A Tile Fireplace
With Much Appeal

Tile fireplace projects, although a bit involved, are quite rewarding when completed. Tile selections seem never ending and price ranges are so varied that you are certain to find a few that fit your style and budget.

With a little motivation, some know-how and a long weekend, you can create a unique work of art with your tile fireplace.

So how do you go from BEFORE to AFTER?

Fireplace Before and After

The brick on this fireplace bugged me for quite awhile until I finally gave in and got to work. The room was complete and accent colors had been chosen. I knew I wanted to tie in my accent color somehow with a tile fireplace. But how?

A quick trip to my favorite home improvement center's tile department quickly revealed the answer. Glass tile! Now glass tile comes in many different and unusual colors but it can get expensive quickly. Rather than doing an entire glass tile fireplace, consider using it to create a decorative element, pattern or design within other tile. I chose to create a random mosaic pattern.

Frugal TipLook for tile on clearance and accessorize it smartly as I did with the glass tile. The mesh-backed tile primarily used was on sale.

Prep and Tiling

Fireplace Tiling

Trendy sea-foam and olive green glass tiles were bought to add some extra character to the fireplace and to introduce the accent colors used throughout this room, thus creating cohesion.

Look for the latest trends in room and paint colors to get some additional ideas for your tile fireplace. Go with a neutral wall palate and get really crazy with your tile color.

If you are updating a brick fireplace, you can follow the steps below.

Create a smooth surface on the bricks with thinset and the flat side of a trowel prior to tiling (as seen above).

You may either apply your thinset over all the bricks at once to create a smooth working surface, or do it in sections as I did (right column, left column, center). I primarily did this to see how one section would turn out before proceeding as this was my first tile fireplace project.

You may allow the smooth surface to dry overnight, as some suggest, or begin tiling once your surface has set-up a bit, which is what I did.

If you go this route, apply another light coat over the smooth surface and lightly notch the surface with the small teeth of the trowel without digging down to the bricks. The ridges created by the trowel are what grip the tile.

To make this tile fireplace project easier, I used tiles adhered to mesh backing which can be cut to fit. This entire project was done without any need of a tile saw or tile cuts. Just adjust your spacing (grout lines) or cut off a row of tiles to make them fit your particular project.

Mesh-backed tile adheres easily to thinset due to its rough backing. Just press it lightly into the thinset ridges created and you'll see the thinset coming through the mesh. Take your time and check the panels of tile you are applying to be sure they are level and flat. It's easy to adjust the individual tiles by pushing them into the thinset a bit more to make them even with the neighboring tiles.

Tip: Start at the bottom of the fireplace and tile upward with each additional mesh panel. Use tile spacers if necessary to keep grout lines accurate.

Keep a damp rag handy to wipe any thinset from the surface of any tiles before it dries. It will make final clean-up much easier and less involved. Thinset can be difficult to remove if allowed to fully dry.

Note: You may apply thinset to the back of your tiles as well to aid in adhesion. This method is only really necessary when dealing with large pieces of tile and is more customary when installing floor tile.

Tiling Completed

In the above image, all the tiles have been placed. The tile must adhere to the thinset overnight before grouting. Check the manufacturer's suggestions on dry times.

Get Creative With Your Tile Fireplace Design

The random pattern above was achieved by combining pieces from different tile sets. The main tiles used were the beige tiles in mesh panels that were approximately one foot square (made up of sixteen small square tiles).

I pulled off random tiles from the mesh and replaced them with the glass tiles which you can buy in individual packs of four or more quantities. The larger square tiles are priced per piece. Make sure the "replacement" glass tiles are the same size as the tiles removed from the mesh.

I adhered the glass tiles in their spots after the associated panel was hung in place. I applied a small amount of thinset to the back of the glass tiles since they were "free floating" and not physically attached to the mesh.


After the tile has set overnight, it is time to grout. I used unsanded grout for this project. You typically use unsanded grout for very narrow grout lines or for non-floor applications such as this. I also used unsanded grout so that the glass tile would remain unscratched. Sanded grout will scratch a glass tile surface.

Completed Tiling Project
The completed project shows the sanded-grout lines filled in and dry, and a newly painted mantel to complement the beige tiles.

Before you begin, knock out any high areas of thinset caught between the tiles with a putty knife. Make sure the void or joint is deep enough that grout can seat within it well to produce a nice finish.

Mix your grout according to the manufacturer's instructions. You typically want grout that has a toothpaste type consistency. It should not be too wet. Most grout is required to sit for ten minutes before application in which time it will firm up a bit. Restir and add small splashes of water if necessary if it seems to dry or crumbly.

Apply the grout at an angle with a float while making sure you are packing it well in to the lines or joints. Use the flat edge of the float, and in a diagonal motion, wipe off any excess grout. You are wiping diagonally to inhibit "digging out" any newly packed grout.

You can also apply grout with a grout bag and pipe it into the joints. This is especially useful when grouting around decorative tiles or accents that have elaborate surface. Careful grouting will ensure your tile fireplace looks its best.

If you are having difficulty getting the grout to seat properly, use your finger and press it into place. There is no shame in doing this and it is often necessary when you are building up corners or come in contact with a wall.

Keep a bucket of clean water and a soft damp rag readily available. Wipe off the grout haze that forms on the tile surface and also lightly wipe the grout lines to smooth them out nicely. I find an old wash cloth always works well and is a good size to work with.

Once you complete the entire piece, wait thirty minutes and re-wipe or smooth out any rough grout lines with a damp rag. Also clear any haze off the tiles as you go.

Allow your tile to dry overnight once again. You may, if you choose to do so, mist your grout lines with a spray bottle of water periodically over the next few days. This helps slow down the drying process which in turn reduces the chance of grout cracks.

After two weeks, when the grout has fully cured and dried, you may apply a grout sealer. This is recommended and will inhibit the grout from absorbing dirt and stains. You want to keep that tile fireplace looking nice after all that work!

Tools and Tips

Tiling Tools and Supplies
In the image above, starting at the bottom left and going clockwise: trowel, pre-mixed tile adhesive (thinset), unsanded grout, float, grout sealer

Rather than using dry-mix thinset, I typically use pre-mixed tile adhesive which is ready for use right from the container. I have done entire floors with this also as mixing thinset is a hassle. It eliminates a few steps and is less messy. Larger containers are available too.

The above shown grout sealer comes with a pre-soak pad attached to the bottle. Simply wipe the damp pad across all your grout lines and wipe up the excess (with a clean, dry rag) that gets on the tile surfaces as you go. If you purchase sealer without a pad, cut off a strip of a sponge and dip it into the grout sealer, squeeze out the excess and apply it in the same manner. Grout sealer goes on easily and is similar in consistency and appearance to Armor All®.

Mesh Tile Panel Backing
A similar example to the mesh backing found on the tile panels I used for the fireplace project above. These are however, much smaller tiles.

Removing a Tile from the Mesh

Randomly pull off pieces of tile you want to replace with an accent tile (such as the glass tile utilized above). Of course you don't have to add accent tiles at all if you don't want to. You will save a bit of time and money by using the tile sheets as they are.

Be sure to pick replacement tiles of the same size. If they are not as thick, you can build up the thinset used behind them as they are placed on the substrate.

This example shows how you can bend the mesh to fit the shape you're tiling. You can create corner edges to accommodate a square column such as when tiling a fireplace. The scissor is there to show that you can simply cut off the excess row(s) of tile you do not need in order to make them fit your application.

Note: Dry fit your tile to the fireplace before you begin adhering it. Figure out if you need to make cuts beforehand and where you need to space out grout lines, if necessary. For instance you could keep all your grout lines even along the front and sides of the fireplace and perhaps have a larger gap where it meets the wall on the sides. This location is a good hiding spot for an odd sized grout line that will not be seen or noticed. You could also just caulk this location rather than grouting it.

Contemporary Fireplace

A view of the completed fireplace.

A replacement fire screen that is more appropriate for this fireplace's new style, is in the works. An accent wall color behind the fireplace, most likely a light green, will also be added in the near future - so stay posted for updates.

If you have a brick fireplace, consider making it a tile fireplace. This project can be a bit tedious and involved but the end result is worth it. The proof is in the pictures! Visit Fireplace Ideas to learn more about the completed fireplace above.

Now light a fire, sit back, relax and enjoy the ambiance of the flames dancing and reflecting on your snazzy, glass tile fireplace. You deserve a break.

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