Heart the Hearth

We did it! We (mostly) finished our hearth retile project before our guests arrived from Wisconsin to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with us.

Before I (hopefully) wow you with before-and-after photos, let me remind you of where we were in the fireplace project. If you’ll recall, Nick spent a few days demo-ing the previously painted tiles and cement underlayment after I became frustrated with having to repaint the hearth every spring to cover burn marks. That left us with a several inch deep hole in the middle of our living room.


The next step was to build back up the concrete-slab substrate,  which Nick expertly did with some Quickcrete concrete mix, making sure it was as level and smooth as possible.


We let the concrete cure for more than a week before before continuing. Things look pretty rough here, but I promise you it gets much, much better!


With the prep work done, our next step was to select our building material. Nick and I agreed early on that we liked the look of white and grey marble, but sticking a slab of shiny polished marble in front of our existing painted fireplace seemed like too much of a contrast between old and new.

With what felt like limitless options between slate, tile and stone, I turned to Pinterest for inspiration. I came across this photo from HGTV, which had a painted white fireplace similar to ours, and a hearth re-tiled in honed marble (with a satin and not polished finish).


We both really liked the pattern of the herringbone tile in the inspiration picture and were able to find similar tile in two local stores: The Tile Shop and Home Depot. We also ordered a sample from an online company, Builder Depot.

While we liked all three tile options, the tile from the Home Depot had a lot more beige and brown streaks mixed in with the grey, and the tile from the The Tile Shop was a little too tumbled for our liking. We eventually settled on the honed Cabrera marble tile from Builder Depot, since the size and shape were closest to what we wanted (and they offered free shipping, so the price was very comparable to the other choices). The tiles came in 12×12-inch sheets and cost $11 each; we estimated that we needed six sheets, but bought an extra sheet just in case of any bloopers 😉


Nick and I were able to buy a very well reviewed wet saw for half price, thanks to a pre-Black Friday sale at Home Depot. Purchasing the saw cost just a few dollars more than renting one, and we plan to eventually re-sell it on CraigsList, so it was well worth the short-term investment. Nick had no issues using the saw, and we were very pleased with the cuts.


Our next step was to dry-fit the tiles to the hearth. I found measuring the tiles to be the hardest part of this project since we wanted to have a consistent looking tile layout and cut along all four sides of the hearth. While that required us to cut every single sheet of tile, the finished result was worth it.

We measured each tile sheet twice (thankfully!) and then marked the cut line with pencil. Rather than cut all at once, we laid, measured and cut each sheet individually, which took us a couple of hours. We did the very best we could to get the tiles to fit properly and with equal spacing in between, but our 90-plus year old house is far from level or square. You can see below that we used wooden paint stir sticks to ensure equal space around the perimeter for the grout.


Once we had the pattern and tiles laid where we wanted them, we moved them in their exact order to a long flat piece of cardboard so we could keep them nearby and in order.

The next step was spreading the thinset and laying the tiles, which was relatively easy since we’d done all of the cutting prep work. We worked in small one-foot sections outward from the center toward the edges. Where the tile sheets met, we used 1/18-inch spacers between the tiles to maintain consistent grout lines. Once all of the tiles were set, we let the thinset dry for almost three days (we used a pre-mixed thinset that we had leftover from our kitchen backsplash project; while the pre-mixes are very convenient, they do have extended drying times, and we wanted to ensure the base was really solid).


Grouting the hearth was probably the easiest step in the process. We mixed unsanded grout with a latex additive (we bought all our supplies at The Tile Shop since their staff is very knowledgeable) and pushed the grout mix across the tile joints in all directions to ensure the cracks were filled. (I like to really get into my work :))


We let the grout dry for about 30 minutes and then lightly wiped off any excess with a damp sponge. We read that it’s important to not over wipe the tiles, or you could remove too much of the grout, so we left a thin haze covering the tiles. We let the grout dry for about twelve hours and then re-wiped the hearth again with a barely damp sponge. The next day, we used a clean, dry rag to buff off the remainder of the grout haze.


This was the point when our guests arrived, and while I really wanted to be finished with the project, it was more important to us to do it right.  So we skipped relaxing in front the fire and let the grout set for another two days before sealing it with a natural stone tile sealer. Since fireplaces tend to be dusty, dirty places, I did a second coat of sealer on the grout the following day.


Nick and I are thrilled with the look of the new hearth (and we are pretty proud of our handiwork, especially since this was our first time tiling!).


The hearth is light and bright, complements the nearby marble coffee table and really helps complete the more contemporary look of the room.


As a reminder, here is what the fireplace looked like when we moved into the house; we are so happy to no longer have that dark red stained brick and tile.


I’m pleased to say the hearth works perfectly too! Nick and I had our first fire last weekend, and sure enough, a burning ember fell right on to the tile and grout, but this time it didn’t leave a burn mark!


So who wants to come over and join us for a hot cocoa in front of the fire?


One thought on “Heart the Hearth

  1. I love how this turned out! I live in Capitol Hill and our fireplace looks identical. We’re actually thinking of ordering the same tile. Any chance you’d be up for a neighborly swing by to check out the results before we commit? If so, i’m at meredith.kimball@gmail.com.

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