all fired up:  tile fireplace inspiration

by clé tile | published: Nov 06, 2023

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design / photography: the workroom

if you’ve got a room that is calling out for strong visual impact, there’s an easy way to fire things up: tile your fireplace. tiling this obvious focal point is no new idea, but there are more tile options than ever and endless creative ways to use them. only have a decorative fireplace or one that no longer functions? don’t have a fireplace at all? no need for your design dreams to go up in smoke: we have many fireplace tile ideas for you, too. read on.

why choose tile for your fireplace?

A fireplace is often the anchor of the room, if not an entire home, so it’s a natural place to introduce color, pattern, and texture. Fireplaces are the right size for an high-impact design choice or a luxe material; it’s enough to make an impact, but not quite a whole wall or an entire floor, though we’re fans of that too.

Great design thrives on limits. Fireplaces have defined edges, so you know where to begin and end the tile installation. Tile can also be used to emphasize the shape of the fireplace, or to draw attention to a particular section or feature.

Tile can add or emphasize a contemporary or a traditional style, through the judicious application of material, color, pattern and finish.

most of clé’s tiles can be used across these surfaces, but remember: be sure to check with your experienced installer and read the product specifications and material guidelines for each product (you’ll find them on each product page). If you’re working with a working fireplace, keep in mind that no material is impervious to the effects of heat, smoke, fire… and life.

tiles to consider

While we’re happy to provide the inspiration, the only person you can rely on to help you select the right material for your home is your installer. If you already have a material or design in mind, be sure to confirm that your installer has worked successfully with it before, as different tile materials require different installation skills and techniques. This is particularly the case with artisan tile like ours: not every installer (despite their experience) has worked with artisan tile and when an inexperienced installer meets artisan tile — the results won’t be good. (As we always say, your tile is only as good as your installer.) Share this golden rule with them — and make sure to be there when they install it: this is your installation, your work of art in the most prominent of places: the fireplace.

not-so-basic brick

Brick is one of the most traditional fireplace materials — for good reason. It’s fire and heat-resistant, as well as durable. We also think the earthy textures fit the warm and hearth-y vibe of a fireplace. clé’s brick collections offer a more design-forward vision for a brick fire feature.

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modern farmhouse brick in brindled blue gloss. design / photo: ryan clawson

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liberty glazed brick (similar)design: anaber / photo: charlotte lea

not-so-basic brick

Ceramic and porcelain tiles are extremely heat resistant and durable for the area around a fireplace. The sky is the limit for style variations when it comes to ceramic tiles, from something as simple and quotidian as clé subway tile to the decorative exuberance of fornace brioni + cristina celestino.

natural stone and marble tiles

Natural stone and marble tiles add a touch of classicism and luxury to any fireplace. There’s no easier way to elevate a room than to add natural stone and marble tiles (carrara marble, deborah osburn’s malachite, travertine, a dream!) to a large fireplace surround.

Even if your entire space isn’t ready for full 1970s glam, you can have a sybaritic moment with a fireplace surround using calacatta viola tile.

In this high-design living room, lapidary’s fluted and sculpted shapes introduce interest through their variegated texture, as well as their shaped surfaces.

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lapidary sculpted shapes etui petit in red travertine

cement tile

Cement tiles are durable with the correct care and maintenance, but as always, remember that cement tile will patina. Depending on the kind of fireplace you have (wood, gas, electric, or just for show) smoke or heat might create additional patina patterns. Consult with your very experienced installer to get an idea of what to expect. While that’s not a problem for us “patina people(™),” if you want to minimize the effects of time, life and heat, consider a glazed ceramic or brick or stone or marble tile as an alternative. (Although remember that nothing is unaffected by a working fireplace.)

another reason to consider cement tile (and why its been popular around the world for nearly two centuries): how colorful and patterned it can be. we love the look of cement tile on faces in particular.

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encaustic cement tiles in checkered past. design: consort design / photography: daniel collopy

patterned tiles

A fireplace is a perfect place to add a strong pattern without the worry of overwhelming a space.

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encaustic cement tiles in checkered past. design: salthouse collective / photography: charlotte lea

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encaustic cement tiles in rio. design: ana claudia / photography: Nick Glimenakis

fireplace surround tile ideas

fireplaces are built out of a variety of different elements, all of which can be tiled.

the fireplace surround is the larger wall space that envelops the fireplace itself: it may be recessed or protruding or may even be created by simply using tile to define the fireplace’s physical boundaries. simply put: this is top tile territory.

glazed brick takes it to the top. design: hammer + spear; photography: roger davies.

eastern earthenware (in rice paper) goes for tone-on-tone elegance. design: giancarlo valle; photography: stephen kent johnson for architectural digest.

Or, go big with your surround; envision an entire wall as the surround for added drama.

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clé slate. design: abigail shae, abigail shea interiors / photography: erin little

tile for the fireplace face (a part of the surround)

the fireplace “face” is the outward-facing front of the fireplace — often with a mantel above — that effectively frames the fire box. this gives you a great design opportunity to create a focal point, often by contrasting the surround with a second material (we suggest… more tile).

eastern earthenware (in smudge) gives a contrasting, darker frame. design: olive and oak interiors; photography: brandi schutt.

zenith patterned cement squares fire up the geometry. design: lindye galloway; photography: chad mellon.

as this space is generally smaller than a surround, you have the opportunity to go bigger in terms of color and pattern to create a sharp focal point.

tile for the fireplace mantel

the mantel is the shelf that sits above the fireplace. an oft-underutilized opportunity for tiles’ tones and textures.

we love to see tile used in unexpected places, and a mantel fits the bill. take a subtle approach and cover the mantel with your surround tile for an integrated look, or use another tile for a standout shelf.

this decorative fireplace features a tile trio, highlighted by the creation of a bright mantel with zellige in indian saffron.

for a seamless look, emily henderson used the same belgian reproduction terracotta to build a beauty of a mantel.

design: emily henderson / photography: sarah tramp

the hearth

the hearth is a fireproof area on the floor or platform around and in front of the fireplace that defines the overall footprint of the fireplace.

this area presents you with two possibilities. if your hearth is level with the floor, you can carry your floor tile all the way to the fireplace (note: do not do this with wood or other floor coverings that are not fireproof: errant embers can cause irreparable damage and, well… fire) or define a hearth with a tile that contrasts with the room’s floor. alternatively, if your hearth is elevated, you have a clean slate to add color or pattern, as this is as much a focal point as the face (hey, why not combine them?).

there is no denying the visual impact of this elevated hearth covered in jacobsen cement. design: by colossus; photography: jena peffley.

the firebox

the firebox is the inside of the fireplace itself.

if you have a working fireplace, never use our tile inside it. we do not offer any tile for a working firebox: that requires specific fireproof materials and must be sourced elsewhere.

however, if you have a non-working or purely decorative fireplace, the design opportunities are endless.

this herringbone installation of our classic weathered white zellige feels appropriate and vintage in this decorative firebox. design: apartment 34; photography: spotted sf.

alternative fireplaces

some states and urban areas prohibit or limit wood burning in fireplaces and stoves, making alternatively fueled fireplaces more common than ever.

both ethanol gas and electric fireplaces emit significantly less heat, offering more design options for those concerned with excessive heat. as always, refer to product descriptions to ensure your chosen tile is up to the task and won’t go up in smoke (literally).

for those lacking a fireplace altogether, you can still have the hearth of your dreams courtesy of today’s wall-mounted and standalone stoves and fireplace units. similarly, adding a wood burning or pellet stove provides the same hot spots for tiling. why not create a hearth or surround for these? try one that extends to the ceiling for cohesiveness, drama, and instant soul.

a recessed surround, created with foundry flats in sand cast instantly creates a backdrop for this log burner. design + photography: place interiors.

designing a fireplace with tile

We’ve said it before: tiling a fireplace can help transform a room from blah to beauteous, humdrum to haute by reinforcing and underlining the style of your room, introduce a slightly new vibe, or to leaven the overall look with a new style all together.

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architect's palette terracotta in blotter. design: zach leigh, z is for zorro / photography: virtually here studios

We’ll always love simple and modern with simple and modern. However…

Would an earthy dark brick fireplace ground your ethereal, modern furniture and floating white curtains? Has your traditional and antique-filled parlor needed some new life? Maybe you would want to play around with the idea of a bright concrete tile with a modern pattern.

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belgian reproduction flemish black terracotta, star + cross. design: lindsey haymond / photography: port benton

Since fireplaces are self-contained and relatively small in scale to a room, they are a great option for adding in a strong design element, from a bright color, eye-catching pattern or interesting material.

Mix and match. Draw attention to the architectural shapes of a fireplace by mixing and matching tile materials, colors and finishes. Here, a traditional, textured brick bridges the gap between a rough-hewn mantel and a modern surround of a glossy zellige tile.

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foundry flats forge brick in sawdust, clé zellige moroccan tile in battled armor. design: elizabeth ashley homes / photography: john stoffer

find your spark, and get emboldened

whatever your fireplace looks like, tile provides an opportunity to add character and architectural detail in an unexpected space. want to echo an archway? create a tile arch on your fireplace. think linear is too predictable? add some angles. let yourself get creative.

instant architecture, thanks to our scribe’s ink zellige in 2×6. design: studio surface; photography: jennie corti.

a tile arch in natural zellige breaks up the angular space with; natural zellige in 2×6. design + photography: janette yost.

installing tile over a brick fireplace surround

often, you’ll find that your brick fireplace tile needs a refresh, and tile is a great choice for that. how you decide to do this depends on a myriad of factors, including the condition of the brick, your intentions for the fireplace, and your overall design scheme.

as always, we do not recommend taking the DIY route: instead, please consult an installer who has considerable experience in working with artisan tile in fireplace contexts. it may be a small space, but that doesn’t mean you or your installer should take shortcuts. make sure that the installer:

  • understands which tile you want to use and is comfortable with its use in that context
  • samples the tile you want to use
  • gives you exact quantities needed (make sure to add 15 + % for overage)
  • reviews the material guidelines available on the tile PDP
  • creates mock up groutboards for your review to select the right grout
  • lays out the tile before they install it making sure to blend the tile for the look you want

and as ever, make sure you’re present during installation: it’s your own art installation!

tiled fireplaces: cleaning and maintenance

Installing artisan tile is not a DIY project, especially when we’re upping the ante with heat, fire, smoke and all the other complications that come along with fireplaces. Your experienced installer and your design team are the only ones who can advise you on tile selection and installation.

After your installer has made several grouted mock-up boards for your review, if it’s possible to do so, view them on or near your fireplace to check whether the light from your fire source affects the look you’re going for.

A tip for your installation team: when you’re laying out a patterned tile for a fireplace, lay out your dry run installation out from the center, closest to the firebox.

one of the questions that frequently comes up is how to keep things clean when you’re playing with fire (or more aptly, smoke, ash, firewood, pellets, etc.) start by accepting that regardless of the tile you choose, it will inevitably accumulate the tell-tale signs of use — which it should: we’re big believers in patina! but some tiles require a bit more maintenance than others, and this should factor into your ultimate choice.

glazed tile, which has already been through a firing process, is easily cleaned. this includes zellige (except natural) and eastern earthenware. this also applies to glazed brick like architect’s palette and modern farmhouse brick. specific cleaning instructions and product recommendations can be found on each product’s web page, under the material guidelines section at the bottom of the page.

cement tile is also easily cleaned; however, you must seal it properly and maintain the sealed tile over time. unglazed tile, including thin brick, will also need to be sealed because of its porous surfaces, but be aware that not all tiles in these collections are usable for this space. remember to check the product specifications for each tile collection as well as each colorway.

feeling like it’s time to turn up the heat on your fireplace design? see more examples and find inspiration in our fireplace lookbook. you’ll never want to see boring red brick again. remember: there is no excuse for a sad surround. fire away!