easy DIY: tiling a fireplace

We finally have our finished photos from the beach place, and I’m so excited to share each room with you! First up is one of the easiest transformations — the fireplace.

As you can see in the photos below, when we bought the place, the fireplace was pretty blah. It just wasn’t my style at all. And I felt like the black metal was pretty depressing, especially when compared to the beach decor.

I was itching to do something . . . anything! Once we decided on the colors for the condo, I used the couch color and the color of the inside of the front door to help us find the perfect tile for the fireplace. After ordering about 20 samples from various online stores and sampling paint on the top corner of the fireplace (see photo below!), I finally settled on Wabi Sabi Sapphire Blue tiles from TileBar.

Here she is, in all her glory!

It was really easy to install this tile. I decided to overlap the sides of the fireplace a bit (see photo above, left) to avoid ripping the tile (e.g., cutting it along the long edge). And I dry stacked the tiles, meaning I stacked them without leaving a space between each tile. I like this look — I think it looks modern and sleek. And it’s particularly nice when you’re using handmade tiles that don’t fit together perfectly — these tiles have a natural, built-in space for grout between the tiles.

If you haven’t laid tile before, the actual installation isn’t difficult at all. Here, I used premixed adhesive, which makes everything so much easier! After figuring out where the tiles would go and how many I’d need — the hard part! – I applied the adhesive to the wall using a trowel. It’s sort of like icing a cake. If you’re mixing it yourself, you want the consistency to be like frosting rather than buttercream. It should be thick enough to stick to the wall but super smooth and easy to spread.

I ended up making a rookie mistake and ordered too few tiles. Darn! I ordered a whole extra box but all the tiles were broken when it arrived.

Luckily, the good people at TileBar sent a replacement box, and I got to work finishing the project.

As you can see in the video above, the center two tiles in the top portion of the fireplace are shorter than the rest. We realized (belatedly) that the tiles had to be cut — otherwise they’d create a really big overlap on the sides of the fireplace, and it would be unsightly. John suggested trimming the two tiles in the middle of each row, and I think that was a great idea. It doesn’t stand out to the eye, I think. Did you notice the inconsistency before I mentioned it?

The final step was adding black grout. Two important steps here: make sure the adhesive has dried for at least 24 hours before you begin grouting, and don’t wipe all the grout off at once! Read the back of the grout package for specific instructions, but most of the grouts I’ve used tell you to apply it, wipe it very superficially and quickly with the grout float, and then let it set for about 15 minutes before you use a sponge (squeezed almost dry) to clean the tiles. It can be hard to watch the grout set over your beautiful tile, but if you try to clean off all the grout before it’s set, you’ll wind up with really small and inconsistent grout lines. (And if you wake up the next day and see a cloudiness on your tile, don’t despair! It’s called grout haze, and you can buy haze remover at big box stores.)

Here are the tools I used for this project: grout adhesive, trowel, grout, and tile cutter. I should have used a grout float, too, but I ran out of some supplies so I improvised with a dry sponge. Not pictured: the sponge and bucket of water I used to clean the excess grout off the tile (after waiting the requisite 15 minutes) and the drill, spiral mixer attachment, and bucket I used to mix teh grout.

The tile cutter was pretty easy to use, but it wasn’t terribly precise. Still, I prefer this quiet machine to the loud, dangerous wet saw!

We finished the area by hanging an old surfboard I bought from a surfer in St. Augustine, Florida (he kept telling me how the board wasn’t good for riding the waves, and I told him I was never planning to use it in the water!). I found an old Beach Boys record in an antique store and grabbed a record frame at Michaels and propped it on the ledge. And we finished off the space with a jadeite dish that matches the kitchen appliances and a fun disco ball. (I installed a little hook in the wall behind the disco ball and then hooked the ball onto the wall so it won’t roll off the mantel and break on the ground.)

Finally, I touched up the floor area with high heat black paint from Home Depot. (Note that this paint is really gummy and sticky — use a disposable paintbrush.)

I’m happy with the result! Even though it took a lot longer than I expected, I think it was worth it. This easy project transformed a blah fireplace surround into something that screams “FUN”!

Happy Memorial Day!

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