Fireplace Makeover: Removing a Brick Hearth and Retiling

Here’s our fireplace before. It’s basically looked the same since we bought our house except the walls were builder’s beige and the trim was white. The fireplace is brick inside, painted black, with tan 1 sq. ft. marble around the outside.

The problem is that it sticks out into the living room, right into the foot path. Adults, kids and even dogs have tripped on it. And those corners are SHARP! Nerve-wracking for some of our friends with little ones.

See how far it sticks out into the traffic path of the room?

And it eats up precious floor space.

We could tell the wood flooring had been cut around the fireplace base (referred to as “hearth” from here out) when the house was built 56 years ago, but that the built out fireplace with space above for a TV and marble hearth had been added when the house was renovated just before we bought it 4 years ago. We were curious what was under the tile but it had never occurred to Jason or me that under the tile would be brick…

We’re guessing that this brick slab was originally built into the living room to serve as a platform for a wood burning stove. Our house doesn’t have a chimney or a functional fireplace and based on some neighbors that still don’t have central heat and air, we can assume that our house originally didn’t either. So how do you remove a brick hearth?! You Google it. Then you buy a brick chisel, get out your hammer, put on a dust mask (ASBESTOS ALERT!), googles, gloves and have at it. We also laid down an old sheet to protect our wood flooring and covered our TV with a blanket. It was a dusty, dirty, labor-intensive job. Chunks of mortar were flying. Jason did all the chiseling and I moved the bricks out of the way into a box. The worse part of the chiseling was splitting bricks in half. When I took the photo below, there were still 7 bricks that needed to be chopped in half. Once they were out, reconstruction could begin!

When we got to the hardware store we decided on 4″ tumbled multicolor slate. I love the way the slate tiles turned out in the floor of our hall bath (photo here) and it’s nice to have some consistency throughout the house. The variation of size and color and the rounded corners made these very forgiving and easy to work with. No need for spacers or getting everything perfectly square, at least not for an area this small. Also, they were cheap: only $3.97 per square foot. (This project ended up being 8 sq. ft. I believe.)

Before tiling could start, we had to patch in new drywall around the sides and top of the fireplace. We put tile backer board on the base of the fireplace which is made of cement so it’s sturdy for walking on. We had to glue it down with Liquid Nails (and a little Thin Set tile adhesive) because the subfloor here was uneven concrete. Jason adhered the tiles with Thin Set and a grooved trowel.

As I mentioned, these tiles are very easy to work with. My job was to open the packages and hand Jason the tiles as he spread out the Thin Set and set the tiles in place.

Ta-da! We only had to cut 6 tiles. Natural stone tiles really should be cut with a wet saw but we don’t own one and couldn’t justify renting one just for 6 tiles. So we used a hammer and brick chisel. Not perfect but good enough for us. “Grout covers a multitude of sins,” we like to say. Once the adhesive was dry (after about 24 hours) the tiles were ready for their first coat of sealer. We used a matte sealer that’s made for porous natural stone. This is necessary to do before grouting or the grout won’t wipe off the tile faces.

Several steps happened between the photos above and below but I was too involved to photograph. After the first coat of sealer is dry, 15 minutes maybe?, it’s time to start grouting. Since this was a small area we bought pre-mixed grout. It’s more expensive than the powder bag but obviously easier. Grouting is a two person job. Jason spread the grout over the surface of the tiles and pressed it into all the cracks using a rubber trowel. (You can imagine why it’s important that the adhesive Thin Set is completely dry or tiles will start shifting.) I started wiping grout off with a large, damp sponge and a bucket of warm water. It doesn’t have to be warm but if feels nicer to my rubber-gloved hands. The sponge does need to be thoroughly wrung out though. Too much water will thin and breakdown the grout. It takes many swipes of the sponge to get all of the grout off the faces of the tiles. The grout starts drying and sticking to the tiles in about 10 minutes so it’s a fast moving process. I actually really enjoy this process and I feel like I’m quite the grout wiping expert after tiling our humongous master shower. Once the grout was dry, another 24 hours to be safe, the tiles and grout get another coat of sealer. This time it’s to make sure the grout gets sealed. Jason added simple, square-edge white trim around the sides and top of the fireplace to cover the holes left from the original trim. He then painted it white with trim paint. He also touched up the brick base and insides of the fireplace with black spray paint. (I couldn’t photograph these steps because he did them while I was at work.)

We are soon going to be repainting our living room in Greek Villa by Sherwin Williams so I asked Jason if he’d brush some onto the drywall around the fireplace so we can get a feel for how it’ll look finished. Imagine it without the box of bricks and the blue wall with drywall mud patches on the right.

No more sharp-enough-to-bust-a-head-open intrusion sticking out into the living room.

No more toe-stubbing and tripping on cold, hard marble.

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13 Responses to Fireplace Makeover: Removing a Brick Hearth and Retiling

  1. Amy says:

    ugh, i can’t imagine tripping on that! ouch! sends shivers up my spine! so great job! honestly, i didn’t even realized how high the marble on the floor was sticking out until you posted this again and pointed it out!

  2. Jess says:

    Wow, I didn’t realize how much that would open up the room, you can really appreciate it in the photo shots from the side of the room

  3. Mama says:

    Great job! It looks fantastic in person. You two are really good at this sort of thing!

  4. Julia says:

    wow, that is so much better…thanks for sharing!

  5. [...] of the fence so Lucy can’t wander away • remove the dangerously sharp fireplace hearth  Booyah! • get the electricity fixed in 2/3 of the house (this is a new development as of yesterday … [...]

  6. [...] newly refaced faux fireplace that no longer has skull-cracking sharp [...]

  7. Kira says:

    looks great. just wondering how you cut the bricks at the bottom?

    • mahlbrandt says:

      Jason used a brick chisel and hammer to break the mortar (and in some cases to break the bricks in half). Once the mortar cracks apart, the brick were able to be lifted out.

      • Mike Lane says:

        We have a huge chimney structure that goes through three stories for wood stoves. We want to take out the “never used” wood stove, hearth (like yours), and one side of the chimney system (which houses the wood bin) in the upstairs bedroom.

        In your pictures, the “half-bricks” that were left look smooth. (We will have a lot of those to deal with.) Were they that smooth after breaking them in half, or did you need to do something else to get them that way?

        • mahlbrandt says:

          We didn’t do anything extra to smooth them. They were chopped with a brick chisel and then the whole remaining hearth was painted black, which might account for the smooth look.

  8. Karyn says:

    Do you mind sharing your finished mantle dimensions??

  9. julie says:

    I would like to ask you a question regarding this project. Do you see replies on old posts??

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