I have always been a sucker for a grandiose fireplace. I grew up in an area of California that receives a steady amount of snow each winter. Shocking, I know, but yes California does get snow! Due to this, I grew up in a house where the fireplace was the focal point of the living room. When my husband and I bought our home, I was not a fan of the dated oak mantel and the salmon colored tile of our fireplace. It didn’t seem warm or welcoming, and certainly was not what I envisioned for an inviting living room. After researching ideas and narrowing down what we wanted, we decided to create a German schmear brick hearth and a handcrafted walnut mantel. Of course, we wanted to do this all ourselves, since we are crazy people!
We started this project with everyone’s favorite phase of the remodel – DEMO! We had to tear out the old hearth and mantel, but wanted to be careful not to damage the fireplace or destroy the wall around it. The picture below is from the Real Estate Listing when we purchased our home.
The old mantel was affixed to the wall similar to a floating mantel. It was basically a box built out of nice, trimmed wood which was then fit over an uglier piece of wood that was mounted to the wall. Our old mantel also had columns on each end that aided with stability and visually framed the fireplace. The hearth was basically a box built on the ground and then covered with ceramic tile which matched the backsplash.
So, the demolition began with the (unplanned) removal of the mantel. I was talking to my husband about our plans to redo the fireplace and he was looking at how the mantel was fastened to the wall. Before I knew it, I had a pry-bar in my hands and was yanking the mantel off the wall! The surprise demo continued, with the aid of a hammer and my trusty pry-bar, and the ceramic tiles were one-by-one removed. The best way to do this, I learned, is to use the hammer to tap the pry-bar under the edge of the tile. Then, slowly, lift the tile away from the wall (or hearth) and the mortar will give way and release the tile. That way you can slowly pry the tiles off, without smashing them to bits and making a huge mess! Of course, if you really want to go hard on the demo and embrace your inner destructiveness, most problems can be solved with a sledgehammer!
About an hour later, with my husband and I standing in a pile of debris, we decided that it would be a good time to begin the fireplace remodel! I always say the best way to start a project is to… start the project!
One thing we discovered as we got into the demolition was that the ceramic tiles around our fireplace had just been glued onto the sheetrock during the original construction. This is problematic for a number of reasons, including heat/fire rating and moisture control. We cut out all of the sheet rock down to the studs and replaced the entire area with a backer board. We used a brand called HardieBacker, which is a cement board that can be found at Lowes or Home Depot.
We replaced the ceramic tile with a product called Thin Brick, which we purchased at Home Depot. The great thing about thing about this product is that you can treat it like tile and attach it to the backer board with an adhesive, as opposed to using mortar like laying real brick. We picked a simple, traditional pattern and just started gluing the Thin Brick to the wall and hearth around the fireplace. You will need a tile saw, to make the cuts along the edges of the area you are covering, in order to maintain the overlapping brick pattern.
Once the Thin Brick was glued to the wall and hearth, and allowed to set, we filled all the gaps between the bricks with a standard white grout. We bought it pre-mixed for ease of use and just pushed it into the gaps with a putty knife and sometimes just our fingers! The grout gave our fireplace a finished look like a real brick wall. However, we wanted to soften the deep red of the brick with a German Schmear. So, we used a pre-mixed, white mortar and simply watered it down a bit. We then used a trowel to smear the watered-down mortar onto the bricks. Keep a sponge and bucket of water handy during this phase to wipe off excess schmear. We were selective in which bricks we applied the schmear to, because we wanted to give our fireplace a more weathered look.
Once the schmearing was done, the fireplace was essentially complete. The only thing missing was the mantel, and like I mentioned before, I wanted it to be a focal point of the room. My husband was able to track down some beautiful black walnut from a local lumber yard.
He used his table saw to cut the mitered angles and assemble what is basically a box. We rounded over the sharp angles formed by the miters with an old piece of copper pipe, in order to conceal the joint and make the corner look like a solid wooden beam.
After the faux beam was built we made the actual beam that we would fasten to the wall. This was just a regular 4X4 piece of wood with a 2X4 screwed to the top of it. We attached the beam to the wall with long (12”) lag bolts drilled into the studs. Then we simply slid the faux beam over the beam on the wall, giving it that “floating” beam look. We finished the mantel with a product called Odie’s Oil from Amazon, which as a side-note, is amazing for any sort of hard wood finish or restoration.
We are so thrilled with how the renovation turned out, I actually was worried for a second and didn’t know if we had it in us to create exactly what we wanted, but alas, I shouldn’t have been concerned! Now all I need to do is the “simple” task of decorating it!
Have you done a fireplace remodel?! I’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!