A Fireplace Redo

Our home’s wood burning fire place is one of Nick and my favorite things about it. When we first bought the house the fireplace had soot stained dark red bricks that sucked out all of the light from the tiny living room.

I immediately primed and painted the fireplace brick, tile hearth and mantle with a glossy white paint.

The following year I stripped the mantel and stained it to match our hardwood floors to bring some natural warmth to the room and counter all the white on that wall.

Last year, after having the fireplace cleaned and inspected, we decided to have the chimney relined and the brick re-pointed since the mortar was damaged and missing in many areas.


One ongoing challenge has been our painted tile hearth. Inevitably, a burning log would fall from the stack and land on the painted hearth, leaving a burned mark. In 2013, I wrote about how I re-primed and painted the hearth at the end of each season to deal with that issue.


Last year though, the first burn mark appeared in late-fall, so the stain was there the whole rest of the winter. In Spring, I was so tired of looking at it and repainting that area each year that I made the decision to paint it a darker color and hopefully hide future burn marks. I picked up a test pot of black gloss paint, and Nick covered it with a couple of coats.

The result was terrible! Just like the dark red tiles before, the darker paint color sucked the light and energy out of the small room. It was the motivation that we needed though to start our next project…retiling the hearth!

Hearthblack After we made the decision to move forward with the project (we are hoping to tackle this one entirely on our own), I threatened Nick for a few weeks that I was going to take an exploratory chip out of the hearth to see what was below (hearths can be constructed from many different materials), but Nick beat me to it.


Hysterically, after Nick removed a tile, I walked past it for several days and didn’t even notice! Nick kept at it (with only some time lost after we broke our hammer and had to upgrade to a larger hammer and chisel), and he spent quite a few hours over the last two weeks removing the top layer of brick and mortar as well as a sub layer of cement.


With only a few missed swings and hammers to the hand, Nick finally got the entire underlayment removed. The last step of prep was to vacuum the area clear and sand down the edges of the wood since the hardwood floors and hearth are flush and there is no trim piece.


With the underlayment removal done, our next step is to select tile. We’ve settled on a pattern and color family and now just need to narrow down our three choices, which we hope to get done this week. Hopefully I’ll have an update on our progress soon!

P.S.  I couldn’t end this post without giving Nick some major kudos. My head is always spinning with inspiration and project ideas, and I’m incredibly lucky to have Nick’s muscle and support (I did none of the work in this post!); he is truly the workhorse that gets things done behind the scenes!


Making a splash (tiling the kitchen)

Our galley kitchen was built as an addition to the house right before Nick and I bought it. We have a large dining room next to our kitchen (remember when we added board and batten), but we eat most of our meals at the small eat-in-kitchen table.


Our kitchen is cozy – about 200 square feet – but has lots of windows and feels light and airy despite its small size. Since the space was built new, everything in it was too; having new cabinets, counter tops and appliances means we haven’t had to do much to it, other than make it our own.

For awhile now, Nick and I have been wanting to add some personality and character to this room, since it felt rather boxy and boring, and we figured a tile backslash was an easy upgrade.

*I took these photos the night before the project began, and we’d already pushed the stove away from the wall…it’s not usually floating in the middle of our kitchen 🙂


Earlier this year I blogged about hiring an electrician to help with a few electrical projects around the house (the majority of our home is wired in old cloth covered wiring, which isn’t grounded and can be tricky connecting to modern wiring). At the time, I mentioned that the electrician finished the wiring behind a blank plate in our kitchen, which we had upgraded into a USB outlet for our iPad (aka our modern recipe box) since we have six other plugs on the wall.

I didn’t mention it at the time, but the electrician also disabled the wiring of a phone jack, so we could cover the the box with tile (we haven’t had a landline for a decade and it was just cluttering up the wall!).


With that prep work done, we turned our attention to tile selection. Because our kitchen is small and already has dark marble counter tops, we decided to go with a lighter, brighter color tile. After visiting several tile stores, we narrowed our choices down to two: white and an off-white bone. We eventually settled on white; and while that sounds very boring, it’s bright and clean and reflects light well and that really helps make small rooms feel larger. Plus, decorating trends and color preferences frequently change, but white never goes out of style!

The majority of tile sold in stores is a standard  3 x 6 inches. Given the petite size of our kitchen, we chose a slightly smaller and more contemporary 2  x  4 in. ceramic subway tile.

After choosing the tile color, we turned our attention to the grout. Nick and I were concerned that white tiles with matching white grout would be a real contrast to our dark granite counter tops.

white-subway-tile-decorating-22Pinterest provided lots of inspiration, and Nick and I agreed be both wanted the grout to stand out more with a contrasting grout color.  We contemplated a much darker grout, which is a style I love and is very popular right now, but it’s a very modern look and it felt too bold in our historic home.


We eventually settled on a light neutral grey grout. The grey color highlights the pattern and layout of the white tile, but its not overly contrasting and offers a more traditional look that blends in well with the rest of our home.


We considered attempting this project by ourselves, but the perfectionist in both of us won out and we decided to hire it out to a professional. We bought all of the supplies ourselves and only paid a few hundred dollars for the work, which was finished in two days. It was completely worth it (especially since all of our cabinets have under-mount lighting and any flaws would have been very noticeable).

*Our tile installer was unsure about using the grey grout and caulk, and I honestly questioned our decision for a hot second, but we trusted our instincts and went with the plan. When the job was finished, the tiler was surprised by how much he liked it, which made us very happy!




It was Nick’s idea to take the tiles all the way up the wall to the ceiling around the main kitchen window, and it turned out to be one of my favorite features of the project.


I’m very happy with how the white tile backsplash ties in with the sink and think its a good contrast to the darker counters. Overall we are very pleased with the results.

I’ll be back soon with a few more updates we made to the kitchen before sharing the final room reveal.