How to tile over a brick fireplace: An inexpensive DIY job with dramatic results

Tiled fireplace surrounds and chimney balustrades take on major trend impulses in interior design. Tiles offer an alternative to the usual brick or smooth plastered chimneys that we are used to. As with any tiled surface, the sizes and patterns are endless. With huge marble slabs and small mosaics, you can create your desired look.

When we moved into our semi-detached house from the 1930s in 2019, there was a brick chimney around our fireplace that was not in the best condition. It had been expanded over the years and the bricks weren’t a good match. To be honest, it looked like an absolute travesty! The facade of the chimney had to change and after a short exploration and excluding a total demolition of the chimney for cost reasons, I decided to do a DIY project and tile the brick fireplace instead.

I have been using white square tiles in all of my homes in my designs for a while now. I love the simplicity and it will always be a classic in my opinion. The room where the fireplace is located is in the center of the house, which also became the kitchen. Since I was using square tiles as the kitchen splashback, I decided that the tiles had to match on the fireplace surround.

If you’re thinking of adding tile over a brick fireplace in your home, here’s a step-by-step overview of how I did it.

How to tile a fireplace

In a few simple steps I completely rebuilt our old fireplace.

brick chimney painted white

Our brick fireplace before we added tiles

(Photo credit: Jo Lemos)

Step 1 – Create a structure to cover the brick

Fireplace cladding tiles - jo Lemos

(Photo credit: Jo Lemos)

The bricks that made up our chimney breast were built so that they weren’t flush with each other, and while structurally solid, the pattern was everywhere. I knew I couldn’t tile directly on top of it, so I decided to build a structure with a flat surface that was attached to the fireplace surround. If you want to do this yourself and the original chimney breast is flat or already plastered, you shouldn’t do this step.

However, there was an advantage in building a smooth structure around the brick. The white square tiles I used were placed in a grid-like format and I was able to build up the structure so that I could use full tiles around the opening. This was much more visually appealing as there were no cut tiles on the edges. Based on the original opening of the chimney, I was able to figure out that I am creating a structure 5 tiles wide and 5 tiles high for a new opening.

To build the new building, I first attached wooden beams to bricks. I drilled holes in bricks and screwed the beams to the chest with dowels. I made sure the wood structure was the right size so I could have full tiles over the opening. I also made sure to factor in the width of the plasterboard that I would tile on when building the structure.

After I was happy with the structure, I attached plasterboard to the wooden beams with plasterboard screws. The gas fireplace that was in the chimney was turned off, but I decided to use fire-resistant plasterboard in the opening in case a future owner tried to start a fire in the chimney.

Step 2 – Tiling the fireplace surround

Since the full tile opening was a key feature for me, I decided to tile the opening sections first. A great way to do this is to first install and level a wooden beam for your tiles to sit on. When tiling, it is worth taking your time with the first row, as any imperfection at the beginning will be exaggerated the more tiles are placed on it.

Laying a fireplace surround - Jo Lemos

(Photo credit: Jo Lemos)

I used a premixed adhesive and tiled it directly onto the plasterboard. The tiles were positioned with 3mm spacers that can be left in place until the glue dries. Once the opening was complete and I was tiling the rest of the chest and the inside of the opening, I would step back periodically, making sure my lines were straight. For the corners I decided to add an edge for more protection. There are quite a few types of edging to choose from, but I went for a simple white PVC edging that I lost to the white tiles.

To finish off, I used a beige Unibond grout, which is a nice sandy color. Its light color makes the grid tiles pop without creating a harsh contrast. I continued using this colored grout in the rest of the kitchen and utility room for cohesion

Fireplace surround made of white tiles - Jo Lemos

(Photo credit: Jo Lemos)

Cost of DIY chimney tiles

Dining room with white tiled stove - Jo Lemos

(Photo credit: Jo Lemos)

One of the things I love about white square tiles is that they are very affordable as a basic tile. I bought my 150mm square tiles from B&Q for £ 6 per square meter for a total of £ 36 for the tiles and edging strips for £ 12. I used 3 sheets of plasterboard priced at £ 30 and wooden sticks priced at £ 25. The total cost of the tiled chimney conversion is £ 103.

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