Before and After: An Oak Veneer Fireplace Gets A Makeover

Oak Fireplace Makeover

Where I live, in the Midwest, there are many homes that were built by the same builder in the 1980s and 1990s. These houses are similar in size, style, and materials. Is this your home? First let me say, there is no shame in owning one of these homes. They are generous in space, built in great locations, and are affordable. If you own one of these homes, it is easy to look at all the magazines and blogs filled with old houses, and wish for more character in your home. The character in older homes are often unexpected details found in things like trim, doors or built-ins. The goal today is to show how you can add a little character to your home by adding something unexpected. In this 1990s home we added the "unexpected" to the focal point in a home and which gave the home a little character. 

Oak Fireplace Makeover

This was not an expensive makeover. It goes to show you how a can of paint can transform something standard into something very unique. The expected move was to paint it white. Don't get me wrong, that would have been a good move...but the dark gray gives the house an unexpected "wow."

Oak Fireplace Makeover

These homes are now 20-25 years old and for many of them are just now getting their second owner. I go in many of these homes to take MLS photos or to help with renovations and believe me, the ones painted well, are more often the ones that sell quickly. (Of course...this all depends on the location, price and condition of the home)

Oak Fireplace Makeover

The fireplace was painted with Benjamin Moore Kendall Charcoal with their Advance paint specifically made for trim and cabinets. The walls were painted Benjamin Moore Gray Owl with 25% more grey. The home owners loved gray owl but wanted it a little darker.  The trim is painted with Benjamin Moore Decorators White. 

Oak Fireplace Makeover

Don't get me wrong, I love the look of original wood, but often these homes don't have solid wood or sometimes real wood. To save a little money builders of these homes most likely used oak laminate or veneer in the cabinets and trim throughout the home. This is how these spacious homes are so affordable so you can't hate 'em for it. There are two sides to the wood vs paint struggle and I support arguements on both sides. There are ways to make it great either way. To me, its up to the homeowner and in this situation she wanted to take something really standard to the neighborhood and make it unique.  Just to clarify, veneer is technically real wood. It is a thin layer of real wood adhered to MDF underneath. It can be tricky because it gives the look of solid wood, but once you start sanding it you will sand down to the MDF. This is what makes it unsandable. In this home, the trim was oak laminate. The fireplace was oak veneer. Either way, we could not sand. Painting non-sandable surfaces can actually be done.

Here is how...


  • Clean the wood laminate or veneer with a damp cloth and let it dry.
  • Use a deglosser like this one to take some of the sheen off the laminate or veneer. Follow the instructions.
  • Use a bonding primer and follow all drying time instructions. I like to use this one.
  • Choose a good paint. This step is crucial. Don't use your leftover wall paint. My favorite is Benjamin Moore Advance but most paint products have their own version like this one from Sherwin Williams.
  • Pay attention and follow all drying and re-coating times. Don't get in the mindset of a HGTV weekend renovation. This project won't take much labor, but if done right it will take some waiting. Cabinet paint is designed to harden while drying. Give it time and it will last. 

Oak Fireplace Makeover

The homeowner always tells me when people come over they immediately notice the fireplace and how much they love it. I really believe it is because they are greeted with something unexpected. The homeowner also tells me that often a couple will turn to their spouse  and say "see, we can paint the fireplace." This makes me smile because it proves there is still a struggle for painting what is original...or lack of knowledge about the great products out  there for painting non-sandable surfaces. Hopefully this post can give you the confidence to paint the unsandable surface, or give you inspiration to use paint to add the unexpected.  


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nunyabiz on Jan 03, 2016:

go ahead.sorry to have offended you.

bruno on Jan 03, 2016:

@nunyabiz - because this is my site, and Jennifer deserves respectful comments on her blog posts. It's not about being PC, it's about being decent. If you don't like her design choices, that's fine, just keep your comments civil, or I'll delete them.


nunyabiz on Jan 03, 2016:

well,bruno,if you KNOW its only a figure of speech,why did you feel compelled to even comment on it? sorry..i am NOT PC.deal with it.

b on Dec 31, 2015:

Really beautiful. Love the grey.

Cynthia Hutchison on Dec 30, 2015:

What a beautiful project! The after photo is just gorgeous. Great job! And I agree, we all need to realize that good paint requires a curing process, not just drying. Thanks for this, what an improvement!

bruno on Dec 28, 2015:

@nunyabiz - first of all, I know it's just a figure of speech, but in a year that has seen way too much violence around the world, can we please refrain from suggestions of shooting anyone?

Second - if you read the post closely, you'll see it wasn't really old wood - just 20-25 year-old, builder-grade oak. Nothing super fancy.

nunyabiz on Dec 28, 2015:

you people who take beautiful,OLD wood and PAINT it,should be SHOT!

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