Home Renovation: Tiling Fireplaces

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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?

Tiling Fireplaces

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.

Tiling Fireplaces

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).

Tiling Fireplaces

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.

Tiling Fireplaces

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.

Tiling Fireplaces

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?

Tiling Fireplaces

Tiling Fireplaces

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.

Tile Cutter

9. Apply mastic. Place spacers between the tiles to make sure they’re evenly spaced and then let it cure.

Tiling Fireplaces

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.

Tiling Fireplaces

Tiling Fireplaces

11. Wipe down tile. Come back the next day, and clean the dried grout away with a terry cloth and/or sponge.

Tiling Fireplaces

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.

Tiling Fireplaces

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:

Fireplace, Before

And the Master Bedroom once we had our way with it:

DIY Tiling Fireplaces in a Queen Anne Victorian

And the Lemon Room before we touched it:

Lemon Room, Before

And what it looked like after a little bit of TLC:

DIY Tiling Fireplaces in a Queen Anne Victorian

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

Total: $235.64

  • March 7, 2013

    Love the #VicReno updates! Those before and after photos are impressive!

    • March 11, 2013

      I agree! Love the photo updates and I really admire you taking on the fireplace tiling project! You’ve done a marvelous job. I’d be game to do a project like this..but my better half is all to cautious!

      • March 28, 2013

        Thank you, Jenny! It’s been fun so far…but let me get back to you three years from now when we’re still renovating, ha =)

  • March 7, 2013

    Looks GREAT! Home Reno is maddening, exciting, and bit like crack… it’s hard to stop!

    • March 28, 2013

      I am OBSESSED. But the problem is time constraints…SVV can only work on the weekends and I am usually gone then. First world problems =)

      • March 28, 2013

        Tell Me About It! My E likes to begin projects at 11:30pm on a work night… He requires little sleep while I’m Sleeping Beauty… #FirstWorldProblems Fighting about the noise of the cordless drill & nail gun at 1:00am!

  • March 7, 2013

    Once again, thanks for mentioning me on Instagram so I could see this post. Wow! You guys did a great job and it actually looks really simple. We are doing a mini kitchen reno (small thanks to a dishwasher leak & homeowner’s insurance) and I was hoping maybe we could do the back splash and this would certainly help. Thanks again!!

    • March 28, 2013

      I can’t wait to see your backsplash! That’s the next task I’m most excited to do, though it will likely be awhile as we’ll do the whole kitchen at once (a beast of a project).

  • March 8, 2013

    Looks great! Love the Lemon tile!

    • March 28, 2013

      Thanks, girl! You should come see it in person next time you’re in Middle Tennessee–we have plenty of room for you and the MLM to come stay!

  • March 10, 2013

    I am soooo impressed!!!!!!!! LOVE!

  • March 11, 2013

    I love these – so beautiful! Also, I am firmly in the “MORE UPDATES ON THE HOUSE!” camp.

    • March 28, 2013

      Glad somebody is! I love talking about this stuff =)

  • March 11, 2013

    I love what you guys did to the fireplaces! Even though I don’t own a home, and don’t have any immediate plans to buy anything, I LOVE watching HGTV, so feel free to keep the renovation posts coming.

    Also, your nails look really nice and I’m jealous that you’re able to keep them looking that way while tiling two fireplaces. Anytime I do anything even remotely strenuous, I always break at least one nail.

  • March 14, 2013

    Looks amazing, lady! I’m forever thankful for friends who are handy and for the fact that expensive tools are rentable…I need to work up the courage to retile my bathrooms, but I’m SO SCARED.

  • March 14, 2013

    This looks great. I am also planning to do some renovation now that winter has passed. Gotta have a lot of small renovations to make which I know I can do myself.

  • March 16, 2013

    LOVE THIS love the lemon room love love love

  • March 21, 2013

    The subway tile really makes the fireplaces look great. I especially like the lemon colored ones, adds a bit of warmth to the room.

  • March 22, 2013

    Looks amazing, I Love this!

  • April 19, 2015

    Some renovations is a must and must be done properly by professionals with good feedbacks from past customers.

  • August 11, 2016

    Wow! This is amazing! It definitely sounds very tedious but realizing it only took you a weekend due to the mastic… it makes me want to renovate any fireplace I can get my hands on- the price for it is also amazing!!! Thanks so much for sharing, I especially love the fireplace in the master, the lavender just brings out the beautiful and rich wood tones! Keep up the awesome work!

  • November 16, 2016


    You have done an awesome work by renovating a fireplace.The fireplace renovating enhances the beauty of your home.But it is worth considering that your home decor must match with the selected design of the fireplace.The selection of the tiles, the color should be made properly. Also, if you find some parts full of rust, be sure to fix it. A slight malfunction could cause a serious damage. Also, check for broken parts and have it replaced right away.


  • April 18, 2017

    Wow! These are amazing transformations! Thank you so much for sharing this tile process.

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