When we first walked through what would be our new home back in September, we were surprised to find a fireplace in the main living area. None of the pictures from the listing had a view of the fireplace and when we first laid eyes on it, we knew exactly why. I mean look at this thing…
Honestly, at first glance we thought it was one of those faux fireplaces you can buy from the store. But upon closer inspection we could see that it was a true gas fireplace, and immediately my mind started spinning thinking of all of the potential this thing had.
Fast forward a few months – after we had signed on the dotted line and moved all of our belongings to our new home, we both agreed the fireplace needed a serious makeover. Being the handy guy that he is, my husband felt confident that we could give the fireplace a face lift, DIY style. I was up for the challenge (knowing he would have to do all of the dirty work 😉 ), so we started coming up with a plan for what we wanted it to look like. Together we came up with the idea to remove the cheap wood paneling, frame it up to the ceiling to give a more authentic look, and finish it with stone. Lastly, I had my heart set on adding a chunky, rustic mantle to give it the final touch (see how I ended up DIY’ing our own version here!).
So the next day, we were off to the local brick, block and tile store! We knew we wanted stacked stone in a neutral color and after looking at what seemed like a thousand different samples, we found a winner! We decided to go with a cultured stone product because we loved the look, and it was around half the cost of natural. Once they loaded up our truck, they gave us a quick ‘how-to’ pep talk for installing the stone, and we were on our way!
The first step was to remove all of the wood paneling and dry wall, stripping the fireplace down to the original framing.
Next, my husband framed it the rest of the way up. We wanted to make it look like an authentic fireplace that was floor to ceiling, giving it a dramatic effect. Since the fireplace was already functional and piped outside, this feature was added strictly for looks to give the fireplace that ‘wow’ factor that it deserved.
Once everything was framed out, it was time to install the backerboard. This is a thin layer of concrete that has fiberglass mesh on its sides and is used under the stone to provide a firm and even surface. There are a couple of different brands to choose from but essentially they are all the same. You should be able to find this at any local hardware/lumber store – we ended up going with USG Durock® Cement Board that was available at the local brick/stone warehouse we purchased our stone from. We also hung up our DIY distressed rustic wood mantle at this time too, installing it directly to the frame.
Once the USG Durock® Cement Board was in place and the mantle was hung, it was time for the fun part – applying the mortar! (And by fun, I mean most difficult, make-you-want-to-pull-your-hair-out-and-give-up, never doing this again, part 😉 )
Before we could start installing the stone, we first had to put a thin layer of mortar (called a scratch coat) over the cement board and go over it with the square notch trowel in order to give the stone something to grip to. Once the scratch coat was applied we let it dry for about an hour before installing any stone. (Some sections dried longer due to the stone installation process spanning a few weekends).
After the first layer of mortar had dried for an hour, it was time to start applying the stones. The stones we ended up choosing came in 3 different sizes – 6″, 12″ and 18″ sections as well as a number of corner pieces. This made it easy to breakup the pattern to ensure that our seams didn’t line up. It was a lot like putting together a puzzle. One by one, we applied a layer of mortar to the back of the stone and smooshed it up against the partially dry scratch coat. After holding it firmly in place for 20-30 seconds, it set up nicely and held strong on its own. We started from the bottom working our way up. That way, each layer had a stone underneath to rest on as the mortar dried, helping the stones to stay in place.
This process was extremely time consuming. It seemed like almost every piece had to be cut down to the right size in order to fit the space we were working with.
After a few weekends of work we finally installed the last piece of stone and jumped for joy that this project was officially finished! It was a labor-intensive DIY project and I might not ever be able to convince my husband to do any future masonry work, but in the end it was so so SO worth it! The finished fireplace gives a completely different feel to the room and totally transforms the space. I am obsessed!