6 Lessons I Learned During Our Tiled Fireplace Makeover
Learn how to avoid some pretty common mistakes that can occur when you decide to take on a tiled fireplace makeover.
This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy for more details.
Did you ever dive headfirst into a home improvement project so excited to get started that you maybe sort of didn’t take the time to plan it all out?
Guilty over here, and practically EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
I mean, doesn’t pinning hundreds of gorgeous inspiration photos for weeks on end count as planning?
Not exactly. And especially not when all of your inspiration photos are comprised of every different style and material out there. If you’re not careful, what starts out as a great idea and a relatively easy project, spirals out of control leading to things like:
- Wasted weekends
- Going over budget
- Marital Counseling
Ok, I’m kidding on that last point, but if you’re tackling a DIY project with your significant other, it can lead to a lot of heated frustration if you fail to plan it out. Which brings me to my first point…
Mistake #1 – Not having a solid plan for your tiled fireplace makeover
This should go without saying, but knowing how often I’m guilty of this offense I know there have to be others out there just like me. Do yourself a favor, avoid a lot of headache and put together a simple action plan.
Please don’t be an eager beaver and immediately start busting up tiles and ripping out drywall when you don’t even know what you’re going to replace it with yet. I became so tired of staring at our ugly black hole of a fireplace that I decided to get right to work demoing it in the dead of winter. And it sat, unfinished for weeks.
Each night we’d attempt to cuddle up on the couch, watch a movie and snuggle. But we’d end up huddled together shivering, with goosebumps covering practically every inch of us while the freezing cold air drafted right through our exposed fireplace.
In hindsight, I was maybe a little too eager for this project.
So the first lesson I learned is to plan out your tiled fireplace makeover. Know exactly what materials you’ll be using, the tools you’ll need for the project, and the amount of time you’ll need to complete it. Bonus tip, it’s a lot more time than you think you’ll need.
Mistake #2 – Not selecting tile from the same lot numbers
As if the simple act of selecting tile from thousands of options weren’t difficult enough, let’s just add in another layer to the process. Matching lot numbers.
Ugghhh! Of all the lessons I learned, this one was by far the most painful. Little did I know that tiles and stones could vary in color due to being manufactured in separate lots. I had a true face palm moment when I figured this one out.
You see, I thought I could just walk into Home Depot, grab a stack of mosaic tile and mosey on my way to have it installed. Well fast forward a week later when we came up short on tile material, and I had to make another Home Depot run to pick up some more.
You’d think they’re all the same right? Big fat no on this one guys. Only, I didn’t realize it until my husband had everything installed. I stood back to admire what I selected to be this beautiful white marble subway tile only to see a big patch of dark blue grey tiles sticking out like a giant sore thumb.
The lesson here is to purchase all of your tile material at the same time, and make certain it all comes from the same lot. Lucky for me, the variation in the marble wasn’t so bad after all and it ended up adding a little character, but I’d be happier if it weren’t there.
Mistake #3 – Not knowing how to work with your materials
This is probably the one area that can make or break the project. One that will leave you pretty proud of your accomplishments, or land you in marital counseling like I hinted at in the beginning of this post.
In all seriousness though, you need to make sure that you thoroughly research how to work with your materials.
That means understanding how to cut it, install it, seal it, and clean it. You can’t really go overboard on the preparation because once it’s installed it’s there for good. Unless of course you’re willing to redo the entire project.
When Matt (my husband) and I wrapped up the grouting process of the install we realized we might have made a pretty devastating mistake. We had chosen to install marble tile not really understanding the special application process that went into it.
Almost instantly after grouting, all of the gorgeous white tile began turning a hideously dark shade of grey. I was practically in tears and immediately dove into google, obsessively searching for similar results while I prayed for an easy solution to fix our mistake.
In the end, everything turned out fine. It turns out that marble tile can be tricky to work with and easily absorbs moisture if not sealed. It took a few weeks, but the tiles gradually lightened back up to their original white color, and we didn’t have to rip everything out and start over like I suggested to my husband.
Marital counseling avoided.
So make sure you’ve done your research and you’re well prepared to work with the materials you’ve selected.
Mistake #4 – Underestimating the importance of grout in your tiled fireplace makeover
Even though grout’s main purpose is to reinforce and seal the joints of tile it also has a pretty big impact on the overall look of the project. The color grout you choose can blend effortlessly into the tile or can appear bold and in your face.
Which can be a good thing depending on the style you’re going for.
Our marble mosaics had a beautiful dark grey border around them and I really didn’t want to see harsh grout lines in between. I chose this bright white pre-mixed grout for easy application, and of course thinking white goes with everything.
Except that the white grout popped against the dark grey marble border making it look way too modern for my taste. It showcased every angled cut and made the grout lines appear really sharp and defined. Not exactly the look I hoped for.
Even though I contemplated painting the grout afterwards, I decided to just live with my choice and it’s actually grown on me a bit.
So give your grout color selection just as much effort as your actual tile choice. It can change the entire look of your project.
Mistake #5 – Using improper tools
We purchased our first tile saw for this project and while it got the job done, we sacrificed some innocent tiles in the cutting process. We needed to make angled cuts to fit the shape of our hearth and the saw we purchased just wasn’t equipped to make these precision cuts.
Tile after tile would chip and break off just as we would near the end of our cuts. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe this mistake. Especially since we contemplated buying the more expensive saw in the first place.
In the end we returned the saw and decided to invest in a much higher quality one for future tile projects. Not only will this save us money on wasted materials, but it will save a ton of time on future projects.
Obviously, the lesson here is, You get what you pay for. Make sure you’re investing in or renting quality tools to complete your project or you’ll end up paying for it in additional time or wasted materials.
Mistake #6 – Trying to do it all at once
I know I’m probably the most impatient person when it comes to home improvement projects. I get an idea in my head and it’s a literal lightbulb that just won’t seem to turn off until I get to dive head first into my plans.
I mean, my persistence pays off. I get stuff done. But my creative streak can sometimes get the best of me in the form of wanting to do way too much at once.
If you’ve learned from my mistakes so far, you’ll know that planning out this project is the first step and the most important. Following these lessons means that you’ll have your project broken out into some pretty manageable steps.
We were so eager to wrap up the fireplace that we hurried through the final grouting process figuring that we could easily come back through and clean up the cloudy grout haze that left its trail across the entire fireplace front.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
That grout haze dried faster than we expected, and it resulted in a few painful hours of gentle scrubbing that could have bene avoided if we had worked through the grouting process in smaller easy to manage sections.
Again, more time wasted.
Do you think you’re ready to makeover your boring tiled fireplace?
Make sure you avoid a lot of frustration and wasted time by following these 6 important lessons:
- Do plan it out and budget your time accordingly
- Select materials form the same lots
- Know how to work with your materials and research research research!
- Don’t underestimate the importance of grout
- Use proper tools
- Don’t try to do too much at once
Have you taken on this project in your own home? If so, what lessons did you learn? Every mistake is an opportunity to learn something new. Comment below to let me know how this helped you and don’t forget to check out the full reveal of our rustic planked ceiling in our dining room. It’s just as amazing as this fireplace transformation.
I hope this post gives you the insight needed to makeover a space that can be a true focal point in your home.
I know I’m late to the game here but it really looks amazing! You have inspired me! Thanks you for your candor and talent!
Thank you so much!
Love this look! We’re tackling our fireplace now and hoping to do something similar. What tiles did you use for the hearth?
Thanks so much! These are the tiles we used for the hearth, super inexpensive and look great https://rstyle.me/+_UesU8LYpSNh2DLbZ7XFIA. Let me know how your fireplace turns out!
Great job!!! LOVE the final look. I think reading your post, I can take this project on now. Thanks for sharing the good and the bad. It’s very brave of you!
Thanks so much for the kind words Debi! We definitely gained some confidence from tackling this project.
Sounds like quite the learning process! I’ve never tiled a fireplace before, but if I did I could see myself making the same mistakes myself. And regardless of the bumps in the road, your fireplace looks gorgeous! Great job!
Thanks Jen! It was a true test in Marriage strength, but we made it through to the other side, and I love how it turned out also.
Great tips! We tiled our kitchen backsplash and can relate to a few of these… Tiling is a DIY that needs a lot more planning than a lot of other projects, in my opinion. I’ve it’s done it is difficult to take our and redo. We have a few mistakes with our backsplash that could have been avoided if we want rushing to finish. Fortunately, we’ve stopped seeing it and nobody else notices so we don’t point it out.
Beautiful tile choices and final project!
Denise and Sean
Thank you Denise! It definitely is not a project for the faint of heart, but there are so many valuable skills learned in the process. We’re excited to tackle flooring in our powder room soon!