The hard part of Phase I is done!
Let's rewind and recap:
Fireplace as reinvented by previous owner. Nobody likes it (or most people are indifferent and I don't like it. Whatever).
Trip-hazard hearth is knocked out to reveal original mosaic tile, which is beautiful but marred by two big mantel holes.
I hit up all the major tile destinations, and my fears were confirmed--nobody makes that kind of mosaic anymore. Even if I could have gotten the same pattern and come relatively close on the color, I would have settled for it. But nope. A salvage shop could have been my next option, but
So instead, I spent a half hour or so each day with a hammer and chisel, busting out these old lovelies a few at a time. Then the surface had to be prepped for the new tile. I used Quikrete to fill the holes and smooth the cracks, leveling it as much as possible with a paint stick.
Then I made it pretty again.
I put down this lovely marble mosaic from The Tile Shop (Honey Creme Onyx Skokie marble). We liked it because the Deco look fits the era of the house, and the cream and tan shades complement the oak floors. We bought extra to tile around the fire box in Phase II a few years from now, but it looks nice with the flagstone in the meantime. I love how natural stone has these variations in color and pattern--some of the tan tiles have streaks of black or white in them that give it a rich look.
I'm no tile expert, so I won't get into details, but a few details made this job turn out so much better than the mess we made in our previous house.
A small job like this is a great first project, but it's also a highly visible area so it's important to get it right. I dry-fit these tiles before beginning so I'd know how to best place them.
We also learned that a tile saw is not an optional tool even for a small job. We tried to get by in our old house by using only a scoring tool and a nipper, and ended up with lots of broken bits that we fudged in with a grout mess. A very basic wet saw at Home Depot cost only a little bit more than renting one, and we didn't have to use it on anyone else's schedule or make another trip to return it. We can use it again for future jobs or sell it and recoup some of the costs. I don't recommend attempting to tile without it.
And lastly, spring for the best materials you can afford. We chose marble this time more for this looks than its properties, but it's a beautiful material for a light traffic area like this. Instead of mixing our grout with water, we used an admixture that made it more workable and will keep it flexible and keep the colors true.
We still have to patch the gaps where the old hearth came out. To do this, we'll score or cut a piece off the original hearth for each side and tack it up with thinset. That will hide some of the mess on the wall and the imperfect cuts, and later, the wood mantel will hide it too.
We'll also be installing the fireplace doors we chose to close this mess off for kids and pets. The cats tried to sneak down the hole under that plate that is meant for sweeping ash down to a basement receptacle (maybe we should have let them Veruca Salt it).
Very exciting. I have a little bit of a high from how well it turned out and the fact that it's done!