A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

‘Twas the Day Before Christmas Eve

And I’m about to tile the fireplace!

Apparently my busy summer went into a busy fall and now what is supposed to be “winter” (it’ll be a balmy 60° in Chicago today!).

I was going through photos this morning to see what, if anything, we’ve done in the house since I last posted in August. Except for tearing out the basement storage closet (more on that later), yeah, we’ve pretty much done nothing.

Of course that doesn’t mean I haven’t been planning or researching some project or another, because that’s what I do!

The most obvious project is the one that always demanded attention and has sat, stripped of its stony veneer since spring.


It started a few months back when I was trying to figure out the manufacturer of our existing zero-clearance fireplace, the one that the PO installed. There were no markings that I could find, other than a warning sticker about minimum clearances, so I googled that in quotation marks, et voilà, I found it! We have the Majestic WM42SX Heat Circulating Fireplace.

Replacing the monster was out of the question because of the cost of a good quality gas direct vent fireplace, and although I still contemplated removing it altogether, Pete wanted to have a fireplace. So while replacing it sometime in the future is not out of the question, it became “how can we remodel this as cheaply as possible and try to get it closer to what I’ve always envisioned”?

The installation instructions that I found were helpful in determining what I could and couldn’t do, such as keeping combustible materials a certain distance away from the opening. That meant that the wood mantel I wanted was out, unless we mounted it much higher. Since the firebox was already raised higher than I’d like because it’s sitting on a platform over our baseboard radiator, that wasn’t going to happen.

I started looking into non-combustible fireplace mantels. There were some cast concrete options, including some that looked like reclaimed wood or limestone, but they were usually either too long or more than I wanted to spend.

Eventually I ended up at the Motawi Tileworks website. Swoon! I don’t think I ever thought about creating a mantel out of tile until I saw all their gorgeous fireplace installations.

Of course my “cheaply as possible” requirement meant that a Motawi fireplace was also out of the question, so off we went to local tile stores to look at options. We ended up at the Tile Shop in Skokie where we purchased our tile for both bathrooms and decided upon a nice slate tile with subtle color changes. BTW, I highly recommend the Tile Shop—the salespeople are very helpful, they have a great selection, and a generous return policy on unused tiles.

Before that happened, however, we had to finish re-framing the fireplace and stack and smooth the textured plaster walls that used to be hidden by the stone veneer. We also had the gas line and fan switch moved to more convenient spots and added an electrical receptacle that would be close to the mantel.


Pete did virtually all the mudding and sanding, and I’m very thankful for that, because I SO do not have the patience to do it. I finished the painting (except where the built-in bookcase is going to go) and we installed the cement board last night.


I’m happy to say that the leftover living room paint matched PERFECTLY after all these years, and the quart I had to buy for the ceiling color also matched PERFECTLY. Love Benjamin Moore’s Aura paint!

I just finished laying out the tile pattern and now I just have to mix the thinset and DO IT. So I  better get to work.

If you celebrate, Merry Christmas!


  1. Sharon on December 23, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Are you still planning to build in cabinets on either side of it?

    • denise on December 23, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      Hi Sharon, YES! We’re just doing open bookcases though, and as a matter of fact the millwork is delivering the wood for it today! (Yes, it’s my Christmas present!) 🙂

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