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. says

    It looks great! The marble tile, the build out – those are all details that really make a space in my opinion. I’m still currently working on my kitchen update (the floor has been a little finnicky). Once that’s done, I’m moving on to making new curtains for the master bedroom and refinishing an antique dresser for either the master or spare – not sure where it’s going yet. :) Waiting for it to warm up a little so I can do the dirty work in the garage.

  2. Kathryn says

    Swanky, indeed! If you were still on the book tour, you’d no doubt be given ascots galore and monocles and pince-nez to take photos with.

    And I appreciate all the shots from the various angles. Scrolling through the post, as soon as I’d think, ‘but I wish I could see it from *that* angle’… BAM! You guys delivered. (and as ever, the trouble you go to with the budget breakdown kicks heiney. It ain’t just about the photo pr0n!)

  3. says

    This is absolutely fab you guys. Very impressed. Love it so much!

    I want to add, just to make you feel better, that we have a fireplace that the builder added to the house, and the surround is wider than the hearth. I think that’s normal. Here’s a post about it in case you want to see exactly what I’m talking about.


    Great job! I love when you show DIY projects. You are so good at them!!

  4. Lisa says

    The fireplace job looks ah-mazing and all, but GIVE ME THAT GIANT FAUX CLAMSHELL. Please. It is the bomb in that particular use.

  5. Amanda says

    Love, love, love!! We’ve been discussing putting a pellet stove insert/fireplace in our living room. Oil prices and NH cold weather and all!
    What’s the width and height of the whole mantle? I’m hoping to copy your design, hope you don’t mind! Imitation is the best form of flattery and all!

  6. Lilly says

    Fantastic makeover! I LOVE the herringbone. We have a fireplace that has been completely drywalled over–I’ve been thinking/dreaming of building a fake mantle to make it a (non-working) fireplace. Thanks for the inspiration!

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