before & after: fireplace makeover

I love listening to the stories behind people’s renovations; sometimes you learn that the most beautiful renovations occur when homeowners uncover a gem that has been hidden beneath layers of previous work. Such is the case with this fireplace renovation from Heather. It’s projects like this that inspire me to delve beneath an interior and discover its bones before attempting to cover things up. Beautiful work, Heather! — Kate

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

Time: Two weekends


Basic Steps: Our house was built in 1909, and we knew the scary green faux marble wasn’t original, so we took a chance that whatever was underneath had to be better than what we were looking at. And we knew our house had good bones! At best, we hoped it was brick that we could paint or resurface or otherwise work with. We started removing the tiles one by one with a small chisel and rubber mallet and were completely surprised to find the tile underneath. Up close, the tile kind of looks like bad 70s linoleum. My best friend thinks the pattern also looks like an apple-patterned print.

Getting all of the tile off was a huge mess, but we were careful and were able to get most of the remaining thin-set off with a simple water and vinegar mixture (you can still see some stuck to the grout lines). The rest is simply what was underneath. We did have a gap between the tiles and the drywall in the space where the faux marble was removed, so we used caulk and corner round molding that we painted the same color as our walls to seal things up. We rather like that there’s no “mantel” per se, since we just painted (with our normal wall paint) the exposed cement top.

Don’t be afraid to “undo” what someone else has done before, especially if you know or don’t think it’s consistent with the period of your home. Sometimes just removing bad molding, paneling, tile, wallpaper, etc. and letting a space breathe is really what it needs. Our fireplace is a testament to that! — Heather

  1. iris says:

    I had friends who were removing faux-wood paneling from a bathroom, only to reveal some lavender tile underneath! Much better than faux wood. It’s amazing what stuff is hidden under house “makeovers.”

  2. LOVE it! I couldn’t stop going back and forth between the pictures. Pure brilliance.

  3. Christina says:

    I just had a do over on my fireplace too. So much fun and i used metallic paint… risky but it paid off nicely.

  4. Keira says:

    Wow, that is so much better! That tile isn’t going to be for everyone, but I think that it’s wonderful.

  5. Always amazes me what beautiful character previous owners decide to cover up in older homes. LOVE the “new” look way better than the scary green tile! And that star burst mirror is fabulous!!!

  6. Melissa S. says:

    Wow that’s crazy! Almost doesn’t even look like the same place! But it’s absolutely gorgeous. Good work!

  7. The tile is absolutely gorgeous. I love to see white walls with white baseboards, I’ve been looking for examples of that recently and this is the first I’ve come across. Where did the window to the left go and the wall that the fireplace was on? It’s all flush now, I’m confused. Is that what this is referring to — “We did have a gap between the tiles and the drywall in the space where the faux marble was removed, so we used caulk and corner round molding that we painted the same color as our walls to seal things up.” If so, wow, that looks seamless and like one wall now. It’s beautiful. But I still wonder where the window went. :)

  8. Leslie says:

    This is really cool! I can’t even see the original fireplace design in the new one!


  9. Heather W. says:

    Hi Jessica,

    It’s our fireplace so I wanted to respond briefly to your comment. The windowed area to the left is still there, you just can’t see it because the “After” photo is zoomed in a bit more than the “Before.” I’ll be posting a few more photos of the space on my blog tomorrow to show more of the overall space. We love the “bumped out” window area and have plans to use it as a breakfast nook and game table. Thanks for your comment!

  10. Heather,

    Thank you for answering my question. I will look forward to more photos on your blog tomorrow. I recently moved into a rental house from 1924 and the landlord did a terrible paint job everywhere and the trim is white. So I am considering white walls with the white trim which is why that caught my eye. Thanks again! :)

  11. diana says:

    Oh! I like this! From black and boring to fresh and perfectly combined with that great sun mirror and the orange rug. Great!

  12. Suzanne says:

    Well done! The before is so unappealing to me, but the after is just beautiful! Way to be gentle and mindful with your home!

  13. Anna says:

    Love it! The accessories are perfect, too.

  14. Lauren says:

    SO AMAZING!! Awesome job!

  15. samara says:

    what an exciting find! tis kind of cool that it was ugly before because it makes the hidden surround even cooler!

  16. Amy says:

    Love the tile and rug pattern combo! I’m in the middle of a renovation on a 20’s home and ran into the same thing, except my fireplace mantel was a faux Greek-meets-the-circus affair and underneath: colorful ceramic tiles. Old homes have the most interesting surprises!

  17. Love this. So beautiful!? Is that lovely rug from West Elm?!

  18. Katie says:

    That tile is stunning. I love the combo of old world and modern. Beautiful reno.

  19. Heather says:


    Yes! Our rug is from West Elm. We recently purchased it on sale and love it.

  20. Rachel M says:

    Wow. It’s like taking off Darth Vader’s mask. I hope that doesn’t sound too nerdy, but that’s exactly what I thought when I looked back at that dark monstrosity. Amazing job!

  21. Vanessa says:

    That is worth every minute you spent on it. You did a good thing, you got a good thing.


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