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In The Details: Fireplace Tile & Layouts

by - Friday, June 10, 2011

The living room fireplace is finally tiled and grouted. Hooray! It was a long drawn out process - selecting tile, waiting for tile, laying out tile, grouting tile - and like most reno projects, only 20% of the time was actually spent on doing the actual work.I thought I'd do some posts and show you where the other 80% was spent. You might find a dissection of our thought process boring, but it may give some ideas to those of you doing a tiling job like a backsplash or shower wall of your own.

When we start any tile job, we always do the same thing first: hit the tile shops to be inspired. Here's just some of the many many many tiles we looked at:

Crazy, right? But there’s no other way around it. You need to go to all the tile stores to see what your options are. Despite the wide array of tiles, we kept being drawn to the same one: the herringbone. With the field somewhat narrowed down, it was time to break out the AUTOCAD. This is where HandyMan goes to town, mouse flying, as he whips up various layout possibilities.

Since the fireplace was going floor to ceiling, we knew we had to vary the pattern at some point. Using the same pattern for the whole fireplace would only emphasize its size and make it seem like this massive block in the room. The design should have a little variation, a little detail to make it interesting.

HandyMan was insistent that the fireplace have a recess at the base. See what a subtle difference it makes in the layout above? This little pull back, a ¼” recess from the face of the fireplace would be just enough to give a slight floating effect, to make the fireplace seem less weighty. It would work with the surrounding baseboard and create a continuation of the horizontal line that went around the base of the room. Matching the baseboard at 8” high would be too much and out of proportion with the fireplace (there would not be much room left between the bottom of the fireplace glass and the recess) so we went with a 4” recess.

With the recess in place, we worked on a few variations of tile. We started with our favourite herringbone. Herringbone looks great when its used as a field or inner tile paired with an outside border. The juxtaposition of angular and straight tile creates something very interesting. So we tried some options - all herringbone, a mix of herringbone and rectangular pieces…

…pieces laid horizontally, pieces laid vertically, mitred corners or not. We thought it was important too to emphasize the glass so a change of pattern in that area would be needed. We thought some sort of banding that carried around the side could be a nice visual break…

And then there was the side face options. Match them to the front, or do something entirely different…

See what you can do with just two different types of tile? The possibilities are mind boggling. We settled on herringbone with a border of soldier-course (ie. Laid horizontal) tiles and went to Saltillo to make this vision a reality.

And that’s when we hit a roadblock. The herringbone tile was out of stock – but would be in in 3 weeks. We found some pieces we could use for the border – but the colours weren’t a perfect match to the herringbone. We could use longer bigger pieces for the border – but they were 1/8” thicker than the herringbone. Damn you reno gods!

There was no way we were leaving the store empty handed so after a marathon 2.5hr session of trying to mix and match tiles we had to resign our selves that the herringbone just.wouldn’ Then we hit upon the idea of getting a 12”x12” tile and cutting it into strips to use as the border. Great idea, except the border tile was still thicker than the herringbone.

And you know the story from here. We decided to get custom cut strips that were longer and larger in a 2”x12” format (hence more contemporary and unique) but lay them in a traditional brick pattern. We would still keep some sort of frame or banding around the glass and also keep a recess at the base. For the recess, we decided to use 4”x12” pieces to add a little bit of interest. And since this fireplace would already be huge, we picked tiles with a honed finish which would be less attention-grabbing than a polished finished.

A long post that goes to prove picking tile and selecting a pattern is a tricky thing! A few of our lessons learned:     
  • When it comes to tile, see as many varieties as you can
  • Mix and match tiles to create interest. We like to mix similar materials but in different shapes.
  • When dreaming up layouts, think about more than just “brick pattern” or “stacked pattern”. Think horizontal vs vertical, one tile vs multiple different tiles, mitres, recesses, accents, borders, and finishes (honed or polished).
Now that we had our tile, how would we go about laying it? Well, that’s a whole other blog post for another day.

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