all fired up: the clé guide to using tile in your fireplace

by clé tile | published: Dec 23, 2021

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, of course, but there are more tile options than ever and endless creative ways to use them, so we’ve mapped some ideas and suggestions for your home fireplace. 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: you, too, have many options. read on.

for installation inspiration, make sure to check out our tile lookbook: click on the fireplace tab to spark your imagination.

tile, hearth, and home: designing a fireplace with tile

a vibrant, artistic room with a fireplace tiled with zellige eastern earthenware squares in fired incense.
eastern earthenware (in fired incense) smolders with color and depth on this fully focal fireplace. design: giancarlo valle; photography: stephen kent johnson for architectural digest.

the fireplace is design real estate worth maximizing, with multiple areas for tile placement. most of clé’s tiles can be used across these surfaces, but remember: be sure to read the product specifications and material guidelines for each product.

for a glance at your options, check out our fireplace-friendly tile. you are, after all, playing with fire.

prime territory for tile: the fireplace surround

this 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.

a modern living room with a fireplace tiled in clé tile glazed thin brick in a custom matte moss color. a living room with a fireplace tiled in clé tile zellige squares in weathered white.
on the left, glazed brick takes it to the top. design: hammer + spear; photography: roger davies. on the right, eastern earthenware (in rice paper) goes for tone-on-tone elegance. design: giancarlo valle; photography: stephen kent johnson for architectural digest.

put your best face forward

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).

a bright white living room with a contrasting fireplace tiled in eastern earthenware zellige squares in smudge. an artistic fireplace tiled with clé tile cement squares in zenith.
on the left, eastern earthenware (in smudge) gives a contrasting, darker frame. design: olive and oak interiors; photography: brandi schutt. on the right, 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 a bit bigger in terms of color and pattern to create a sharp focal point. we love the look of cement tile on faces, whether it’s a pattern, a color, or a texture. design tip: to map out a patterned cement tile for a fireplace, consider using a cardboard template and lay out the tile from the center.

make tile work on the fireplace mantel

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.

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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. photography: sarah tramp.

a modern fireplace tiled with clé tile cement squares from artist erica tanov in jacobsen.
there is no denying the visual impact of this elevated hearth covered in jacobsen cement. design: by colossus; photography: jena peffley.

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 one of 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?).


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.

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.

an artistic fireplace tiled with clé tile zellige bejmat tiles in scribe's ink. Mayme-Stansfield-image-1640119155507-final
on the left, instant architecture, thanks to our scribe’s ink zellige in 2×6. design: studio surface; photography: jennie corti. on the right, a tile arch in natural zellige breaks up the angular space with; natural zellige in 2×6. design + photography: janette yost.

tiled fireplaces: cleaning and maintenance

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!

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