Fireplace Makeover: Planning & Buying Materials

Having fresh paint in the kitchen has given us a chance to look at the room with, well, fresh eyes. And it has sparked our plans to take the fireplace to the proverbial next level (we mentioned building out the mantel and retiling the painted-over tile hearth a few times like here).

It has already come a long way since we moved in, thanks to removing (and craigslisting) the old stove and giving it a paint job. But with the rest of the room feeling a little more upgraded (there’s shiny penny tile all the way to the ceiling on the other side of the room), we’re itching to amp up this side too.

As for inspiration, we’ve been finding a lot of it lately. Sherry and I have had this makeover from Layla and Kevin mentally bookmarked for years now. And more recently they posted this one below, which has given us a few more ideas for some fireplace refacing – aka, building something architecturally interesting over the existing fireplace, like a more substantive mantel along with some framed out side columns.

Sherry also has gazed longingly at this page torn from Canadian House & Home way too many times this month. So it officially has us interested in bringing some tile into the picture. Especially since the other side of our kitchen has a lot of that going on, so it might balance things out and tie the room together a little more.

So with those images as our starting point, Sherry and I broke out the tape measure and started planning. And since I’m exceptionally geeky for graph paper (and because I was having trouble figuring out the scale and proportions) we actually ended up sketching a to-scale drawing of what we wanted to do. Don’t bother trying to understand it yet – just know that most of it is wood, but the slightly shaded inner frame would be a sleek tile surround for the firebox (as we actually build it and share pics, you’ll get a much clearer idea of the process).

We debated a few tile options (more penny tile, something luminescent like sea-glass-ish mosaic tile, etc) and then the stars aligned and Sherry spotted this post on Bryn Alexandra’s blog that mentioned inexpensive marble subway tiles at Home Depot. It’s a great price and a timeless tile choice (we worried that something in a bold color like green might look dated or too specific down the line). So we think it’ll be a great compliment to the gray penny tile on the other side of the kitchen without matching it exactly.

You really can’t go wrong with marble subway tile, can you? It’s classic Peg.

And while we played around with dark brown marble in our first house’s bathroom, we’ve actually never worked with the (much more traditional) white stuff. And it’s about time that changed. Since we think using classic tile in a fresh way is even more fun, we’re actually going to go for a herringbone pattern, which will look like this if all goes well. Oh yes ladies and gents, we’re about to get fancypants.

To further prove celestial alignment, thanks to a few generous relatives, we had some Christmas gift cards to Home Depot burning a hole in our pocket. So at just over $5/square foot we were sold (we only spent around $30 total on tile after gift cards).

But tile was barely scratching the surface of our materials list. It’s just a small portion of the new look (as you can tell by my incredibly accurate and remarkably discernible sketch). Most of what we need will be wood and trim.

The good news is we now have everything home: tile, boards to build the base out, 1 x 2″ pine pieces for decorative details, miscellaneous trim, backer board for the tile, and masonry screws. And we have all of our leftover tiling supplies from previous projects (so we don’t have to buy trowels and grout sponges and yada yada again). Huzzah! Of course we’ll be sharing every step of the building process as it comes together, so basically what I’m trying to say is: sorry brick fireplace, your days are numbered.

Especially since we just painted this zany smashed-tile-mosaic-looking-hearth (so that weird broken-tile texture is still going on under the white paint). But not for looooong!

If all goes well, we’ll be back on Wednesday with a finished tile update. In fact, we’re already working away…

What were you guys sketching or planning this weekend? Anyone starting a tile project, or finally spending a Christmas gift card?

Psst- There was a little Clara celebration at school, so here’s how that went down (don’t look now, but Sherry’s hair is down).


  1. Chelsea says

    Very excited to see how it works out! Are you guys still thinking about making it a two-sided fireplace, in the living room? I have to admit, ever since you said that, I’ve been so excited to see it!

    • says

      We’re so into that idea, we just need to save up our pennies and make sure it’s possible (that’s a structural change since all that brick all the way up the chimney rests on that cinderblock in the back, which we’d have to remove – so we’d need a mason and maybe even an engineer before we can proceed).


  2. says

    I spent my weekend planning and pricing out our fence & backyard garden re-do. I’m so excited to have a usable backyard for our twin 2 year olds this summer! Oh, and blueberries and strawberries and pretty plants, too!

  3. Courtney says

    I recently had a baby, so I’m a little behind on your blog. When I saw the post today with the first picture showing the new paint I thought, “Whoa!! Where have I been”. I absolutely LOVE it.

  4. says

    This is cray, guys. I was tiling my baño this weekend! It’s still in progress because I spent most of my time smashing the old bathroom to bits! Now I understand your love of the sledgehammer…

  5. says

    This is such a timely post for me–our red brick fireplace and hearth, and peeling while mantle on our 1920s house is in desperate need for a makeover. Can’t wait to see what you do!

    PS When you guys started work in your first house and even now, how in the world did you/do you decide which projects to tackle first? My husband and I and our two toddler boys have been in our first house for half a year and we’re kind of paralyzed and don’t know which on our long wish list to do first!

    • says

      We basically made a giant long masterlist (a few pages long in a notebook) and laid in bed reading through them all and circled whatever we wanted to tackle first. If something needed to be done that jumped to the front of the list, but otherwise it was just what we felt inspired to do next (and of course if we had the budget to get to it). Hope it helps!


  6. says

    I cannot wait for your step by step instructions!! My fireplace looks almost identical to yours and I have been looking for ways to update it. I am not a DIYer, but may give it a try if I have instructions!! :)

  7. Leigh Anne says

    You guys impress me so much! So much get up and go! I have to pep talk myself into painting lol I know this will look GREAT!

  8. says

    I can’t wait to see the finished product! Just remember to seal the stone well and regularly because marble is extremely soft and porous, and going with white marble is going to show a lot of staining that can’t be cleaned once the stone absorbs it in.

    • says

      Thanks Krystal! We’re suckers for sealing tile (our penny tile, and even the grout are stain free over a year later – even with spaghetti sauce splatters :)


  9. Kate says

    I have been eyeing that same display at HD with the hopes of redoing our bathroom floor in herringbone marble subway tiles! So excited to see the total finished product, especially because we have a massive painted brick fireplace I’m itching to update.

    PS – Sherry’s hair is gorgeous in the YoungHouseLife Story! And what a sweet idea at Clara’s school!

  10. stephanie says

    I’m SO excited that you guys are tackling the fireplace now… I’ve been waiting for that because we also have an outdated fireplace that needs help. I’ve literally been putting off my fireplace redo until my fav DIYers started working on theirs – mostly because you guys give the best, most detailed breakdown of how-to and I love your style! Look out fireplace – it’s about that time!! :-)

  11. Tara says

    I have a painted cinderblock chimney running through my entire house (the woodstove on the ground floor is an old ceramic weso and it’s gorgeous but the chimney is bleck) that I was trying to upgrade last summer. I was told that my options were basically to leave it or paint it a different color. Our local tile/stone shop in Dover, NH said that nothing adheres to painted cinder block. I would assume that painted brick works the same way so I’m wondering how you are going to get around this (so I can possibly try it out myself).

    • says

      We’ll share all the details as we go, but we definitely will be refacing it as we go (adding cement board over the brick where we’ll be tiling, building out the mantel with wood, etc).


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