Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer and mom of two little ones. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals.
I believe you can love your home just the way it is, AND have the power to design and make big changes to make it better.
I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!

Tiling our fireplace surround: 2-day project, huge living room update!

I’ve been working on little changes to our living room for the past three years, trying to get it to a place we really love. Living rooms are tricky because there are so many options both in style and function, and you have to play around with both. We’ve moved furniture around, added furniture, moved and mounted the TV, changed art, changed window coverings, changed the massive rug… And I have done some small updates to the original brick fireplace with 1980s brass screen.

Well, I finally gave the fireplace the update it really needed: I added some really beautiful handmade tile. I am in love with it!

Thanks to Pratt + Larson for working with me on this project.

The first thing I did the fireplace, back in 2018, was carefully paint the brass of the screen with high heat spray paint. That was a great change! But I still didn’t like the way the surround looked.

I respect and appreciate original brick, but ours was splotchy, crumbling at the edge, and had some cracks in the mortar and looked a little tired. Originally I couldn’t bear to paint it so I covered it with contact paper which I painted the same color as the wall, in a trim finish. It held up for more than two years but it was never meant to be permanent, I just didn’t know what to do with it and I didn’t like it brick.

I love been a fan of Pratt + Larson tile here in Portland for a long time, and they actually suggested on one of my Instagram posts when I was talking about the fireplace that I could tile over the brick. Of course! What a wonderful solution! I could keep the historic look and feel of the wood mantle, but add whatever color or style tile I wanted on the brick.

Our house was built in 1937 so I did some historic house research and looked at other Tudor revivals from around that time… There’s a variety of fireplace styles, but definitely some with light, warm earth-toned tile. Some had really beautiful patterns stamped in the tile, and some were cast concrete instead of tile or brick. This research showed me that there were several options for the surround that would look appropriate in our home.

I visited the Pratt + Larson outlet store to pick out this tile. It is a really incredible resource! Pratt + Larson do handmaid tiles, so many options and excellent quality, and you can customize almost whatever you want for your exact space. But, that is definitely a higher price option. So their outlet store is a great way to go: it has seconds and over stocks/overages that are in perfect condition, sold by the pound for a bargain. You never know exactly what you’ll get, but it is a really big selection so there are lots and lots of choices. Depending on the tile it can end up being about $6/SF—for unique, handmade, high-quality tile… Just, what a really wonderful thing! We can all outfit our homes in beautiful artisan tile, for the same price as the plain stuff at the big box home improvement stores!

At the outlet, the staff helped me measure out my exact fireplace surround dimensions and figure out which shape/size tile would be best and how to lay it. Square ones are cool and very traditional, but I had not quite 8 inches around most sides so two 4 x 4 4 inch wide tiles wouldn’t really fit with grout. But the 8 inch wide tiles worked great. I picked out this beige because I wasn’t changing the floor tile or wood stain and wanted something that wouldn’t clash. I did really love some of the warm light greens, though!

Tiling the fireplace was the easiest tiling project I’ve ever done. Mixed the mortar, taped off the wood and screen (although this was probably optional), and started tiling. 

I started at the top edge of the screen and worked down, so it worked out perfectly and I didn’t have to cut any tiles for the sides. Then on the top I centered one tile on the center of the screen/firebox and cut two tiles, one on each end, of the top row. I decided to do a soldier course instead of a herringbone or cutting the tiles diagonally… It’s easier, but it also matches the brick pattern on the fireplace in our office which we aren’t changing. So it’s a cool to have something consistent between them. The tiling altogether took me only about an hour!

Once that was set, I grouted. I used an unsanded grout from Mapei, they have a lot of choices and I found a beige that looked really good with the handmade tile. Grouting is messy business and I ended up needing to remove some of the painters tape and get grout haze on the wood and wash it off, but I was careful and it worked out. As with all tile projects, you get excited and it looks great when you first put the tile up, but then when you grout… wow! 

It just looks so great, I just love it!

Funny story, I just sold some of our living room chairs and moved some furniture around so the living room is back to an old layout and we’re just living with it like this for a bit, but it did make taking these photographs easier. We used to have the couch facing the fireplace. Will probably put it back that way sometime… That we also have a lot of toddler furniture in here right now that moves around easily but needs the open floor space. I also want a new coffee table, side tables, lamps… Plenty more to keep tweaking. But wow… I am so so happy to have this huge improvement for the fireplace! It feels so beautiful, permanent, and like it belongs here!

Thanks again to Pratt + Larson for working with me on this project. I am just the hugest fan of the outlet now and can’t wait to need to do another tile project and get to visit again! Check out all the custom options that Pratt + Larson has on their website.

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