A few weeks back we received a question submitted through Facebook from Anita K. She asked:

This fireplace needs updating....would love some suggestions on what to replace the tile with. 

Additionally, Anita points out that they plan on using this space as a family room, and would like to mount a television above the fireplace as the focal point in the room.

Old Town Home's Answer

Anita's house is a 1915 craftsman style home, and the tile on the fireplace surround as well as the wood appears to be original to the home, which does complicate the situation a bit. I'm typically inclined to say "keep the original stuff original," but I know that doesn't always jive with the home's owners and their aesthetic. 

In the case of this surround, I don't think removal or covering of the tile, or at least some of the tile, is the worst thing in the world. The scale of the firebox versus that of the tile and height of the mantel just feels a bit off. 

Craftsman, or arts and crafts, style mantels tend to be stained oak, and are often integrated right into the wall, rather than placed right on the front and applied to the fireplace. They also often make use of the colored glazed ceramic tiles you see in the photo above. Unfortunately, these tiles (especially those on the floor) have seen better days. In the case of Anita's house, the floor tiles are badly cracked and damaged.

In our opinion, Anita has a couple of options here, and each involves slightly varying degrees of effort.

1. Replace the tile with a tile that works for you. The tiles, though very cool, are nearly impossible to remove, match, and repair. Also, the color is very specific, and will not be easily integrated into most decors. Though the tile is original, it may be too difficult to keep. ArtsAndCraftsHomes.com has a great resource for finding reproduction tile that might work great for your home. 

Another option, though less in keeping with the style of the home, is to replace the tile with something more natural and earthy, like slate. Though the use of something natural, like slate, is not in line with the arts and crafts movement, it could work.

2. Balance the fireplace with the firebox by building a second integrated mantel lower on the wall. The firebox is small, and the surround is tall and huge. You can balance the whole thing by making the mantel feel lower, without the need to tear anything out. Replicate the style of the upper mantel by duplicating its key features in a second mantel a little lower and closer to the firebox. Doing this will also make the whole thing feel a little less imposing, and will give you a good space to mount the television, while still keeping with the style of the house and the surrounding molding in the room. I would also make the area between the two mantels either painted plaster or oak, rather than extending the tile or stone. Here's an example that is somewhat similar to Anita's configuration. If done the right way, leaving much of the original tile in place works, but a more desired look can still be achieved.

3. SALVAGE, SALVAGE, SALVAGE!!! This is a great opportunity to leverage something from a great architectural salvage store for installation in your home. Sadly, fireplace mantels are some of the most frequently removed items from an old home. For whatever reason, if a mantel isn't an owner's style, they just can't stand to see it stay. But mantels are important in a home and easy enough to remove in one piece that old and cool ones often end up in salvage yards. In this case, some old home's loss is your remarkable gain. You can usually pick up mantels that are in great shape for less than it would cost in materials to build. At the very least, you could find some old and broken down mantels that might allow you to disassemble and use the salvaged wood in anything that you're building.

The added benefit of these mantels and materials is that they often have a great patina to them that tends to work quite well when trying to integrate it with a specific home's style. And this fact is especially true if you're looking for an old mantel to go with the style and look of a slightly older home.

No matter the case, you'll need to start by running any necessary electrical or wiring for the TV (so all of your cables can remain hidden). I think this process alone will help you determine just how invasive the work you're doing will need to be. Nothing dictates the extent of a project more than putting holes in walls.

What do y'all think of our ideas? Would you prefer to see the tiles stay or go? Do you think the height of the current mantel is good, or do you think the whole thing needs to go and be replaced with something shorter?

What about a salvaged mantel? Have you ever salvaged a mantel for install in your home? Did you have any difficulty finding the right size, style, price, or quality of mantel you were lookin for? Any expected difficulties that you had to deal with? Do share, we're very curious.

Disclaimer: Ask Old Town Home is meant simply as a friendly bit of advice and is provided free of charge. It is your responsibility to fully research any and all items related to projects or suggestions to ensure proper safety and code precautions and regulations are fully followed. In other words, any advice we provide is just our opinion, and our opinion is only worth the price we charge for it. :-)

Comments 6


8/1/2012 at 12:16 PM
I think the suggestions you came up with are very appropriate! Sensitive to keeping original details while still updating for modern tastes and uses.
8/1/2012 at 12:33 PM
I love the examples you gave with mirrors... Would it be totally anti-craftsman style to put in some stain-glass style mirror work that has the craftsman style to it? I really love mirrors that have different textures and colors... golds, in particular. Maybe something like this pattern, set horizontally across the mirror in varying glass patterns. (PS this is a decal...)

8/1/2012 at 1:36 PM
As someone with a craftsman home that was "updated" in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, I am so sad that we didn't have any original tile left. I know it's under there because I've seen glimpses of it sticking out under the badly laid brick. We LOVE our sizeable and prominent mantle with mirror. It's not for everyone, but it adds so much to the home. (Ours looks A LOT like the salvaged one you posted above).
8/1/2012 at 11:02 PM
I like your idea #2 to improve the scale of the fireplace relative to its surroundings. As-is it really looks strange with the mantel so high and the vast expanse of tile between firebox and mantel. Also the cast iron firebox surround seems kind of Victorian-looking or something for a Craftsman-style house -- maybe too ornate? I would see if it's possible to replace that with something simpler, perhaps from a salvage place.

You didn't address the hearth which does look pretty bad. Slate would be okay; our home from the 20s which is kind of a hybrid of Craftsman and Colonial Revival does have a basic Craftsman fireplace with quarry tile as the hearth -- it looks good and has held up.

Does the homeowner's TV have to go over the fireplace? It is not the best viewing height and as you noted there are considerable wiring considerations. We have fires every day that we can in the late fall and winter but,living in an old house, have no family room so the LR has to perform as the TV-watching room. We used to have the TV perpendicular to the FP so we could enjoy both from our seating, but that was when TVs were behemoths and we had to use a freestanding entertainment center cabinet. The only place we could put a flat screen was opposite the FP which required that we relocate the French doors into the room farther down the wall, close up the old door space with a wall, and hang the TV there (much, much lower than it would have been had we put it over the FP, which we never seriously considered).

A fireplace tip -- before it's time to make fires, clean out the firebox pretty thoroughly and paint the inside of it with a flat black paint designed for barbecues/high heat. It will make everything look very neat and highlight your fire. We burn wood but this would work for gas logs as well. Looking at crusty soot against lighter color bricks doesn't do it for me.
8/2/2012 at 7:41 AM
That's a fantastic mantle. Whatever the solution, it should be additive rather than subtractive, and reversible. Keep the mantle tile intact for the future sale because that mantel will be a selling point.

#2 lands about there. A new mid-level mantle can make a better usable space for a tv today (what will tvs look like in 10 years? who knows.) Do it right and you won't have to remove or destroy the original mantle. Do it right and you can reverse the alteration when styles, lifestyles or ownership changes and going back to the original mantle is still an option.
8/2/2012 at 3:45 PM
I agree with Brendan. The double mantle is my prefered solution, building right over the existing tilework. Any wireing can run between the tile and the new faceing (maybe in conduit or some type of chase? - don't know what your local code requires).

I just wish I had tile instead of the brick that I have. My little bungalow is pretty 'downmarket' and late in the period, so no original art glass or tile.

BTW, I ADORE that first example.
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