Looking to add vintage charm to a home that has none?  You can transform the feel of an entire room with one simple project.  Just add a salvaged antique fireplace mantel or surround to the room, and it'll become the decorative focal point.

This is a great solution for those who rent a house or apartment and don't have the freedom to make changes to the property, because antique mantels don't have to be permanently installed.Alt=fireplace mantels designsadd vintage charm with a salvaged antique fireplace mantel

Often when older homes are renovated or destroyed, architectural pieces are saved and sold as "salvage".  Salvage pieces like clawfoot bath tubs, stained glass windows, and even decorative doorknobs are purchased by homeowners looking to add a little panache to their home.  Sometimes, salvage dealers provide hard-to-find replacement pieces to owners of historical homes.  Salvage dealers often operate a walk-in business, where you can browse old pocket doors and curly corbels to your heart's content; sometimes they're sophisticated enough to have an online presence, where you can browse their offerings online.  Other times, you can find individual pieces for sale by their owners, on sites like Craig's List

That's what one of our Associate Producers here at the Money Pit did.  Kim combed Craig's List looking for the shabby chic fireplace mantel of her dreams.  When she found it, it had been yanked out of a beautiful Victorian home during remodeling, and its owners had it propped against their garage wall, waiting for a taker. After bringing the mantel home, Kim secured it against an otherwise ho-hum dining room wall in her rented house, using heavy duty wall anchors and robust piano wire. 

"The house was built in 1895, but all the original architectural detail had been stripped out long ago," Kim said.  "I don't own the property, I'm just a tenant.  But I was looking for a way to bring some of that Victorian feel back to the interior, especially in the dining room.  It's the largest room in the house, and the walls are covered in 1950s paneling that was painted over in an off-white color."

The fireplace surround Kim chose fills up most of the largest blank wall in her dining room.  It has columns, two shelves and a built-in mirror, giving the room the feel of a gracious Victorian parlor.  However, it had a huge, gaping opening where the original fireplace once was -- a design element Kim appreciated, but the downside was that the wall paneling behind it showed through.  "It looked cheesy," she said.

How did she remedy a huge open hole revealing a paneled wall behind it?

Alt=Home Remodeling Home Remodeling With realistic weathered brick wallpaper from Discount-Wallcovering.com.

"I took a piece of plywood and wallpapered it with this great wallpaper that looks like old brick.  I looked all over the internet for the right wallpaper.  I found brick-look papers but they either looked too fake, or the brick looked too contemporary.  This one has a photorealistic image, and the brick looks like the kind of aged brick you'd find inside an old 19th century fireplace."

Kim was thrilled with the result.  Her next step is to find a decorative antique screen that will sit in front of the fireplace opening, but leaving some of the "brick" peeking out around the screen's edges.

If the weathered brick look doesn't appeal to you, Discount-Wallpapers.com also sells realistic stone, stuccoplaster and marble wallpapers that you may find more aesthetically pleasing.  A marble backdrop could look particularly elegant contrasted against a dark wood mantel. 

Antique fireplace surrounds and mantels come in a variety of shades, sizes and designs.  You can spruce up a compact space with a small mantel with clean, simple lines, or you can make a bold statement with an elaborately carved surround with an opening almost as tall as you.

Whether you own your home or just rent, you can inject the unique beauty of days past into even the most boring, box-like room.  Scout around for an antique fireplace mantel that speaks to you, get creative with photorealistic wallpaper to create a faux brick or stone background for the opening, and you and your room can be transported back in time -- no magic required!