DIY Modern Fireplace Surround

DIY Modern Fireplace surround

Fireplaces tend to be the focal point of any room they are in, so it is important that your fireplace surround flows with the room and is beautiful in design and style. Sometimes when you move into a home, especially a builder-grade older home, they are far less than appealing and lack any design. In fact, the one I DIY’d fully detracted from the space. So I’m sharing how to DIY a modern fireplace surround including design, style, and safety tips for a beautiful and well-crafted home.

A well-designed surround can create a stunning focal point in your home, becoming the centerpiece of conversation, style, and comfort. A refresh of your fireplace surround can make an incredible difference, and it can be as difficult or simple as you want it to be. Admittedly, I made it difficult for myself but the results were well worth it!

DIY Modern Fireplace Surround

Tools And Materials

For Tile Removal & Prep

Tiling

Wooden Surround

Instructions

Step 1: Create Your Design & Research

Design your fireplace surround and decide what you want it to look like. Choose what works best in your space, and makes sense for the type of fireplace you have or are installing. If installing an electric fireplace or electric insert, there will be different requirements than a gas fireplace fireplace insert, or existing wood-burning fireplace.

I wanted something with clean lines, relatively flush to the wall, considering the space in the room. I wanted a modern design fireplace, but simple. However, since this is a functional wood-burning fireplace, I had to abide by the International Fire Code in my design. This is a great diagram and here is the International Residential Fire code. You may also want to check in your county to see if there are additional restrictions.

The basis of the code is that you can’t have any combustible materials within 6in of the opening of the fireplace. After 6in, you can have combustible materials on the face. For every 1in away from the fireplace opening, you can have non-combustible materials protruding 1/8 of an inch. So, at 6in away you can have 3/4in protruding, at 8in you can go out 1in with combustible materials. Beyond 12in away, you can add whatever you like, and protrude combustible materials however far out you want.

*This is not advice, please consult a professional for your project.

fireplace measurements sketch
Step 2: Clear Your Space

I overlooked this first step and paid for it in droves later. I made a mess and then had to clean everything up later. My shelves were covered in dust and it was just a mess! So, learn from my mistake and clear your space, you may also want to cover your furniture in drop cloths.

Step 3: Old Surround Removal

Grab your crowbar, mallet, and gloves then start pulling up the old surround. Your materials and time will vary based on what is already there. My surround was 12in x 12in ugly brown tile all the way around and on the hearth, or the floor in front of the fireplace. I ended up using a paint scraper but a crowbar would have worked so much better! Gloves are super important to protect your hands. I started without them and sliced a finger on some broken tile. Six months later, I now unfortunately have a big scar.

Once you remove the old surround, clean up. Vacuum, chip away the old mortar so you have a smooth surface and assess any drywall damage.

DIY fireplace surround- tile removal
Step 4: Repair Drywall, Level Floor

If you are removing tile from drywall, there is a good chance you may have to repair it in some places when doing a DIY modern fireplace surround. I had such a hard time removing it, that I ended up just pulling the tile down knowing the drywall was attached. There was a ton to repair, but surprisingly, it only tool took two 2ft x 2ft drywall repair patches to fill the space.

I added 1in x 6in supports to hold the drywall patches in place. My fireplace wall must be sturdy! I struggled since I couldn’t attach it to the fireplace itself so one side was fully unsupported. I repaired my drywall by cutting a patch the size of my hole, taping the seams with mesh fiberglass tape, and securing with joint compound. To finish, I sanded everything down to even and smooth.

Once your joint compound dries, sand it flat and smooth.

Step 5: Measure

I made the mistake of measuring before I removed the old tile, and my plans shifted a bit, so I recommend measuring again once everything is removed. Once you have your measurements, make any necessary adjustments to your design, and buy your materials.

materials in the car
Step 6: Cut Your Tile, Prep Your Space

Based on your measurements you will know whether or not you need to make cuts in your tiles. Don’t forget to include the grout lines in your measurements! My original fireplace had the trim stop above the baseboard, so I extended the entire surround a full inch on either side over the previous one. I also had larger hearth tiles than were in place before, so I cut the carpet to extend the hearth another inch as well. I felt that it would be simpler to cut the carpet than the tile, I’m still unclear whether that was true.

If you will need to create narrow, very straight, or exact cuts, I highly recommend a tile saw. Most of my cut edges were concealed by the carpet on either side, so it was ok that they weren’t perfect, so I used a manual tile cutter.

If you remove any carpet, you will want to adhere it to the ground again before tiling. If you bought new carpet grippers, you can nail them into the subfloor, or do what I did and add concrete adhesive.

lay your tile
Step 7: Lay Your Tile

Start on the wall first. I didn’t, I did the hearth first and luckily it didn’t affect my tiles, but you can break or move them if you stand on them too soon. For my wall tiles, I used these and cut them in 3in strips for the surround. For my hearth tiles, I used 6 of these, and cut the four on the edges to fit.

First, add the mud to the wall with the smooth side of the trowel, then add some grooves with your trowel in straight lines- do not curve as it may add air bubbles. Add some mud to the bottom of your tile, drag some lines with the trowel then set it in place. Add spacers as you go, once the tiles settle, they are much harder to move. As you add to the surround, I recommend starting at the corners. If you can add clamps or something to hold the pieces in place across the top it will help hold the shape. I found mine sunk and dropped a bit overnight.

Step 8: Grout and Clean Up Your Tile

Read the instructions on your packaging to determine how long to wait before adding grout after alying tile. Mix your grout in a bucket and then apply it to the spaces in your tile. Push it into the grooves to eliminate air bubbles, and wipe with a wet sponge as you go. Don’t let the grout dry before you wipe it away!

Once your grout dries, clean up your tiles again. It’s likely that the grout left some residue on the tile and it’s no longer clean and shiny.

DIY fireplace surround- tile and add grout
Step 9: Make Your Wood Cuts

Measure again. Yes, again. You’ll want to know exactly where your tiles settled and where to make cuts. Use your miter saw or miter box and hand saw to make 45-degree cuts in your 1in x 3in primed boards, and 1in x 8in primed boards, adding supports with your unprimed 1in x 6in boards. Glue together the three matching boards and clamp to dry.

Step 10: Build Your Surround

Bring your surround frame inside and start building your fireplace surround. My first layer around the tile fit perfectly. Since the edges of it were going to be covered, I screwed it into the stud for security. I had to attach the outer ledge made from 1in x 3in boards next. In order to attach, I used a couple of 1in x 6in pieces. I drilled those into the studs and supports I added behind the drywall. Then, I used super small-head nails to secure the surround to the boards. I tried my hardest to not nail directly into the primed decorative front, but I couldn’t avoid it if I wanted it to be secure.

Finally, I added the inner facing made from the 1in x 8in boards to the wall. My frame came unglued but I re-glued it into place. I also ended up adding nails to the boards I added in.

Step 11: Wood Filler

Grab some wood filler and fill all of your spaces and nail holes. I had some spaces in my corners where my boards came unglued or measurements weren’t exactly 45 degrees. (What the video does not show, is me going back and forth to re-cut boards 100 times.)

Once the wood filler dries, sand down so everything is even and flush.

DIY fireplace surround- build your surround
Step 12: Paint

Grab a tack cloth and clean up your wall and fireplace surround. The tack cloth should pick up the tiny pieces from your sander and any lint before painting.

Mix your paint, and paint your fireplace surround. I chose Swiss Coffee for a clean white color palette.

Step 13: Caulk

Add construction adhesive for ultimate attachment to the wall. In my opinion, caulking is much harder than it looks on YouTube. So, after a failed attempt, I used painter’s tape to keep my lines clean.

paint and caulk
Step 14: Style

Your DIY modern fireplace surround is finally complete! Style it to your liking, here are some ideas to style your fireplace for spring, Valentine‘s mantle decor, and Christmas fireplace decor. Mine has a 3-in ledge, so not much can go on the ledge, and I’m still working through options for art above the surround!

11 Modern Fireplace Surround Ideas

Vinyl tile

I put off this project for so long because I was terrified of tiling, I thought it was going to be so messy and difficult. I was right about it being messy, but by far, it was the easier part of creating this surround. If you are still on the fence, consider vinyl tile. It comes in non-combustible material so you can safely use it on your hearth and surround.

Retile

As I said above the idea of tiling was so intimidating, but once I started, I realized it was not so difficult. The tile you choose can completely change a space. Tiles come in so many colors, shapes, and sizes, you can really personalize this DIY modern fireplace surround.

Wooden Surround

I chose wood in my surround, and it certainly made it more difficult. Measurements need to be extremely precise. However, you can make it very cozy and homey if you keep the wood tones and choose to stain. on our other fireplace, you can see the shiplap on top of the mantle, I painted it charcoal, the same color as my office to match our midcentury modern living room.

Buy a Surround

Depending on how much you want to DIY, or not, you can actually just buy a new fireplace surround. They range in price from hundreds to thousands. You will likely need to tile around the fireplace to fit since these are typically more one-size, but it can be a great way to change up your space quickly with less work!

Paint

What if your fireplace isn’t that bad? When we moved in, our main fireplace was mint green on top. I could not live with that, so we painted it charcoal before moving in, and it made a world of difference! Paint can change the look and feel of a room or a feature almost instantly. Paint may be a simple way to refresh your fireplace surround. I chose the paint color Swiss Coffee for a simple modern look. White fireplaces are classic, but consider another color! Black, pink, green, honestly insert your personality! Paint is a simple change, if you change your mind or sell your home you can change it!

Floating Mantle

I considered a floating fireplace mantle before finalizing my DIY modern fireplace surround. My office is a small space and anything protruding from the wall would be in the way. However, if you have the space, a floating mantle may be a great way to create a ledge to display art or candles and personalize your space. The below options come in tons of colors!

Brick Fireplace

Brick is perhaps one of the most classic fireplace materials. It’s non-combustible and classic so can flow with modern, traditional, and many more design styles. Painted brick will naturally be more modern style, and traditional red brick is going to be more classic.

Insert Your Personality

Go crazy and create a design that inspires you! It’s your home, make it pink, paint flowers all around the surround, or choose green tiles. Whatever makes this space the most ‘you’. Pinterest has amazing ideas, and I combined a few to get my design.

Marble

For an upscale modern fireplace surround, that is also fire-proof, marble or stone fireplace surround. Of course, the price will be on par, but it will look amazing! I only chose marble small tiles in my fireplace design, but if you have the budget you can not only add marble tiles, but you can create a full marble surround.

Change the Shape

In my research, I saw some really great ideas, but literally all of them were square fireplace surrounds. To be very unique you can create an arch with your surround.

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