I promised not to turn this blog into a home renovation space, and so far I’ve kept my promise to the extreme—in fact, I haven’t blogged at all about our progress. For shame! That’s partly because we have a whole bunch of half-finished projects—which I post in real time on Instagram, all under the hashtag #VicReno, short for Victorian Renovation—and few that are actually done. But a few weekends ago, we tiled two fireplaces in two days, so let’s start with a how-to on tiling, shall we?
For those of you who don’t know, before SVV became a journalist and entrepreneur, he worked in various construction-related jobs: for a hardwood floor installer, as a carpenter and as a foreman for a high-end painting contractor firm. So there’s very little he doesn’t know how to do. I, on the other hand, have just recently learned what things like an orbit sander and a five-in-one are. (I’m a quick learner.)
1. Find tiles you like. This is the easy part—or is it? We knew we wanted to replicate the original off-white subway tiles for the master—they were just cracked and in terrible shape—but we had something very specific in mind for the Lemon Room (our upstairs guest room). We tried to go to purchase from a small-town, local brick-and-mortar stores first, but so many of them took six to eight weeks for a custom order. At the time (October), we were but naive, new homeowners and thought we’d be tackling this task ASAP. It took us until February. Still, a friend referred me to Mission Stone & Tile Co. in Nashville, and they were amazing—seriously with the service; so kind, so helpful—and their prices were very reasonable. I found the exact shade of canary yellow we wanted for the Lemon Room, and they arrived within five days of ordering. BOOM.
2. Demo existing fireplace. We removed our old wooden mantels and carefully set them aside, then SVV took care of this part. I think he had more fun with this than anything.
3. Fill in with concrete. Once dry, clean and vacuum (as you will do after pretty much every step).
4. Level it. If the floor is not even, build it up with concrete boards. Because our house was built in the 1800s, the entire thing is warped and the floor sags throughout. We knew we would never get it even—that’s part of the charm, right?—but we used little concrete squares underneath the cement boards to build it up each side so they were nearly level to the hardwood floor (building in a buffer for the tile, as you want the tile and the floor to be even).
5. Fill in cracks with Plaster of Paris. It doesn’t take long to dry—around 20 minutes—so once it is, sand down so that the entire surface is even and then, you guessed it, vacuum.
6. Tape off all edges. You’ll want to protect your floors from the grout. If you’re SVV, you can do an entire square with one piece. If you’re me, you’ll need a full piece per side.
7. Lay it out. The fun part begins! It’s like seventh grade geometry class all over again. And who didn’t love geometry, let’s be honest?
8. Cut any tiles that don’t fit. We had to mark several with a sharpie and go outside and cut them with the tile cutter we rented to make them fit perfectly.
9. Apply mastic. Place spacers between the tiles to make sure they’re evenly spaced and then let it cure.
10. Grout. After the mastic has dried and all the joints are cleaned out, you can go in and grout this bad boy. Once you’ve covered the entire thing, take your finger and pack it all down in the cracks, wiping away excess. You’ll want clean, smooth edges, so you might have to do this multiple times.
11. Wipe down tile. Come back the next day, and clean the dried grout away with a terry cloth and/or sponge.
12. Reattach mantels. This part was harder than we thought, as once again, our walls aren’t level and the screw didn’t want to attach. Eventually, we got them back on. As we were fiddling with the mantels, we saw the certificate on the back of them that said these bad boys date back to the 1800s, too. I’m loving our old lady.
13. Decorate! This is my favorite part (duh). Though I haven’t yet styled the Lemon Room as we need art on the walls first. Baby steps.
The end result proved to me just how much the little details matter. Behold, the Master Bedroom when we started:
And the Master Bedroom once we had our way with it:
And the Lemon Room before we touched it:
And what it looked like after a little bit of TLC:
All in all, the pair of fireplaces took us a weekend to do. It sounds a lot more tedious than it was, trust me. If it weren’t for needing the mastic to dry overnight, we could have easily knocked both of them out in a full day. The perfectionist in me loved this projects, and you better believe I’ll be looking for other project to tile in our house moving forward! Backsplash, you’re next…
Project Budget for Two Fireplaces:
- Tiles: $131.04
- Grouting sponge: $3.94
- Grout sealer: $5.46
- Concrete boards (3): $19.04
- Plaster of Paris (2): $16.16
- Tile cutter (2-day rental): $60