What would you do to update?


Hi all! I just bought a 1973 home in Plymouth, MI and want to do a lot of updates. I put my top ideas and some others I've had...open to all feedback and other ideas. About me: I like vintage things. I do a great job with decor / painting.

1) What to do with the Wood Hand Rail / Pole?

Top idea I have come up with is to paint it white and hang three macramé plants on the right to "fill in" the open space. I think that maintains some of the OG 70's style.

Other thought... take it all out (but...not sure if that long one is load bearing?). Or take out just the top part of that larger pole? I know my floors will be a honey oak wood in the kitchen, so I don't want to strip and stain...too much wood.

2) How to update that huge Fireplace and monstrous mantel?

Top idea I have come up with is to leave brick alone, repaint or take off all the wood paneling (take off if there is sheetrock behind it), take out the fireplace glass and replace with freestanding brass or iron freestanding and... pry off the very large mantel, replace with a simple white board. I feel it's far to large.

Other ideas:

--Same plan above, but just repaint the mantle rather than pry off.

--Take mantel off, but don't put any mantle back on.

--Maybe paint the brick white? I struggle with painting brick.

Also - I'm not super handy, but a little. I have no fear learning and I'm strong. How hard will it be to pry that mantel off and will it leave issues behind on the brick?

Thank you all! quite a project ahead - I move in next weekend!

q what would you do to update
q what would you do to update
q what would you do to update
  27 answers
  • Nan W. Nan W. on Oct 16, 2020

    I doubt whether that pole and rail are structural for the house. Get totally rid of them! (so dated!). Paint brick a light neutral on the fireplace. (You could even go with a light grey -- with blue undertones --- to tie in your dining set.). Oh! and ditch the top

    border wallpaper!!!

  • Leave the brick alone but paint the paneling a light coloring. Paint the wood pole the same color as the paneling. Definitely do hanging plants and remove the railing underneath. Swap the railing for some kind of buffet/sideboard that looks stylish and will give you some storage. Paint the gold on the fireplace place and then style the mantle as the focal point of the room.

    • See 1 previous
    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 16, 2020

      ooh! just saw you can rub the gold with a commercial brass-darkening product! you saved me money. :)

  • I would remove the pole and railing to open it up. Be sure to check that the pole does not hold any weight first. Painting everything a light color will open up/brighten the room. You could leave the mantle the way it is for some contrast. I would also paint or white-wash the brick.

  • Janice Janice on Oct 16, 2020

    Hi Brooke, congratulations on your home purchase! That's exciting and it will be fun to make it your own. I'd make a plan and prioritize the steps so you don't get overwhelmed. I'd remove the wallpaper border in the dining room, the curtains, and change the chandelier. I agree the post and railing should be removed but it could be painted a light color if you don't want to tear it out as it will create some repairs to be needed. You can make the paneling look quite nice by painting . I wouldn't remove the mantle but I would paint it a contrasting color to whatever you decide to do with the brick. You could whitewash the brick if you're not comfortable with painting it a solid color. Do what is most important to you! Sometimes it helps to live in a house for a couple of months to decide exactly what that its. Again, congrats!

    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 16, 2020

      I so can't wait to take that wallpaper down! I have a gorgeous new light ordered! And I'm going to chalk paint the little table set that I bought from them! Such a struggle with that fireplace. You do give me and idea...maybe i use my light tan on the walls (like BM's Manchester Tan) and then paint the mantel in a darker tan (BM's brookline Beige). That will give that upper part two-tones that pull from the brick. And it's easy!

  • Whitewash brick is huge now. It's very easy to do and will lighten the place up a lot.

    • See 4 previous
    • BetsyRambo BetsyRambo on Oct 17, 2020

      Don’t paint brick. It looks too fake because it fills in the grout. Light walls all around that room for contrast. That mantle is gorgeous. You can lightly dry brush each brick with some pinks and greys but use some old brick as a guide. Don’t touch grout except to clean it. Maybe a marble or granite capped hearth. Maybe you could lightly dry brush mantle with white and sand it a touch but don’t cover the grain! Pole and rail down and make pony wall with breakfast bar. Drop pendent lights over it

  • William William on Oct 16, 2020

    Paint the fireplace and the paneling. Not the same color. Leave the mantel alone. You can cause a lot of damage and work trying to remove the paneling. The pole and rail are dated. Just remove them. Not load bearing. Just a separator between rooms.

    Make sure the paneling is clean and dry. Prime with a good stain blocking primer like Kilz. Then paint like painting regular walls. Acrilyc latex paint will work. If the paneling has grooves you can fill them with non shrink drywall patching compound. Just put on enough to fill the grooves. Let it dry overnight. Next day use a damp sponge to smooth the patch. Then prime and paint.

    Paint fireplace


  • Pat Pat on Oct 16, 2020

    It looks like there is a step down into your living room from the dining/kitchen. Is that right? If so. I imagine that is the reason for the rails and post. I think I would put a buffet or bookcase where the spindles/rails are. If the pole is loadbearing, it will have to stay. I agree with taking down the curtains and the wallpaper boarder. As for the paneling....paint it. We primed our paneling and then painted it white. A few years later we painted it light yellow and is still that color today. And what a difference! Didn't even notice the groves after painting it. We left our fireplace surround and mantle varnished oak and painted the brick a light beige.

  • William William on Oct 16, 2020

    Cut the small spindles thru the middle and they should just pull out. Probably toe nailed so be careful. Then cut thru the tall one and it should pull out from the top and bottom and away from the rail. The rail can be pulled away from the wall. Remove any nails as you go along. You will be left with the board on the floor. If you remove it you will have the subfloor to deal with. If there are any floor tiles available you can patch the floor. Another solution since the kitchen floor is higher than the living room floor would be to use a thin board level with the kitchen tile floor and nail it down. You would need to remove part of the kitchen tiles along the opening to fit the board.

    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 16, 2020

      okay - thank you! I plan to pull up all the laminate flooring and I have a guy coming to put in oak hardwood. He has done a lot of oak in the home before and will be able to match it all up! So that's one reason I want to "get it right" now. :) thank you so much!

  • Kathy Gunter Law Kathy Gunter Law on Oct 16, 2020

    The divider I'm 99% is not load bearing because that post isn't large enough to carry and support weight. However, if you leave it and paint it bright white, that will help to lighten the room.

    If you remove the paneling above the fireplace you should remove it in the entire room. A better solution may be to leave it and paint the mantle and bookcase. Introduce some more lighting, add an area rug, paint the fireplace insert, and go with colorful drapes.

    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 16, 2020

      Sounds like the majority feel I can use drywall compound to get a wonderful smooth wall look, then paint! I'm all for things that limit removal. I like that idea a lot now!

  • William William on Oct 16, 2020

    Your very welcome

  • Mogie Mogie on Oct 16, 2020

    If it was my home I would remove the handrail and open the area up. That division really dates the home.

    I would paint the wood paneling IF it is in good condition.

    Paint the brick. Even if you just white wash it the look will be new and clean.

    If you live in a cold area and use your fireplace for heating consider getting a stove insert. They make a huge difference. We haven't heated with anything other then wood for over 2 decades.

    Get someone who is licensed and bonded to look at the wall to determine if it is load bearing.

    Can you make all the ceilings the same height? You might want to check if there is any duct work or plumbing in the low hanging area above you wood handrail.

    I would also run the same type of flooring thru the entire house.

    I can't tell from the photo but the brick that sticks out under the fire place doesn't look very deep. We are selling a home right now and in Oregon there has to be a certain distance from the flooring. You might have city or insurance guidelines that dictate the exact size.

    Remove the border in the kitchen. That is another thing that really dates homes.

    A area rug would help anchor the area as well as define it.

    If you are concerned about removing the mantel You could always just encase the mantel in a fake wood mantel that would slip right over the old one.

    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 16, 2020

      You think so much like me! The home has some gorgeous custom oak flooring...and the sellers put me in contact with the guy that installed and updated them over 20 years. So he's coming over in two weeks...I'm going to run more hardwood all over! The kitchen, breakfast area and formal dining room!

      I have a pool in the back...so... trying to think through that den flooring! Right now it's berber. I don't mind it, but not sure the color will be right for me. I do know I probably don't want to hardwood that room...the sliding door from the pool goes into it and it's a chlorine pool. So many considerations!

      You have mentioned so many things I've considered! It is cooooold in Plymouth winter and power goes out...so friends told me that I need to keep the fireplace a wood-burning fireplace, vs converting to gas or taking off the door and putting candles in it. I'll look into that stove insert idea.

      The ceilings in the kitchen that lead into that "den" living room have a lot of variant heights. I asked my realtor if there were ducts or beams under them and she said no.... it was a style. But...that one you see in the photo looks to me to be like it has a supporting beam under it. I think my plan is to knock that wood all out (make candlesticks out of the wood) and use that part of the ceiling to see what's all up in there.

      The house has sooo many places where the walls or ceilings have variences...so I'll have to investigate each area to see why it's there...

      Oddly enough, i love this kind of thing. :)

  • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 16, 2020

    I stumbled on this website today and sure appreciate all the feedback! I have gained options and received some good confirmations. I am going to be hooked on this website... Thank you all very much!

  • Vimarhonor Vimarhonor on Oct 16, 2020

    Hello. The updates might depend on your budget for starters I might suggest t remove the room divider rail and remove the wallpaper border. Sometimes a coat of paint can be a remarkable transformation

    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 17, 2020

      oh for sure - that wallpaper has to go! I have pretty good thoughts on the paint, but the fireplace is what keeps me up. I think i'm pretty much decided after all this great feedback that i'll knock the rail out before putting in hardwood. Budget is fluid. I like options that save money, but at the same time, I want to make it a home I love. I plan to do a lot in the first few months on this floor, and tackle the other floors later. I figure if something ends up costing me a lot I'll just pace myself.

  • Mogie Mogie on Oct 17, 2020

    Please keep us informed of the updates you make. And you have a pool? I am so jealous!

    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 17, 2020

      I will for sure! Yeah...it's been a dream of mine to have a pool. I like to swim and dive. So this house ended up perfect since I also enjoy doing updates!

  • Lauren of Mom Home Guide Lauren of Mom Home Guide on Oct 17, 2020

    Hello! If it's not load bearing, I'd take the wood banister and pole down. I'd also remove the border at the top of the wall in the kitchen. I would paint the brick white on the fireplace. I would also take down the paneling and paint if you can.

  • Lauren of Mom Home Guide Lauren of Mom Home Guide on Oct 17, 2020

    I would also change the chandelier - you have a really nice space to work with! Congrats!

  • Lauren of Mom Home Guide Lauren of Mom Home Guide on Oct 17, 2020

    I would also maybe add long panel curtains in a modern print. You can even make them yourself like I did here: https://momhomeguide.com/holiday-craftacular-easy-panel-curtains/

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Oct 18, 2020


    Please confirm if the furniture is being kept! Or are you starting from scratch with new? The overall feeling you want the home to have I take it is 70's? Aubergine Paint work with Aubergine walls in sitting room and Bright funky colour Cushions and macrame' hanging pot holders. You could also just paint or give a funky colour to some of the tiles in the fireplace - Way out Man!!

    • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Oct 18, 2020

      I'll be bringing my own furniture--I just bought a new west elm couch for the room. I did buy their kitchen table--plan to chalk paint it. My style is a bit mixed: I love bohemian color pallets and how that look (like the macrame you mention--love it!) really honors the age of the home. So in a way, I do want to throw in some 70's vibe. I actually bought a "cassette tape" table to go with my couch. It's in the photo below, but that's not my house. :) The couch is a heathered tweed in marine. I hope to also buy some medium tan leather chairs. I've been looking at some really great window treatment samples that have a light yellow/golden, 70's vibe...but updated a bit. I really love them. I'm going with a lot of brass, too... really trying to make it an updated 70's den vibe. :)

  • Cindy Cindy on Oct 20, 2020

    Hi Brooke. You could really change the look of your fireplace by Gluing either granite or marble around the fire box. The brick needs a white wash. All that wood paneling is too dark. If you want to lighten it up, you could achieve this with paint or dry wall. Take down the boarder, rail, and spindles. Too country. And if you go with a lighter color on the walls, you need to replace the light fixture. Again, too country. Good luck Brooke. I hope you are well.

  • Dee Dee on Oct 20, 2020

    For your fireplace I would use a product called Brick Anew. https://brick-anew.com/

    Then dust off your paneling really well, wipe down with Krud Kutter, and prime with a good stain blocking primer. Use a good purdy roller and paint a contrasting light color from the fireplace.

  • Agnes Chrzanowska Agnes Chrzanowska on Oct 31, 2020

    please make an update post on all great improvements .. Cant wait to see it

  • MrsSherri MrsSherri on Nov 14, 2020

    If the beam in between is not structural try to eliminate it. If you are looking to keep the rooms somewhat separated build an open chunky display case on the floor of the living area, reducing it down about half the width of the railing that’s there. There is nothing that’s dates a house more than paneling. If you like the warmth of the dark wood try building what’s called library paneling, much more sophisticated. One day have flooring laid that matches clear though, it will give it a much more cohesive look.

    as far as the fireplace is concerned, I think I would start by changing the mantel by eliminating the pencil dots, an maybe white wash the brick.

  • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Nov 29, 2020

    Update! Lots of work done on my Plymouth home but so much more to do. Work in progress. Flooring, window treatments and lights to come.

  • Brooke Watson Brooke Watson on Nov 29, 2020

    Kept the brick unpainted and looove it!

  • Holly Lengner - Lost Mom Holly Lengner - Lost Mom on Apr 08, 2021

    That fireplace and the wood pole/dividers would look great painted white. Home and Garden DIY Ideas | Hometalk

  • Libbie B Libbie B on Jul 31, 2021

    Remove the wallpaper border.