My DIY Electric Fireplace and Built-Ins


So we bought a 140-year old home, WITHOUT A FIREPLACE!  What?   I know, right?  Even though we inherited not one, but two chimneys, there’s no signs of an actual fireplace in our home.  So what was a girl to do when the holidays were approaching and fate put a stunning free mantel in her sights?  Build one!

Disclaimer:  this process was not well documented, however I was greatly inspired by this way more comprehensive post.  If anything, I hope my pictures are somewhat helpful if you decide to tackle a project like this.

It all really started with these cabinets:

I purchased them on deep clearance and created a fauxdenza for our dining room with them.  But my true intention for these cabinets were to build a wall of built-ins in our livingroom.  Now armed with the right materials, I was finally able to get started on this project.  So I disassembled my fauxdenza and got to work.

Mantel with dentil moulding
Can you believe someone actually gave this beauty away for free?

I wanted this built in and fireplace to look as authentic as possible, so it took a decent amount of thought as to how to make this work.

After researching several different types of fireboxes I came up with a plan to build one out of MDF.  Unlike most people, I build as I go (which usually works out) however, I do end up having to create some work arounds, and in all honesty, I have plenty of moments where I wish I would have thought things through a little deeper.

What I Knew for Sure:

  • I knew that I would need to purchase an electric fireplace insert, the larger the better, seeing that my mantel is a whopping 77″ wide, with an opening of 48″, so I needed it to be proportionate. I decided to go with an insert that was 36″ wide, leaving 6″ on both sides of the insert for the surround.
  • I needed to build a firebox/frame for my insert that had to be at least 8″ deep, I ended up going 9″ though.
  • I needed a mantel top/shelf to cover the depth of the mantel from wall to front, because my mantel is basically flat.  I ended up using a thin sheet of MDF to make this happen.
  • My wall was 24′ wide, so I had to do some simple math to ensure that everything was roughly centered (if you’re new here, please know that I’m no perfectionist!) The most important part was that the mantel and shelves that flanked it needed to take up  good majority of the wall.

My first order of business was to build a short wall the height and width of the mantel.  I attached scrap wood to the studs in the wall, and then attached the sheets cut to size for the face of my “wall”–I accomplished this by having the folks at Home Depot cut pieces of 3/4″ MDF down to the appropriate measurements:

I know this looks quite wonky, but I promise it is secure. The mantel piece was attached to the frame using 2″ finish nails.

For the sides of the “wall,”  I had a sheet of 3/4″ MDF cut down to 4-12″ panels, which once attached to the sides of the “wall”/frame/firebox, also served as the side panels for my book shelves.

I created a cleat using a 1×2 piece of pine to secure the walls and tops of the shelves.  

I cut down 4×4 blocks to serve as feet, or more so to use as a cleat for the baseboard to nail into.
The block “feet” were secured from the inside of the cabinets with screws.

The shelves for the bookcases are MDF boards also cut down to size at Home Depot, and are supported by 1/2″ poplar squares, cut to size.

The fronts of the shelves were created using 1×2″ select pine boards nailed into the MDF shelves.

DIy Built In Shelves
Of course I had to play around with styling before it was complete

After unsuccessfully going though a pretty expensive piece of crown molding, I decided to take the easy (and way less frustrating) route and DIYed the “crown” using my old tutorial.

For the surround, instead of installing porcelain tile, I used peel and stick groutable vinyl tile in a marble look. To keep things inexpensive and fairly easy, I used a thin piece of MDF instead of using backer board to lay the tile.

I had to get creative when it came to the layout of the tile, because I wanted the veining on all tiles to go in the same direction.

Vinyl Tile felectric ireplace Surround

My goal was to create the look of a slab of marble, so I installed the tiles very close, leaving little to no space in between. I then grouted the very thin seam, and even went over it with a little spackling, and I was able to get the look I was going for. You can see more of the behind the scenes process in my “Faux Fireplace” highlight reel on Instagram.

Vinyl tile electric fireplace surround

I then added a thin lattice strip to the edges of the tile to cover any gaps.

made by carli livingroom before
DIY electric fireplace surround with vinyl tile

While the bulk of the work is complete, I still need to do some caulking, add some trim and bulk up the “crown,” but I am just over the moon with this addition to our home.  It feels like it was just meant to be in this space.  What do you think?

I’ll be back to share the completed project soon!


DIY Electri Fireplace

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  1. Jane Y Matthews
    January 24, 2020 / 9:12 am

    It looks amazing! I draw up plans and constantly end up having to change them anyway. But, eek! The top step is NOT a step!

    • madebycarli
      January 24, 2020 / 10:03 am

      Thank you! and you are right! My husband yells at me every time! I need to put a disclaimer in this post somewhere.

  2. Adrianne
    July 24, 2020 / 12:41 am

    Wow! Awesome work! I’m inspired to try something similar. Thank you!

    • madebycarli
      July 30, 2020 / 2:07 pm

      Thank you! I’ts totally worth it! 🙂

  3. Jessie
    July 24, 2020 / 7:01 pm

    What did you use for the base cabinets of the book shelves? Looks wonderful!

    • madebycarli
      July 30, 2020 / 2:06 pm

      Thank you! They are stock wall cabinets from Lowes–I believe they are diamond brand

  4. Mitzi
    April 18, 2021 / 8:20 pm

    Looks amazing! Do you have a tutorial on how you installed the two lamps/lighting? Did you have to wire them yourself?

    • madebycarli
      April 19, 2021 / 11:06 am

      Thank you! We used battery operated puck lights at first, but later had them wired by our electrician.

  5. Lanicia Gunter
    May 14, 2021 / 4:30 pm

    I so love this! I have a mantle similar to this, nearly identical and it looks so plain. I’ve been wanting to adding cabinets on either side but thought the gap between the cabinet and side of mantle wouldn’t look bad. But you just showed me that it works and looks great!!!! This is my next project. I have some 12×12 marble tiles that have been laying around for 2 years that will now cover my brick for an updated look. Thanks so much foe the inspiration, it turned out fabulous! I love the decor in your house btw, we have similar taste

  6. Andrea Smith
    October 20, 2021 / 10:21 am

    Did you paint your Built-Ins and mantle the same color as your walls, or are they slightly different?

    • madebycarli
      October 20, 2021 / 2:18 pm

      Hi Andrea, the mantel and fireplace are different. I matched it to first star by Sherwin Williams, the walls ae Snowbound by Sherwin Williams.

  7. Haley
    November 4, 2021 / 1:59 pm

    Where did you get your mantle from? I’m thinking about doing a similar look, do you know where I could find a mantle like that or similar?

    • madebycarli
      November 5, 2021 / 11:49 am

      Hi Haley! Believe it or not, I found it for Free on Craigslist! Check Wayfair and Overstock, they may have something similar. 🙂

      • Donna Adams
        January 16, 2023 / 4:02 pm

        Hi! Love what you did and am trying something similar! I have a white electric fireplace so, I’m thinking that I wouldn’t need to build it out, right? Should I just attach the mdf to another piece of mdf and attach that to the back of the fireplace the paint, etc to give the look of all one unit?

        • madebycarli
          January 16, 2023 / 8:45 pm

          Hi Donna, based on your description, that sounds like the best bet.

  8. Taylor
    January 12, 2022 / 10:27 pm

    Hi, this looks so great! My husband and I are planning to do something similar. Is your electric fireplace easily accessible incase it dies and you need to install a new one?

    • madebycarli
      January 13, 2022 / 8:11 pm

      Hi Taylor, yes, it basically just rests in the space and can be pulled out if necessary with a little finesse.

      • Taylor
        January 14, 2022 / 6:07 pm

        Thank you for your response, much appreciated!

        Take care!!

  9. Gwenn
    January 14, 2022 / 9:47 pm

    Hi Carli,

    I love this idea and description. I’m beginning my plans now.

    I am looking at using the vinyl stick backsplash and it says not to use it behind the stove (I’m assuming in a kitchen). Does the vinyl have any issue with the heat from the fireplace insert?


    • madebycarli
      January 19, 2022 / 10:59 am

      Hello, not that I noticed. It’s an electric fireplace so it doesn’t get that hot, I would not have used this peel and stick flooring behind a stove however.

  10. Tracy Hammerton
    December 26, 2022 / 4:36 pm

    This is amazing! I am in the same situation, I have an older home with no built in fire place…so sad lol. I did end up making over a free stadning fire place that I really love. I am looking to use my existing fire electric free stadning fire place rather than building a space for an insert with a mantel. Do you mind sharing how much this project cost? Thanks!!!

  11. Karen
    December 31, 2022 / 4:02 pm

    Very nice! I’m going to do mine like this. Thank you for helping me make up my mind. 😊♥️

  12. December 31, 2023 / 4:12 pm

    Looks fantastic. Wondering what brand / model of electric fire place you purchased and if you are happy with it.

    • madebycarli
      January 4, 2024 / 4:49 pm

      Hi Ryan, unfortunately the model I purchased is no longer available. I believe it was by Costway, and I purchased it from We liked it a lot, we moved shortly after I installed it so I’m not sure how well it’s held up.

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