Is an ornate mantel piece too much, and a smooth stucco surround too little? Find a very happy medium that packs a playful punch—with tile.

Tile on fire place in living room
LL Design Co./Mike Radford

At Sunset, we’re all about big ideas for small spaces, and finding modern ways to reinterpret classic home design with smart materials. Lately, we’ve been seeing boldly tiled fireplaces nearly everywhere we look, which is a perfect example of an everything-old-feels-new-again trend.

On the West Coast, where the Arts and Crafts movement made a big impact in the 1920s, tiled fireplace surrounds were standard. Anyone who reads real estate listings in and around Los Angeles would be familiar with the word Batchelder, which is used to describe an original fireplace in a home built around 1910 to 1928, and decorated with earthy, muted tiles made locally by Ernest Batchelder in his backyard studio in Pasadena, which shuttered during the Great Depression. (You can read about the former chocolate shop in downtown L.A. that he tiled in 1914, which was considered his masterpiece, here).

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Reimagining houses from that era to appeal to a more modern, light-filled sensibility can be a challenge. And landing on a design concept for a new-build house that has some personality can be equally perplexing. Marble can seem too formal. A carved mantle, even more so. While many designers and homeowners are choosing to clad the whole thing in smooth Roman clay, others are embracing an opportunity to make a big statement with a relatively small investment. It’s an opportunity to make a big splash with a pattern using less than 50 square feet of material (which you might be able to find in stock at a discount from a tile maker, FYI).

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As a material, tile still makes a lot of sense for use in an area that’s exposed to high heat and ash. Tiles are durable, easy to clean, and absorb heat well. We tapped into the deep knowledge of the LIVDEN founders Georgie Smith and Hilary Gibbs to get their top tile tips for this hot (pardon the pun) trend. As a bonus, LIVDEN carries 50 tile options made with at least 60% recycled materials. 

Tip 1: Amplify Accent Colors

Decorative fireplace tile is the perfect opportunity to amplify the accent colors in your overall design palette. Look for a pattern tile that predominantly displays one or more of your accent colors to reinvigorate your fireplace design.

Modern fireplace black and white tile

courtesy of LIVDEN

tiled fireplace LIVDEN
LIVDEN tiles, most of which are made with at least 60% recycled materials, are an easy way to add modern pattern without overwhelming a small living room.

Mike Bradford Photography

Tip 2: Create Contrast

Pack a punch with your fireplace design by selecting a decorative tile that showcases a bold design in a colorway that contrasts the other elements in your design plan. In other words, it’s a great way to add color and spark to a neutral room. 

Tile Fireplace

Christopher Patey

Tip 3: Try Large-Scale Designs

Don’t be afraid of large-scale tile designs or a full installation, which can turn your fireplace into a stunning focal point and create the illusion of more space.

Tip 4: Blend Materials

Looking for a budget-friendly way to update your fireplace? Try strategically blending a small amount of patterned tile with other neutral materials, like a wood mantel. With a pattern tile that really pops, you don’t have to use a lot to create the visual impact you’re looking for. 

Tip 5: Do the Unexpected 

When you think of tiling a fireplace, you probably think about tiling the front-facing façade. But that’s not all you can tile. Create an unexpected design moment in your space by adding a tile area rug to the floor just around a free-standing fireplace or woodstove. Or tile the interior of an unused fireplace to create a focal point without the flames.

Tip 6: Take It Outside

Entrepreneur and Create & Cultivate founder Jaclyn Johnson built an outdoor fireplace surround with blush-pink Zellige tile, which is durable enough to hold up to sun and rain, adding a little Moroccan oasis energy to her backyard.