Choosing Fireplace Tile, Part Two: The Installation

I can’t stop looking at our fireplace.  This past weekend, mon mari and I placed our new glass tile fireplace surround and grouted it.  Of course I’m biased, but the tile we used is some of the most beautiful stuff I have ever seen.  The photos that appear here do not do it justice.  There is my disclaimer!

This shot shows how shiny glass tile can be. The sheen adds an extra bit of elegance, I think.

After visiting several stores, and looking through what seemed like hundreds of tile samples, we settled on a glass tortois shell tile by Elida.  I’m not sure why it’s not spelled tortoise, but it’s tortois.  To read about our tile selection woes, check out my previous post: Choosing Fireplace Tile, Part One.

The tile we chose looks like bits of iridescent shells that dot the shores of a beach or lake.  I was really drawn to all the subtle colors: greens, oranges, blues, browns, reds, creams, and purples.  This tile has an intriguing rainbow effect that shimmers in daylight and gets richer and deeper in tone in the evening.  We chose a dark, chocolate brown, un-sanded grout and it camouflages the tile joints perfectly, while setting off the colors in the tile.

This is a very close shot of the tiles, as we prepared to do a final wipe-down!

This was our first time working with un-sanded grout and mon mari had to mix it up in the garage.  The result was a thick paste similar to chocolate frosting.  We spent the morning prior to grouting reading up on the pros and cons of sanded vs. un-sanded grout.  Many tile professionals seem to use them interchangeably, but there are folks who warn that sanded grout can scratch glass tile.  Since we had already spent a little more than we planned on the tile, we definitely didn’t want any scratches, so we went with an un-sanded, powdered grout that is combined with water and mixed in a bucket.

This was also our first time using a dark shade of grout.  In the past, we have worked with white, biscuit, and taupe grout.  What a mess the brown grout was!  I think a lot of the ick-factor was exacerbated by the fact that we have a white, wooden fireplace mantle and white molding flanking the fireplace.  It seemed that we grouted and scrubbed and grouted and scrubbed!  As we rubbed the grout from the face of the tile, little trails of brown watery goo got all over our molding.  It was truly a test of patience!

This is the tile after we placed it on the surround with adhesive and before it was grouted.

Another thing that we learned from using a dark grout is that the tile adhesive in the joints can show through when you rub the grout from the face of the tile after it has set.  Some of the research that we did warned that un-sanded grout can be thinner than sanded grout and that was definitely our experience!  We ended up grouting our fireplace surround twice and using small amounts of grout here and there for touch-ups.  The unexpected benefit of grouting the tile surround twice, is that it greatly enhanced the color and richness of the tile!

All grouted. The color difference is very evident here.

I never thought that a little tile project could make our living room look as elegant as it does … now I need to re-decorate the rest of the room to match!

The finished mantle.