A $700 Fireplace Makeover Restores Mid-Century Wood Paneling

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If you have a focal point in your home, whether that’s a piece of furniture, a window, a door, or, in Courtney Batten’s (@texasmodernist) case, a fireplace, it deserves to be celebrated. Courtney’s home is a 1956 ranch, and it has great mid-century bones. 

“My husband and I had been looking for a mid-century home with character for months when we stumbled on this gem,” Courtney explains. “We were thankful that the seller had kept much of the original features and charm … however, the entire home was painted a cool toned gray that has become synonymous with flipped homes.”

Not even the solid wood paneling above the fireplace was spared, and the all-over gray made the fireplace fade into the background. Courtney adds that it even made the ceiling seem low because there was nowhere for your eye to move up to the ceiling.

Courtney and her husband, Jered, had “never really done any DIY projects” before, and the ranch is the first home they’ve owned. Before kickstarting their fireplace makeover, the couple had actually had professionals tell them the project of getting the existing gray paint off the paneling would be impossible — especially considering all the small grooves. 
“My husband, however, spent his college years working at an auto body shop sanding down cars to be refinished, so between that and lots of tips and tricks from various YouTube videos, we figured it out as we went,” Courtney says, adding that their backup plan was to mimic the original paneling with plywood if their paint removal plan didn’t work.

Citristrip paint stripping gel came to the rescue. 

Thankfully, with $700, a lot of patience, and a little help from the aforementioned YouTube videos, Courtney and Jered managed to restore the existing fireplace to its original condition — and they didn’t even need to fall back on plywood (for the most part).

Removing the paint took many reapplications of paint stripper (Courtney and Jered went with Citristrip), which had to sit for a few hours covered with wax paper to prevent drying before being removed and cleaned between applications, Courtney explains. “The most tedious part, however, was using a mini file to hand sand the remaining bits of paint out of the grooves between the panels,” she adds. But the hard and messy work was worth it.

“While it feels like we spent a lot on the paint stripper, the fact that we were able to salvage the original wood saved us so much more money than if we had replaced it outright.”

The hardest part was the paneling behind the bookshelves. 

The only hiccup Courtney and Jered experienced while restoring their living room back to its mid-century roots was with the bookshelf. The DIY duo was expecting to find wood in the wall behind the bookshelf as well, but it turned out to be wallpapered-over drywall.

“We pivoted to matching the original wood with 1/4-inch mahogany veneered plywood panels cut to size to fit between the shelves,” Courtney says. “The hardest part was cutting the panels such that they slid behind the bookshelf with minimal gaps. There is nothing square in a 67-year-old house!”

The silver lining is that Courtney and Jered got to dip their toes into the world of using power tools — or, rather, they cannonballed right in. “Even as a design professional, jumping into a project without knowing how it would turn out was a bit scary, but it has given me the confidence to tackle larger projects in our home,” Courtney says, noting that she used a new powered hand sander and a table saw for the first time during this project.

The after is a cozy MCM retreat.

The wood paneling adds so much character and charm to the space and makes it so much cozier to be in,” Courtney says. “I love the warmth that the wood brings into the space, especially contrasting with the white terrazzo floors.”

“I’m beyond thrilled with how well it came out and am happy to have ‘un-flipped’ a little piece of design history,” Courtney says. 

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