Mid-Century-Modern Fireplace Tile


This main bedroom fireplace looks very late-1990's/early-2000's with the travertine tile and slab and that glass mosaic border. Let's take it from turn of the century back to Mid-Century-Modern. The MCM aesthetic is strong again today with its clean tailored lines and simplicity - precisely what the client wants for her home.


Normally, demolishing or removing everything down to the substrate is expected but she asked me if demolition can be avoided. Since the tiles and slab were bonded securely I figured there is no need to remove it to the bare framing and concrete slab... and as long as there is no way to tell that it is a cover-up I decided to go over it - reducing the cost, time, noise and waste for this little project. 

Only the top tiles were a bit loose so they were removed. The walls of the fireplace were not flat, plumb nor square - not good enough for the small tiles that she selected. The best remedy is a masonry render or mud wall application. To promote adhesion of the rendering mortar and tiles to the travertine, a blue acrylic primer from Germany is applied undiluted. It bonds tenaciously to everything and leaves a slightly rough textured film for mortar to bite into. Then a thin-set tile mortar is keyed into the surfaces in preparation for the rendering mortar.

The rendering mortar is basically sand, cement and lime and is applied wet on wet onto combed adhesive tile mortar. The tile mortar bonds the rendering coat. Mudding this fireplace not only makes it perfectly flat, plumb and square but also enables increasing the dimensions to suit the tile size. Here, a thick layer of mud is added to the top to achieve the look of full tiles between the top and the opening, and at the hearth. These are old-fashioned masonry and tile work methods - tried and true. Looks messy but the excess gets screeded off and troweled flat.


Voila! Perfectly rendered masonry surfaces ready for small tiles. Proud of these old techniques.

The client selected matte finish porcelain tiles... 24" x 24" rectified tiles in grey for the hearth and 2-1/2" x 9" soft-white tiles with natural edge for the walls. The horizontal stacked pattern is very MCM. Mitered edges were specified for the corners. If the edges were capped with metal tile profile trim, the look would be very different; not as minimalistic and not in keeping with the Mid-Century-Modern style. Mitering is time consuming but a must for creating that timeless look; about 160 miter cuts here. 

Light grey grout was selected for the white tiles to softly define the grid pattern and a matching medium grey grout was chosen for the small joints of the rectified-edge grey tiles. 


The client's winning design; soft and calm.

Installed with patience and care.