Our $200 Fireplace Makeover (Marble Tile & A New Mantel)

We can officially stick a fork in it, guys. Well, Sherry actually stuck an oversized fauz clam shell in it, but that’s doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well. Either way, the fireplace makeover is complete.

To back up a smidge, you saw us devise a plan for this little refacing makeover, add some marble subway tile and then build out around it. Reminder: fireplace code is different in every area (and requirements vary if it’s wood burning or if it has a gas insert, etc) so it’s a good idea to check that before going nuts on your fireplace.

Our fireplace is non-working (we’d love to add a gas insert and even double-side it down the road) but for this phase of the process all that was left was to add some primer and paint.

I’ll spare you the play-by-play of the painting process because it wasn’t all that exciting. First we primed (using what we already had on hand) then painted the whole thing with Benjamin Moore’s Cloud Cover since it’s what’s on the nearby cabinets (and because we had some leftover). After that we did some touch-ups, like giving the firebox itself a fresh coat of its original color (Benjamin Moore’s Temptation) Note: use fireplace-approved high heat paint if you have a working fireplace.

And after giving it a couple of days to “cure” we put everything back so that we could call this puppy complete. And it’s a puppy that I kind of want to curl up with (yes, Sherry pets it).

Update: A few folks are asking if we considered widening the tiled heath to match the width of the built-out sides of the fireplace – we did, but since it’s just a bit of shoe molding (which also extends around all of our cabinets) it didn’t bother us enough to rip up cork to make it happen. Perhaps down the line we’ll paint the brown floor trim white to make it appear wider if it bothers us :)

Here’s an obligatory before and after for ya:

But I much prefer this one, which shows what the fireplace looked like when we bought our house back in 2010…

Since the painting step didn’t cost us any extra money (we used supplies that we already owned), the total cost for the project is just the addition of the two budgets we’ve already shared (tiling was $99 and building out was $98.75) but here’s the full breakdown:

  • Cement board (2 sheets): $16
  • Masonry screws: already owned
  • Liquid Nails Heavy Duty: $2
  • Subway tile: $5.50/sq ft, totaling $70
  • Thinset: already owned
  • Tiling tools (saw, trowel, float, etc): already owned
  • Grout: $11
  • Tile sealer: already owned
  • MDF frame: $35
  • Mantle top: $17
  • Crown, baseboard, & decorative trim: $22.75
  • 1 x 2″ boxes: $24
  • TOTAL: $197.75 (* thanks to holiday gift cards from the family we only spent $147.75 – but without gift cards or already owned supplies this might be a $250 upgrade)

Definitely not our cheapest project, but we love it. The herringbone marble tile and the tailored built-out surround looks pretty darn expensive (at least in our humble opinion). We’ve never had a tiled fireplace so we suddenly feel very swanky indeed. Perchance I’ll start sporting an ascot.

Some of you were curious about how we concealed the exposed edge of the cement board around the firebox.

We just used a piece of trim that we had in our scrap pile (it’s slightly rounded on both sides). Before grouting we glued it in place to provide a clean edge to grout up against and now it’s painted to match everything else. Obviously for a functioning wood-burning fireplace that’s no bueno, so you’d probably want to use something like this. And if we ever convert our fireplace to a wood-burning one (which is unlikely since it would require a ton of chimney work) we’ll just pop out the wood trim and install tile edge pieces.

Now back to the gratuitous after shots.

Ok, one more and we’re done.

Just this guy and I’m out.

Oh wait, here’s a good comparison shot that shows how the original fireplace was pretty thin and even a little top-heavy, while the new chunkier tiled-and-framed-out version feels more “focal-point-ish.” In person has even more dimension (unfortunately photos of a white-ish surround with white-ish tile don’t depict all the texture and interest that they have in real life).

But perhaps best of all, our wall of penny tile on the other side of the room no longer feels like it’s “the fancy wall” while the rest of the kitchen struggles to keep up. The herringbone marble fireplace finally gives the penny tile a run for its money, in the best possible way. According to Sherry “it’s a swank-off in our kitchen.” Fireplace vs. wall o’ penny tile. Who will win? It’s anyone’s guess. (Spoiler alert: Sherry says the wall of penny tile wins because she pets it slightly more than the marble but it’s very close.)

So that’s the end of our little fireplace update. We’re really glad to have it done and are looking forward to some porch and carport updates. So come on end-of-March snow, give it a rest so we can get outside and start working! What are you guys doing? Any tiling, mantel building, priming, or painting? What about placing giant clam shells around the house? Any of that going on? That’s all in a days work for my lady.

PS: If you want to read about this makeover from the beginning, check out our planning process, how we tiled and how we built out the wood frame around it.


  1. DJS says

    What a difference it makes in the over all “feel” of the room. More high end. And the room looks bigger. Nice work guys!

  2. Becky says

    Looks nice!
    Do you ever think about the distant future homeowner’s blogging about this? Like, “our fireplace was so 2013, here’s how we uncovered and restored our 1960’s brick fireplace.”
    We’ve wainscotted and crowned our whole 1958 brick ranch and I think about tht sometimes, like a future owner will rip it all down saying we ruined the ” modern” of it all. Oh well, to each his own!

    • says

      Haha, I don’t really think about that! I usually think about how the next buyer will say “I’m so glad that smashed orange tile mosaic in the original hearth was tiled over with marble! Haha!


    • Jennie says

      Haha, I wonder if a future owner of my house will lament the loss of the BLUE COW wallpaper (true story) that we so unceremoniously ripped down …

  3. Marcy L says

    This makes me so happy! You guys did an excellent job. DEFINITELY sport the ascot… and maybe add a pipe… =)

  4. Annelies says

    This looks amazing ! It also looks much higher than before while it isn’t. Beautiful update ! And paint makes such a difference as well.
    Have you already gone through the pics of the hotels you stayed at during the book tour? Still waiting for that post or have I missed it ?

  5. says

    I also have a non-working fireplace in the basement. The previous owners built a large sandstone fireplace that needs a smidge of updating. My biggest concern has been what to put inside it. I’m not so big on the fold out candle stands but I love the idea of the large faux clamshell. Mind sharing where you got it? If you’ve covered this previously, please forgive my asking again. Brain is a sieve lately :P
    Many Thanks for all the ideas!!!

  6. Kyla says

    I love it! I had trouble picturing where you were going with it when you first explained it, but it looks so amazing. Great work!!

  7. Laura says

    Your fireplace renovation is really great. The more traditional look compliments the rest of your house nicely. But as an architect who does high end residential work, I have to give you one tip for the next time you tackle another fireplace. The hearth stone should extend as far (or better yet, a 1/4″-1/2″ further) as the mantle itself – and in your case, this would be to the edge of the quarter round on the baseboard. It’s a small detail, but would add another layer of finesse. Not trying to be critical, but it’s the first thing my eye noticed.

  8. says

    It’s absolutely gorgeous!!

    Side question – since you live in your house, do you do a ton of prep work to get an area ready for photos or are things usually pretty close to ‘picture perfect’?

    • says

      Oh man, we definitely just clean up the corner we’re shooting (crayons, dolls, dog toys – you name it, they’re everywhere! We have a toddler and a dog – haha!).


  9. Wyndi Hills says

    Looks great! Just thought you’d appreciate that I can’t say penny tile without totally sounding like the crew from Cougar Town while they are playing penny can! haha

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