07 October 2010

fireplace preview part trois: the pretty stuff

We've now had two posts dedicated to our new fireplace, and today I'll show you how we brought it all together. We're almost to the final reveal, my friends!

When we last left off, we'd finished the framing and drywall for the new fireplace surround, and it was time to start tiling. If you followed along with our master bathroom renovation, you may recall how loath I was to rent the tile saw last time, and the lengths we went to in order to avoid renting it. It's so heavy and bulky, and it's such a dirty mess. And that's not to mention the $58 per day rental fee.

Well this time, we had some very visible cuts to make, and my smash-and-grab technique was not going to pass muster. So tile saw it was. But at least this time we had the good sense to set up out in front of our building instead of schlepping the saw up two flights of stairs, through our condo and out onto the back balcony. It did elicit lots of questions from neighbors, though, and now everyone wants to come in and see our fireplace. (That is condo living for you... everyone is always comparing what you've done in your unit to what they've done in theirs.)

First we had to carefully measure out all of the cuts, and blue painters tape was a handy way to keep everything well marked while avoiding marking up the tiles.

Whenever you find yourself doing some tile cutting on your own, remember this: the tile saw is not an incredibly precise tool, as imposing as it looks. The blade will jump around on you, especially when cutting harder, thicker porcelain tiles (as opposed to thinner ceramic), and your down-to-the-millimeter measurements will never come out exactly perfect. Just something to keep in mind. But with patience, you can still get a pretty good outcome. Just be sure you have a few tiles to spare.

After a few trial-and-error cuts, we finally had our full tile set-up ready to put on the wall.

Throughout this project, Mark has been the brains and brawn, and I've been the beauty. That is, I have done the beautiful work, i.e designing the finished project and laying the pretty tiles. But none of this would have been possible without Mark's sexy brains and rugged brawn. Just so we're all clear on that.

The first step in laying the tile was to place the inner glass mosaic tile, which didn't require much in the way of cutting, thanks to Mark's very precise measurements. But it did require us to use special "universal thinset," which is a pain to mix and use -- it just hardens far too quickly to be practical, especially when you use small quantities as we did. (We love the premixed thinset you can buy at Home Depot and everywhere else for ceramic tile... much easier to work with.)

After laying the face tile, I finished the mosaic tile by placing the inner tiles. Somehow, I managed not to mess it up! (Even though mosaic tile comes on sheets, it's not as easy as they make it look on HGTV.)

Lastly, some careful laying of the large porcelain tile, with some creative use of toothpicks as micro-shims. Mark used his trusty mallet to make sure everything was all well-sunk into the thinset, and very flush.

After everything dried for a day, we grouted, and then cleaned off the grout, and then cleaned some more, and then cleaned some more. Grouting on glass mosaic tile is a big, huge pain, no matter what Carter Oosterhouse might tell you. The grouting itself is not so bad, but that clean-up takes forever, and the grout never really fully comes off. (If you have a trick for this that doesn't involve toxic chemicals, please share!)

And here's the last hint I'll give before the big reveal: some trial paint swatches for the fireplace wall.

Big, pretty before-and-after reveal coming soon. Eeeeeeeeeee! Can't wait to play show-and-tell!

Update: To see how it all turned out, click here.

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  1. Oh how exciting! I am sure it is going to be fabulous when completely done! And right in time for winter! We have a fireplace that the previous owners put a wall infront of in the remodel! sad face! I would love to have a fireplace. One day we might have to dig it up!

  2. How could you block a fireplace???? That's just crazy. And not just because you lose the functionality (admittedly not essential here in LA), or because it's one of thew few architectural features that most homes have, but it's a terrible decision for re-sale value!

    I hope you guys can dig it out one day and restore or revamp it!

  3. I so admire your courage in taking on this project. I once tiled a small kitchen back splash and I'm not ashamed to say, it had me in tears...

  4. There is no shame in crying over tiles... tiling is hard! The floors I've tiled are slightly embarrassing, and I think the only reason I felt okay doing the tile on the fireplace was that I knew we could relatively easily rip it all out if we had to. (And, we checked obsessively as we were building the frame to be sure that everything was perfectly flush.)

    I try to take Julia Child's "Bon courage!" advice for these types of things and remember that we all only learn by doing. :-)

  5. I like your tiles for the fire place, can you share the brand/model/name of the tile and what price point?

    thanks. =)


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