Vintage Throwback Fireplace with Modern Details

Updated April 18, 2016
before and after fireplace makeover
Before & After: brick to tile

Fireplace Mantel Makeover Contest: Kimberly Lewis

before and after fireplace makeover

I love my little house and it's been good to our family. We’ve lived here for about 20 years and have always done our own home improvement projects. As our kids married, we’ve gained a few amazingly handy new family members, who inspired us to do even more ambitious home projects. When it came time to give the fireplace some love, at first I thought we’d do something very simple. But we decided to take a design leap and really remodel!

before and after fireplace makeover

Our home was built in the early 1980s and it came with some quirks. For example, our fireplace is uneven, with more brick on one side than the other. A couple of years ago, I stained the mantel a richer color and painted the brick. It did improve the look but it wasn't fabulous.

We started by looking online for ideas that we could do to improve the look and then we drew up a plan and went shopping!


First, we needed to remove the old brick around the fireplace. We used a chisel and a hammer to break it out.

before and after fireplace makeover

We secured the QEP backer board to the remaining brick by using cement screws and expanding bolts. You can actually put the tile directly on the brick, but we wanted to make sure it was absolutely secure.

before and after fireplace makeover


Make sure to keep the surfaces you plan to tile clean. Dust can cause a lot of headaches during your process. On the hearth, we used slate tile to cover the brick. The boys measured the area and then laid the tiles on the floor with spacers to determine the exact fit.

before and after fireplace makeover

Once we knew the measurements, we cut off two of the tiles to make the tile fit correctly. We bought a tile cutter from Home Depot a couple of years ago and it makes it easier to do projects with tile.

before and after fireplace makeover

Using the two‐by‐fours, we constructed the boxes for the frame of the fireplace, and then used the MBF board for the front of the boxes. A nail gun made the process so much more more efficient. 

I wanted pretty tile for the front of my fireplace. I fell in love with this gray Arabesque design. Square tile is always easier for beginners to work with. It’s also best to start from the bottom as the tile sticks better. Plan it out before you start.

before and after fireplace makeover

To place the tile onto the fireplace, use the mortar to stick it to the front. With a putty knife, apply liberally to the front of the fireplace and onto the tile piece. Use tile spacers for even spacing between pieces. Let the tile set up to 48 hours before adding the grout. Apply the grout in small areas and then use a sponge to wipe off the area. Beware: It dries quickly. Work in small batches. 

After the tile dried, we added the boxes securing it with finishing nails.


The mantel front involved using a piece of crown molding secured on an angle. Then we placed a piece of wood on top to finish it off.

before and after fireplace makeover

Ensure all of the nails are countersunk and fill with wood putty. You can also use putty to fill in any imperfections. Sand to smooth surface.

Tape and cover the tile for painting! Trust me, the more time you take to prep your area, the better it will look and the more time you’ll save. We sprayed the fireplace with paint. If you don't use primer, it will take more than one coat of paint.


To create a clean edge, we added a border around the opening of the fireplace. We found pieces that already had a lip that gave it the finishing touch. As you can see, we needed to use blue painters tape to secure our top pieces while they dried and we used an adhesive to get it to stick the tile. Let it dry and then add grout to the seams.

before and after fireplace makeover

When it's all done, it's time to add the finishing touches, and put your signature style to work!

This project — coming in at about $1,000 — made a big difference in our living room. It's amazing how something that never stood out before can turn into such a show stopper. My fireplace is so happy that we showed it some love!

Total Cost: $1,050

Kimberly Lewis is one of the bloggers behind LouLou Girls. She’s on Twitter (@theloulougirls), too.

Vote for her Fireplace Mantel Makeover submission here.

before and after fireplace makeover