Introduction

a finished tiled fireplace surround
Photo: Kolin Smith
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The time for those exposed bricks framing your fireplace, with their pocked faces and rustic finish, is long past. Nights by that fire practically screamed for a glass of Chablis and the soothing sounds of Lionel Ritchie. Now you’re more about dinner parties and family holidays in front of the hearth. But before you go at the bricks with a paint roller and some white semigloss, consider the more elegant cover-up of art tiles.

Tiling a fireplace surround isn’t a quickie makeover. But as This Old House senior technical editor Mark Powers demonstrates, it’s well worth the effort. In a few days, you can upgrade the heart of your home, taking it from date-night cliche to elegant entertainment spot ready to impress.

Accent tile: Halstead; field tile in Rothwell Gray; both from Motawi Tile, about $108 per square foot.
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    Tools List

    • drill
      Drill/driver with mortar mixing paddle
    • flat finishing trowel
      ½-inch notched trowel
    • two-foot level
      2-foot level
    • circular saw
      Circular saw
    • wet saw
      Wet-cutting tile saw (rents for about $40 per day)
    • 1 1/2-inch angled sash brush
    • putty knife
      Putty knife
    • Painter's Tape
      Painter's tape
    • rubber float
      Rubber grout float
    • grout bag
      Grout bag
    • grout sponge
      Grout sponge
    • caulk gun
      Caulk gun

    Shopping List

    1. Tile Available through manufacturers, specialty shops, or home centers in a wide variety of materials. For most basic tile or stone, you can calculate the square footage of your surround and buy 10 percent more tile than needed, to account for cuts and mistakes. If you’re working with art tile, many manufacturers will create a custom pattern and materials list for you if you send them a measured drawing of your surround.

    2. Thinset mortar Look for a product that’s good for wall applications, such as Laticrete Mega Bond. A 50-pound bag will cover up to 100 square feet.

    3. Latex additive to improve the flexibility of the thinset and create a stronger bond.

    4. 1x3 lumber to create support ledges for the upper field of tiles and the bottom edges of the legs.

    5. 2-inch masonry screws to attach the support ledges to the bricks.

    6. Tile spacers to separate the tiles evenly and keep them from sliding down while the thinset cures. The size of your joints can vary, based on the tile; a sharp-edged material, such as granite, can be spaced as little as 1⁄8 inch, but more rustic art tile can have 3/16- to 3/8-inch spacing. Buy plastic spacers or make your own from cardboard.

    7. Grout If the space between your tiles will be greater than 1⁄8 inch, you’ll need sanded grout; less space calls for unsanded grout.

    8. Sanded acrylic caulk is usually available from the grout manufacturer in a complementary color.