Your Room’s Focal Point: The Fireplace

The product above is our VTile in a classy step pattern.

It’s that time of year when fireplaces become more than a beautiful centerpiece — they are also a source of warmth and comfort. With the fall season in full swing, it’s common for our clients to start thinking about taking their neglected ole’ fireplace and bringing it into the modern era.  

Tile can take your fireplace from ho-hum to exceptional, making it the focal point of your space. With a little understanding of the fireplace and the desired aesthetic, you could quickly and easily transform your whole space.

Before we begin to talk about the pretty part, let’s talk about the basics of the fireplace itself. 

Anatomy of the Fireplace

The fireplace consists of 3 core parts, plus the mantel. Each area provides its own function and has different requirements. 

The product above is from our hand-painted terracotta Tabarka collection.

As you can see from the image above, the two main areas appropriate for tiling are the surround and hearth. Depending on your design and material choices, your fireplace can either become the star of the room or the supporting role. More on that later. 

So, can I use any tile for my fireplace?

Now that we understand the basic parts of the fireplace, let’s talk about suitability. Not all tile is created equal, and not all parts of the fireplace are appropriate for tiling. 

Let’s start with the firebox. Often we see a decorative fire-safe paneling on the back and sides of the firebox, and sometimes we see what looks like a regular ceramic tile.

Even though many of our tile series is strong enough to hold up to the heat of fire, the adhesives and grouts used to set the tile are not intended to have that much exposure to an open flame.

Moving from the inside to the outside façade of the fireplace, both the hearth and surround are exposed to heat and any material applied needs to be durable and heat resistant. With that being said, we have a lot more flexibility here and an almost endless supply of tile options.  Yay! This is when the fun begins.

And as always, please remember to check the federal and state building codes regarding the installation of tile on fireplaces before making any final decisions.

The product above is a fun chevron glass mosaic from our Devotion series, the pattern is Echo shown in the Million Dollar Blend.

Ceramic, porcelain, glass and stone tiles are all top picks for fireplace surrounds, although we have been seeing a rise in popularity of cement tile over the last few years. We love them all.  From small mosaics to larger field tiles and even slabs, the list of options is almost endless.

The product above is a porcelain field tile, selected for more than its beauty. Porcelain tile is as hardy as it gets and requires the lowest amount of maintenance. No sealing needed, easy to clean, and available in many sizes (even 5’ by 10’ slabs!), this material is ideal. Check out our stock La Strata if you’re going for a contemporary, slightly industrial look.

Making the most of your fireplace design

To mantel or not mantel, that is the question… but seriously, it is. Mantels were originally developed in the medieval period and served a functional purpose — they acted as a hood and diverted smoke back into the chimney, therefore preventing the smoke from entering the room.

Nowadays, with the rise of gas and electric fireplaces in favor of the traditional wood-burning ones, mantels are more for a decorative purpose, a place to hold candles, pictures, and stockings during the holidays. They can create a nice stopping point, giving your fireplace a defined “top”.  Often we tile from the ground up to the mantel, although it is not uncommon to continue the tile up to the ceiling, above the mantel as well.  This look creates visual height, drawing your eye from the fireplace all the way up. It also helps create a more dramatic statement, giving your fireplace more distinction in the room.

Eliminating the mantel altogether is also a great option, especially if a more contemporary look is what you are after. Without a mantel, there is nothing on the wall to visually break up the continuous line of tile from floor to ceiling. 

Love the image above?  We do too.  A great way to add durability and have the lowest maintenance possible – swap out the wood for a porcelain wood-look.
Check out Lane from our collection of porcelain tiles.

When it comes to tile selection, as we mentioned earlier, there is a large variety of materials being used today. In addition, the available sizes are astounding, from small intricate waterjet mosaics to large, one-piece slabs. 

Image courtesy of Jennifer Boomer. This fireplace, selected as one of HGTV’s favorite fireplace designs from the hit show Fixer Upper, shows solid marble slabs used for both the surround and raised hearth. This look is simple and clean, supported by using one continuous material without all the grout lines smaller tiles create. A no-maintenance version of this look can be created with our stock Elevated porcelain slabs.

Some last tips!

TIP 1: Layout the pattern BEFORE it’s time to install. 

We cannot stress enough the importance of communicating with your installer and talking through the tile placement and cuts. This should happen during the tile selection process, but most importantly, in your home when the tile arrives. Tile is nominal and the sizes given are approximate. The best way to know exactly the size is to measure it.  Handmade tile can be even more varied due to the nature of the manufacturing process.

Another reason why this is important? If you are installing natural stone or a handmade product, variations are to be expected with veining, color, glaze saturation… even in size! This is a great time to look through the tile, shift the tiles around for even placement of color and veining. At the end of the day, YOU are the one living with the finished result, not your installer, and you need to be the one in love with the final result.

The product above is Gemma 2 from our Cement Tile collection. See how one tile fits perfectly on each side of the surround, and two for the top of the surround and hearth? This is a nice example of a design that was well planned and spaced appropriately. 

TIP 2: Don’t forget the corners.

If your planning on turning a corner in your design, you need to talk through how this will be accomplished. Your sales consultant will be a great resource when selecting the material. Some collections offer tile trim pieces for the edges in either ceramic, porcelain, glass or stone. If there are none available, or if you prefer a simple streamlined look over tile trim, discuss the use of Schluter Profiles.

This traditional fireplace is a wonderful example of the use of ceramic trim. This designer chose to tile the surround and the hearth in our Pratt & Larson handmade tile, smartly using tile trim to line the opening to the firebox and rimming the curved raised hearth. The end result is a cohesive and well planned out work of art. 

In addition, some material can be mitered on site by your installer. Make sure to ask the person doing the work before you finalize any selections to ensure all the details are finalized in the beginning to ensure a smooth (and fun) process.

A great example of stone being mitered at the corner, our Rustic II Cladding shown above creates a textured focal point to the room.

Are you ready to give your space a facelift? Start with the fireplace.  Sometimes just a simple refresh of this key part of your space is all you need. And, you can get it done before the holidays, just in time for you to enjoy it all season long.


Our friendly, knowledgeable staff is always happy to help advise on tile design. Visit one of our DC, MD, or VA tile showrooms for a free tile design consultation.

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