesome….. that sounds like a lot of work to me and I’m tired today. So, I vote for sanding it down with a dark mocha stain.


  10. As others have stated, leave the color the same and build it out to create a larger focal point.

  11. Lots of good thoughts here — agree that the scale is off and a much larger surround/mantel is in order.
    xo Heidi

  12. I like the darker options!

  13. Stain it and the trim/baseboards now and get started on the floor as soon as you can – a good time would be spring or when you can open the doors and windows for days on end☺

  14. susan blair says:

    love what frugal girl said also pick out a color from the stone make it your accent wall that would go with a cottage look, just a thought.

  15. I think that the fireplace and mantel are both dwarfed by the wall itself. So I would panel upwards. Waaaay up. All the way. Wouldn’t have to be expensive (simple good quality plywood paneling, some nicely cut molding put on to give it depth as well as height), and a good paint color (I would probably go for something dark…that wall/natural light can carry it off)…I’d probably bulk up the mantel itself…a couple of side pieces, to connect and ground it all….

  16. I would leave the mantel color and possibly change the wall color…however, it does look like a lot of wall to paint.

  17. Walnut – to blend with the stone!

    And my girls and I always laugh and do a teeth check after we eat! yes, you’d have to tell me!

  18. Walnut would look great with her dark furniture. With a mirror framed in a more substantial, well, frame also stained dark. That wall is huge and pale and empty. Frugal Design is correct.

    I always have food someplace on my face… half of it is numb from jaw surgery and I could have an entire cow napping in my chin and not know it. I count those people as friends who wake it up and move it. My husband gets a real kick out of it as I’m kind of prissy about table manners and smacking. Thankfully, nothing droops. Well, not on my face.

  19. Two points: the fireplace is too small, needs to be enlarged, perhaps with a lot of built ins on each side and going up the wall a good way. Then paint the mantle to match the built ins. That big yellow wall is pretty but it needs a lot more visual interest.

    And please re-think the idea of staining the floors dark. Dark floors show every scrap of lint and dust; daily vacuuming or dust mopping can be too seldom. You will get tired of the maintenance within a few months, and then you’ll be stuck with those dark floors for years.

  20. With all that natural light two big ficus trees on either side of built in bookcases would help break up all that space and they are great air filters. Definitely stay away from dark floors, too much cleaning.

  21. i like all these comments. Ultimately, I agree w. Frugal (sort of) and w. the person who advised you to leave the floors as is.
    You need change– so stain the mantel walnut; it will match the furniture. THe room LOOKS larger in the picture than it does when actually there. So the wall seems more giant in the picture. I agree though that you could use something dramatic above the mantel A big painting or fabric hanging in a dominant, bright color–red, maybe or teal, and the idea of a pair of ficus trees is good to me. WHat about you red accent pillows?

  22. Walnut would be great, she has dark sofas so it would sit perfectly with them and really make a feature of the fireplace.

    The mirror really needs to be something special too and hanging, not sitting on the mantle – that way you can really decorate it beautifully.

    In my humble opinion that is 🙂

  23. I don’t really have cottagey style (more electic boho glam sort of thing) so I won’t feel offended if you completely ignore my response but agree with the other commenters who said the fireplace is too small in scale against such a large blank wall. I would leave the fireplace as is and add some major wall hanging there and get the eye tantalised to look upwards and appreciate all that amazing light and space. I’m thinking a colourful tapestry or a huge gorgeous old oil painting. Get some colour and scale in that space 🙂

    And yes, I’m totally unaware and NEED to be told when I’ve tucked the back of my skirt into my pantyhose totally in public. Not that I’ve ever done that of course *cough*.


    PS Thanks for commenting on the ‘work’ blog my dear, your support is mega appreciated 🙂 MWAH.

  24. Nice bunch of suggestions here regarding scale, weight, height, and contrast. But please look into the concerned expression on the face of Laura’s husband. He knows these things. He’s thinking that they may need to rework a big section of the wall.

    The color of the mantle ultimately will be determined by the design and materials of the fireplace element


  25. I would paint it a dark walnut at the time of refinishing the floors, and white temporarily! Sounds like a lot of work but… Laura will have to sand and scrape the current finish off anyhow when it’s time to stain, so why not throw a quick coat of a pretty pure white onto the mantel as a short term solution, and when it’s time to tackle those floors (could be a long time?), then sand and scrape so that it’s a matching beautiful tone?

  26. I think it looks really great with the black stain or paint. (3rd option) I actually think it will make the floor look better with the mantel painted. It will create more contrast/drama. I think the floors look great!

  27. Great thread, great room! I’m late to the party but I will still toss in my 2 cents. My biggest suggestion after looking at the photos, which no one else has mentioned, is to bring the furniture grouping in a lot. This will do wonders to make the space more inviting in that big tall room and you can actually talk to someone in the other chair without shouting… Have the walkway be behind the sofa instead of in front of it.

    I hadn’t thought to make the fireplace area larger but yes, it would be helpful to pick something from the above suggestions to make that area more visually substantial. Me, I’d just set up some Billy bookshelves and maybe a ficus (i like plants) to flank it and add big art over the mantel. I am conflicted about the original question. She says she likes cottagey style but all her furniture is darrrrk. Maybe like me she is working with what they have. For cottagey, paint the mantel white and maybe lighten up some of that furniture with new chairs or slipcovers. To go with what she has, do the walnut route. Hope this helps!

    • It needs to be built out more, add some trim around the sides, more to to the top. Too puny on that wall. Then paint it whatever color they want!

  28. Why do people ever put a mirror on top of a mantel? What the heck is the point of that? It’s to high to reflect much and the space still seems empty. Art people, use art!

  29. agree w/ dark mantle. If set on the mirror, make it darker. Please bring the seating closer. It will make the room feel warmer and friendlier. Find a fabric or rug you love that would work w/ your future cottage dream to rep,ace the mirror. Yes to the ficus. Solid color throws to match the over fireplace rug. Biggest mistake you could make would to give up your vision to “be practical”. We have light wood floors and a black dog. The floor matches the beach sand but not so much the doggy dust bunnies. There will always be some kind of dirt that doesn’t match but if you love the floors you won’t mind the cleaning. Had dark wood in previous home. Just ran a quick dust mop over it as needed between vacuuming. Beautiful home.

    • Jacqueline Orlov says:

      Please please leave it be. You will hate the darl floors. The show all the dirt and dust. White shows ever shoe mark and dirt and dust. They is a reason they went with oak floors. Research shows they are the most durable and dirt friendly. Trust I know!!! If you want a change, paint the walls, it will give the floors a new look. New rug or throw pillows. All things you can change easily.

  30. Sue Weiler says:

    Paint!!! Please put some color on the walls!!! I know, especially for younger couples there seems to be this safety net of “neutrals” as if nothing else should ever touch your walls. Consider the overall look for a moment: large, open area; high ceiling; dark leather (flat texture and color); you want dark floors. Now consider that beige…is that really setting off the rest of the room? Warmth, bright, inviting–pick a feeling, choose a mood and make it your own! This area is so sterile right now it makes me sad!!! And I would wait to stain the mantel and floor together to get the color right!!!


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