Welcome to DIY Diary. Each entry covers a new home improvement project. Here, interior designer Victoria Ninette tries stripping paint from an aged fireplace mantel.
Living with her family in a 1930s Cape Cod–style home in Southampton, New York, is, in a word, “amazing,” says designer Victoria Ninette, founder Victoria Ninette Interior Design. But the living room’s fireplace? Not so much. “It was peeling, in the sense that the paint was literally peeling off,” Ninette says. “I was tired of looking at it.”
And no, she had no qualms about messing with the historical vibe. “I was gung ho! I’m an interior designer, so I’m always hiring really amazing tradesmen for my projects, but I’m very much like, ‘I can do anything, let me figure this out,’” she says. “I decided to go big and bold.”
Ninette opted to use Farrow & Ball’s Green Smoke (No. 47) on the carved wooden mantel and Benjamin Moore’s Tarrytown Green (HC-134) on the brick firebox and surround. “It’s so pretty—it’s rich and very deep. In the Hamptons, everything’s very white and light. I’m living in a wooded area, and I’m drawn to the woods and nature. This color makes a statement.”
Ninette’s pro tip: Paint the fireplace mantel before Pumpkin Spice season descends. “Once that cool air hits, you’ll want to have the new fireplace rearing and ready to go!” Here, she walks AD through the (relatively) painless project that gave her historical mantel a haute look.
To paint your fireplace, you’ll need:
Floor protection paper
CitriStrip stripping gel
7-in-1 paint scraper
Wire brush (a few different sizes)
Brick paint, Benjamin Moore Tarrytown Green HC - 134
Mantel paint, Farrow & Ball - Green Smoke No.47
Step 1: Tape up areas you don’t want to paint
Ninette recommends first giving the fireplace and its surroundings a thorough clean, then taping all around the edges of the mantel and taping down the floor covering. “Be very diligent here,” she says. “Stripping agents can be very strong, and I got it on the walls a little bit.” To protect the surrounding areas, follow the old designer maxim: Measure twice, cut once. “Take time in the beginning to save time in the end,” Ninette adds. If you do get it on the walls, she says, you have to scrape off anything that the stripping agent touched, because the paint will likely start to come off. “Clean it very well with mineral spirits, then you can touch up those spots with wall paint.”
Step 2: Strip and scrape
Decades of paint layers left the white-painted wooden fireplace mantel with a lackluster facade. To properly remove the paint, Ninette used a stripping agent in lieu of just sanding. Armed with protective gear—eyewear, mask and gloves (Ninette used nitrile, not latex or rubber), and fun coveralls—she applied a healthy amount of CitriStrip all over the old paint. This orange goo stayed on for up to 24 hours, so make sure the area is well ventilated. Much like watching paint dry, waiting for the stripping agent to do its job requires patience. Do not let the stripping agent touch the painter’s tape, as it will pull the tape off the wall and potentially damage any adjacent materials, Ninette warns.
Then, scrape the “now-puckered mess.” Depending on how ornate your mantel is, this will either be a breeze or might take some finessing. “For the first round of scraping, I spent the better part of a long afternoon getting all the melted paint off,” Ninette says. “The second round was only about two hours.” She used the widest scraper she had to get most of the job done. “It was when I tried scraping the paint out of the cracks behind the columns that my patience was tested. It helped having the right tools to get into those hard to reach places, although at times it felt like I needed a toothpick and a magnifying glass.” Just get into the corners and around the edges as best you can. Repeat this step if necessary.
Step 3: Clean and sand the mantel
“Once satisfied with the magic of stripping and scraping layers and layers of paint off, it’s very important to clean the surface,” Ninette says. “Primer and paint won’t stick to agents that are meant to remove paint. Use heavy-duty paper towels to get most of the goopy mess off. Try to get it as dry and wiped down as possible.” Then, use mineral spirits or paint thinner to take off any remaining residue, making sure to dispose of rags and paper towels properly at a hazardous waste facility—as these are highly flammable. As with the stripper, ventilation is key to avoid fume inhalation. Let the mantel dry completely, and sand down any parts that need a little extra love. Once sanded, wipe the mantel again to remove dust. Remove all the existing painter’s tape. “Any residue on the old tape could damage the new primer and paint,” she says. Apply a new perimeter of tape to protect the surrounding walls from paint.
Step 4: Clean the brick
Because the bricks on this mantel had never been altered, Ninette found this step to be pretty straightforward. “I wiped it down with some Windex and a cloth, primed it and applied the paint. I made sure to use a brush here, since the grout lines and the brick were at two different depths.”
Step 5: Go prime time
Once the wooden mantel and brick portion of the fireplace are clean—prime. This step seals and preps the surface to ensure the paint lasts longer showcase’s the paint color’s true hue. Allow the primer to dry for at least two hours before applying a second coat.
Step 6: Paint it pretty
Because high-gloss paint finish can show a lot of imperfections, Ninette settled on Farrow & Ball’s modern emulsion finish. “It’s similar to a satin, but not fully flat. It has a lovely sheen and rich, beautiful pigments that pick up color and light very nicely.” After you apply the first coat of paint, let it dry completely for at least two hours. To maximize the smooth finish, Ninette lightly sanded the first coat of paint once it was fully dry.
“You don’t need to do this, but the more sheen in the paint, the more imperfections you’ll be able to see,” she says. Wipe down the mantel to remove dust particles and paint a second or even a third coat if necessary, letting each one fully dry and lightly sanding it and cleaning it in between. “I used a darker color so I applied a third coat,” she says.
For the brick paint, Ninette used a brush to get into the different depths of brick and grout lines. “The roller would have been harder to use since the brick was recessed from the mantel and could have splattered on the newly painted wood,” she says.
“Check your color samples in all the types of light that the space will experience—natural light at various times of the day and in the evening with artificial light,” Ninette says. “Color can change drastically as day turns to night, especially when it comes to deep, rich paint hues.” If you’re intimidated by picking paint hues for a project like this, note that Ninette is exceedingly happy with her timeless color choices. “Farrow & Ball paints have such a lovely depth due to the pigments they use,” she says. “Their subtle sheen is highlighted by the flatter, darker and more grounding Benjamin Moore paint. Although both are pretty bold colors, when placed next to each other they evoke a sort of color camaraderie.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest