Painting a fireplace mantel is easy and will improve the appearance of your room without breaking your budget. Looking through magazines for ideas is a great way to start. Local hardware stores often have free classes dedicated to painting projects, and they can provide small samples as well. Remember that you can always repaint, so don't be afraid to experiment with different colours and techniques.
If your mantel is already painted, you can remove the existing paint with paint thinner or just paint over the surface. Either way, you'll need to remove any dirt with a water-and-detergent solution. If the surface is rough, sanding it with extra-fine sandpaper will help the paint go on smoothly. Wipe down the surface with a cloth before you paint so it's free of debris.
If your mantel is made of wood, you can stain it a lighter or darker shade. Paint stores carry wood stains and can help with colour selections. Wood stains enhance the original design of the mantel and can be applied in multiple coats for a gradually deeper colour.
Once you've stained the wood, consider applying polyurethane to protect it. It comes in semigloss, satin and high-gloss finishes and typically takes two to four hours to dry. If you want a natural-looking finish, skip the polyurethane and wax the wood periodically.
Painting and Decorative Designs
Painting the mantel using your favourite colour is another way to jazz up your fireplace. Using primer and then acrylic latex paint provides long-lasting coverage. Try a semigloss or satin to add a little shine; avoid high-gloss paints, which tend to show smudges. Metallic paint creates an antique feel and typically needs two to three coats, depending on the colour of your original surface. Consider installing an old mirror above the mantel to match the metallic paint. Crackle painting is a "faux" technique that makes the paint appear to be cracked and showing through. Typically it's used on furniture but would be an interesting technique to try on a fireplace mantel.
If you have experience painting, try a decorative design or look in your area for a professional painter who specialises in decorative painting. Typically the design will be a few shades darker than the colour of the mantel.