Introduction: Mirrored Tile Overmantel

Sometimes you pick a project that's over your head.

Literally, figuratively...

But you ask, what's the worse that could happen? After you discount the possibilities of death and dismemberment, you might decide, "Hey, If I don't like it or it doesn't work, I can always take it down".

With your confidence and planned potential failure securely in place, you proceed...and face unforeseen circumstances with occasional profanity, minor temper tantrums, brief project boycotts, a mull-over or two, and/or-- if you see it through--a solution to each that results in a completed home feature that gives you great pride in your can-do spirit...not to mention the adulation of your immediate family, who never thought you'd pull it off.

That's the story of this project.

The following steps are the ones I followed. They're not a professional guide, and you may find or have better ways to do this if you're interested in trying something similar. And if you're are still welcome to read this DustandDoghair version of the Infinite Monkey Theorem.

Okay? Let's go...

We have a stupid tall family room. And in the center of it all was a proportionally dinky fireplace (Photo A). Lucky to have the room, to be sure, but it looked dumb and needed fixing. I saw an inspiration photo by Sussan Lari architects (Photo B), and thought their idea might be an economical solution to my big, dumb wall problem.

This project was not met with initial enthusiasm with my cohabitants (we try to keep it honest here). So, planned failure and removal of project evidence was part of the design variables.

With any project, please always make your decisions with a focus on your design and your practices.

For example:

DO NOT (ever, ever, ever) leave things on the top of a ladder…even if you think you’ll be right back. Someone might ring your doorbell and you go answer it. Then they leave. Then you pour coffee. Then you return to the project but forgot you left your camera up there. Then you move the ladder and the camera falls seven(ish) feet onto your blissfully unsuspecting head below.

Yep…learned that first hand. (Idiot!)

I am very grateful that it wasn’t a drill, or a screwdriver…because a couple of times I left them there for a “quick sec.” Yikes…

Lives saved…you’re welcome.

Step 1: Try It Before You Buy It

I like to plan out and visualize big projects using my computer and doing so helped me make some early decisions about the basics of my plan.

I don't have swanky software programs and am probably not smart enough to use them anyway, but using Pages, I was able to cut, paste, crop, and duplicate features from the inspiration photo (Photo 1A), scale it to my size requirements and paste it over pictures of the actual room to give me an idea of how it might look in our room (Photo 1B). I repeated this process multiple times until I had a good representation of what I wanted to build (Photo 1C).

To finish the preview, I cut, pasted, cropped and duplicated the molding features of our actual fireplace around the mirror photos (Photo 1D).

With fairly limited access to tools, I knew I would purchase the moldings, and use my chop saw for most of the cuts.

Early on, I did investigate using one large mirror, but the size I needed was CHA CHING! The bevels were much less expensive (though offered problems all their own...can't you hardly wait to see?!!)

Overall, I'd say using the tiles saved me about $500 on the project.

Step 2: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; How Do I Adhere Them All?

I purchased seven packages of 12-inch square beveled mirror tile(Photo 2A) from Lowe’s (there are six in each $20 package) and quickly encountered my first challenge: adhering them to the wall.

Really? A challenge right out of the starting gate????

Yep! It seems many of the mirror adhesives eat away the finish from the back of the mirror unless it’s electro-copper plated. In fact—no lie—one of the actual mirror adhesive products had this disclaimer: “do not use on mirrors.”


My original plan was to screw a thin piece of wood to the wall (so as not to damage the drywall) and attach the mirrors to it, then build the moldings around it…but—after researching the best adhesive–I ended up with a new plan: Command Strips (Photo 2B).

Now think about it: thirty to forty mirrored tiles stuck on a wall….above a fireplace that we use every night from autumn to spring… Those tiles need to be absolutely, COMPLETELY SECURE. (I’ll let you ponder the horrific ramifications of them NOT being absolutely, COMPLETELY SECURE.)

I’ve used Command Strips to hold some pretty heavy pictures and platters on the wall. So, I gave the 3M customer service folks a call and they said they thought this would be a safe application IF it was on a sealed surface (i.e., painted versus wood) and IF I followed the directions completely.

It also meant I could skip the wood layer and secure the mirrors directly to the wall. I bought economy packs of the largest size strips, each pair is designed to hold 4 lbs. Each tile was about 1.5 lbs each, and I overkilled it by using three pair of large strips per tile (Photo 2C).

(In do-over world, I would recommend using four sets and put them in each corner…I am the queen of overkill. But I am also stupid I skimped and used three. Spend the $20 extra freaking dollars…use four sets! Pretty cheap for piece of mind.)

You have to follow the directions to the letter to get the best adhesion. So, I cleaned both the wall and the tiles with rubbing alcohol (Photo 2D), waited until each was dry, and put the tiles on the wall, completely following the manufacturer directions. When using these strips to adhere anything, my own mantra is “no click, no stick”. It’s not enough for the velcro-like strips to grab…you have to hear the click to know they are secure.

I put up the first row of tiles (Photo 2E), then the second. Then waited a day, then tested and tested them to make sure they were secure.

Everything was going smoothly until the fourth row (2F), when I discovered a slight size variation in the next pack of tiles (Photo 2G). The new pack was slightly smaller (less than a quarter inch) than the last pack…which meant gaps…which would mean the wall would peek through, which could mean spoiling the effect.

I opened each of the three remaining packs and checked them against a tile that was the correct size. One pack was spot on with the spec tile, one was smaller, and one was actually a bit larger. (To clarify, each of the six tiles in the pack matched, but each pack had variations.)

I went back to the store and bought six more packages. Same thing. Bottom line…I was going to have to fudge a little here and there…some of them might be slightly off…(sigh).

If I needed to, the Command Strips would let me reposition (though I really wanted to avoid that). So I continued lining up the tiles and building up the rows…sometimes offsetting a slightly-too-large tile with a slightly too small one to even it out. I guess if you look at it with “inspection eyes” you might notice that not all the corner joins are perfect (Photo 2H). But the dark wall color camouflages any gaps and when you step back and look at it, you see the whole effect…not individual tiles.

Onward and upward! Seven tiles tall, five tiles wide.

Again, I jiggled, pushed and pressed on each tile to make sure it was secure.

Step 3: Frame the Mirror

Now I could begin to trim out the mirrors with wood.

Because the mirror wasn’t as deep as the fireplace, I decided not to have the trim project/extend from the wall as much as it did on the bottom of the fireplace. I cut 3/4″ plywood into two strips: 7” wide by the exact height of the finished mirror...7' (Photo 3A) to butt up against the sides of the mirror and use as the base of the overmantel “frame.” After attaching the plywood, I would add the decorative fluted trim aligning the top layers with the ones on the existing fireplace below (Photo 3B).

However, when I butted the wood along the side edge of the mirror, those slight variations in tile size meant that the side edges were also “slightly” uneven; which meant that I had to deal with those small gaps again.

Now, for some reason, I didn’t take pictures of this. (Maybe that's when the camera fell on my head.) So, I created this one (Photo 3C) to illustrate my challenge (it’s also rotated horizontally for ease of viewing).

Instead of butting the wood against the side of the mirrors, I decided to overlap it slightly along the beveled edge, enough to reclaim a straight line and hide the gaps (Photo 3D).

And that meant I had to raise the outer edge of the wood so it would rest evenly against the wall and NOT put pressure on the tiles. I cut and glued several 3/16” x 4” x 2′ wood strips to the underside, outer edge of the ply (Photo 3F), overlapped the inside edge of the ply just over the edge of the bevel mirror, and screwed it into the wall studs using wood screws (being careful to countersink). I was also very careful NOT TO OVER TIGHTEN the screws along the side that overlapped the mirror so as not to crack or loosen the tiles (Photo 3G).

(Btw, I also sanded the edges and prepainted all the wood before permanently attaching it to the wall. I expected to give everything a final coat, but no sense fighting heights for the early coats.)

Step 4: Add Decorative Millwork to the Sides

I ordered millwork to match the bottom of the fireplace from the wonderful, helpful, and encouraging local lumber and millwork store. (Thank you, Mosher Lumber in Clarence, NY!!).

(Really? You didn’t think I was going to rout this myself, did you?!)

I centered and attached the plinths using finish nails and my nail gun; then cut the fluted panels to the proper size, sanded and painted them, and used finish nails to attach them to the top of the plinths and the ply. (But not being careful to take a quality photo.)

Ahh...let's enjoy this one-time-only, problem-free step for a moment before we move on....shall we?

Step 5: Prep the Top: Prepare the Wall for the Crown/Box/Top (pick the Name of Choice)

Next it was on to the top. Time to build the crown part of the trim.

The top edge of the mirror had the same issue as the sides: the variations in the 12-inch tiles (give or take) left the top edge slightly uneven in the same way as the side was (in step 3). This part was going to be a little tricky since I had already cut the side ply and molding to end in line with the tile.

SO… to cover the scant edge of the bevel, as I had before, I needed a new plan. (In do-over world, there would be a better way to do this..but remember, I was making this up as I went along.) Instead of gluing the thin wood strip to the back of the trim, I screwed scrap sections of quarter-inch ply directly to the wall (Photo 5A), and later added a second row just above it (so it would be the proper height).

This time I added the “bevel overlap” wood from side to side between the insides of the “frame.” The wood I used was the same 3/4″ thickness as the plywood I used on the sides. I didn’t take a photo from the top of the ladder, so I illustrated what I did here: Photo 5B

And this is what it looked like after I added the wood: Photo 5C

Why all the thin wood on the wall above the mirror? The next part was to add the large mantel “box.” It would need to rest on the side parts of the frame, project out just slightly past the front edge of the fluted trim, and ideally line up flush against both the wall and the horizontal piece that leveled out the edge of the mirror (Photo 5D).

And one other thing: I needed to securely screw it into the wall.
Yikes! All this thinking! My brain was exhausted!

Step 6: Build the Crown/Box/Top of the Overmantel

Before finishing the prepwork, I decided to begin building the crown/box/top (Photo 6A). I only needed to actually build the face and sides of the box.

The bottom would come from the narrow piece of wood trim I used to even out the top row of the mirrors in STEP 5. The top would be added in the next step with the crown molding.

Next I added layers of wood on the sides to bring it to the proper depth (projection) as needed. Then I sanded and primed it.

I added plywood to the wall on the studlines (Photo 6B) so I could securely screw the box to the wall (again, making sure the box would rest on the side moldings and fit like a glove against the wall and horizontal trim).

I centered the box above the side moldings and secured it with wood screws to the plywood that had been attached to the studs (Photo 6C).

Holy crow! Lifting that wood all by myself while teetering precariously atop a 10-foot ladder! I had to stop for a minute to admire the fact that I’m still pretty strong for an “old chick”! Yay, me!

Step 7: The Fun Part: Adding the Final Trim Work

Now it was FINALLY time for the fun part: mitering and final trim work.

There are lots of great tutorials and videos how to get the perfect miter. There are probably great ones here on Instructables.

Using finish nails, I added simpler flat-edged moldings to the top and bottom of the box. The one at the bottom was the closest match I could find to what was originally on the bottom mantel...but the best part is the trim covered that long, narrow horizontal piece I used to even out the top edge of the mirrors (in Step 5) making the whole thing look so pretty.

Next, I cut a 1″ x 3″ to extend about 3/4″ beyond the edges of the top moldings.

Then I added the crown molding to the edge of the 1″ x 3″ and nailed the whole thing to the top of the box.

Were my miters perfect? Nope. Hey, don’t judge, this was the first time I ever mitered anything!

Using my new best friends, Mr. Spackle and Ms. Dremel, I touched up any gaps and sanded off any overlaps. I might not get an A in carpentry, but I challenge any eagle-eyed critic to notice it from ground level.

And frankly, it looks pretty darn close at eye level, too. More “Yay, me!”

Step 8: Ta Daaaaaa!

The final steps were pretty basic: fill holes, caulk, spackle, and paint. Then stand back and enjoy hearing your shocked family proclaim your awesomeness!

The bevels are a really nice addition to the room, they reflect the sunlight and make the fireplace more interesting.

Purchasing the mirror tiles from a big box store was definitely an economical option, but the inconsistent sizes led to mucho problem solving and customization. I have no idea what a local glass company might charge to make better quality tiles, but if you are considering a project like this, it would be worth investigating. Consistent sized tiles would make the project SO, SO, SO much simpler!! In addition, you could order the mirrors with wider bevels for even more beautiful reflections.

You know what else would make a project like this easier? TOOLS!!! (They'd be a great help as I move on to the next phase of redecorating this room.) So, if you're still with me and enjoyed this Instructable, I'd be grateful for your vote in the Home Improvement Contest :)

Being safety phobic, I do routinely check the mirrors to make sure they are still secure. It's easy to check while I dust and clean them.

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Home Improvement Contest 2017

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Home Improvement Contest 2017