A revamped fireplace
A fireplace is THE focal point of the room it’s in. The typical update is to paint it. Though that’s an easy improvement, I wanted something bolder and more modern, something that would transform the look and feel of the room. I decided to cover the old brick with oversize tiles. I also removed the hearth for a more streamlined look. I’d never done a project quite like this, but it all came together without major snags. And the results are even better than I’d imagined.
- 1.2kg maul
- 20mm round-notch trowel
- 20L buckets
- Angle grinder
- Brick set chisel
- Chalk line
- Margin trowel
- oscillating multitool
- rail tile saw (rental)
- 12mm cement board
- 35mm x 120mm x 2400mm board
- Cement board screws
- Duct tape
- Metal edging
- Modified thin-set
- Painter’s tape
- Porcelain tile
- Rosin paper
A few things we learned
Large tile carries an extra cost
I chose Sofia Charcoal porcelain tile for its texture and consistent colour, which made the seams almost disappear. The fireplace was about 5.5 square metres, but with large tile there’s a lot of waste. So I had to buy 8.4 square metres, meaning greater cost.
Tile costs vary a lot
Tile was by far the biggest cost for my build, but you can find good-looking tile for much less than I paid if you’re willing to shop around.
Rent a tile saw
For the large tiles I chose, I had to rent a large-capacity saw ($75 per day).
Dive into something new
In removing the hearth, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into. I’m usually not a fan of exploratory demolition, but one of the best ways to learn how to build something is to first take it apart.
Choose reinforced thin-set
I used a modified thin-set ($60 per bag) that’s reinforced with fibre. It allowed the tile to stay put on the wall without sagging and provided an extended working time, so I didn’t have to rush.
Larger tile tends to be slightly cupped. To make sure the tile adhered well, I had to fill it with thin-set to compensate. I used a 20mm round-notch trowel to be sure there was enough thin-set to adhere the tile.
Mind the edges
I opted to install the tiles tight together instead of leaving gaps for grout. To get these tiles to match up perfectly, I placed the factory edges of the tiles together and kept the cut edges on the outside.
Beware of painted brick
If you tile over a painted fireplace, you’ll be rolling the dice. If the paint peels, so will the tile. The safe approach is to remove most of the paint before tiling. Now read on for the step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Protect your floor
This project calls for the ultimate floor protection.
Start with a layer of rosin paper taped at the seams and edges.
Then cut sheets of hardboard to fit around the fireplace and join them with duct tape.
Pro tip: The rosin paper keeps granules that might get under the hardboard from scratching the wood floor, and the hardboard protects against dents.
Step 2: Chip out the corbels
After removing the mantel (ours wasn’t even fastened), chip out the corbels with a maul and a brick set chisel.
Note: These bricks were embedded, but I lightly chipped all the way around them and eventually they sheared right off.