I spent a couple days last week stripping the old fireplace mantle. It had a couple coats of ugly brown and gold paint, which came off pretty easily, except around the detail work. I had planned on giving it a coat of poly and leaving it natural wood, but there are a few stubborn areas that I can't seem to make look nice no matter what I try. My plans have now changed to painting the mantle, trim, and black insert a nice creamy white. Bryan started tiling the base and I will texture the area above the mantle.
I love the existing tile, which I have found to be very tough to match. I did finally choose a gray/green/brown ceramic tile for the base with brown grout. I would have loved to have found some of these antique tiles, but it would have just broken my heart to not be able to afford them, so I didn't look too hard.