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Editor's note: The Hammonds have finished their house; go to to visit their blog and see pictures.

One of the coolest things in our house is our downstairs fireplace with the metal surround from leftover Walker Art Center panels. Our next project is the upstairs fireplace, and we wanted something that would rival the main-floor fireplace without breaking the bank.

Our living area has taken on a sleek look with the concrete floors and the sheen of the silver-paneled fireplace. The upstairs has a slightly earthier and more midcentury-modern feel. We needed something that showcased the fireplace and complemented the space.

My wife, Stacy, came up with a modular panel system that would mimic the exterior siding and use inexpensive materials. First we painted the wall charcoal gray. Then we took three sheets of walnut plywood that we purchased as a special order item at Menards. Using Stacy's design, I made a series of strategic cuts to the wood to optimize the sheet size. I recommend a good finish blade for your table saw or skill saw and make sure to apply tape before you cut. This will keep the edges of the plywood from splintering.

We measured to ensure we knew where our wall studs were and preattached the screws to the plywood before we attached the pieces to the wall. To finish the wood, Stacy covered it with a coat of a Danish oil. Be sure to open windows and turn on fans to keep the air quality in the house from becoming toxic.

With the plywood panels up, we decided to paint the center band of the fireplace wall black to make it blend with the firebox. We also bought some black electrical plugs and face plates, which are less distracting than the typical white switches and plugs.

The project cost about $400 to cover the 11- by 8-foot wall. With this sophisticated design, the wall has become a focal point and no longer looks like an afterthought.

Jason Hammond is at