You know that saying “the elephant in the room?” Our stone fireplace, in all its big and boulder-ous glory, was the definite elephant in our living room.
When we went through our house for the first time before buying, I thought it could be kind of cozy in a mountain cabin-ish way, but once we moved in, it just seemed so big. Yet still so drab. As much as I loved the room, with the built-ins and beams, the fireplace just didn’t feel like it fit in. Something had to be done about the elephant.
Here’s a little evolution of the living room, where you can get a good look at the fireplace, starting with the original listing photo:
I think stone can be absolutely beautiful but I don’t think it would ever be my first choice for a fireplace. I was hoping deep down that we could possibly (somehow?!) pull the stones out and start over. But the look on Jake’s face when I mentioned this was straight fear (ha!)- so we moved on. I also contemplated the idea of building out and drywalling around the stone, but the sheer size and lack of uniformity in the surface of the stones would make it pretty challenging (and create an extremely deep fireplace overall.) This may still be an option later on with further consideration and planning, but we weren’t quite ready to tackle such a project at the time!
So, knowing I was stuck with the stone fireplace, I scoured Pinterest and home interior blogs, looking for a solution. There actually was a lot of inspiration that made me feel more hopeful about incorporating the stone. I really fell in love with Emily Henderson’s stone fireplace project in their Mountain cabin fixer upper. The stones were a lot smaller and more uniform than ours, but she ended up using mortar to fill in the gaps between the stones and used a German Shmear technique to soften up the shade, too.
As if they could read my mind (a girl can dream!), Chris Loves Julia published a new blog post/tutorial on how they over-grouted the stone fireplace in their bedroom JUST as I was in the middle of deciding what to do. Absolutely loved the look and new it was my nudge to move forward.
The stone in their fireplace was a bit smaller and more uniform as well, but I was pretty confident I could achieve a similar look following their instructions. We for the most part followed their tutorial step-by-step, with a few tweaks here and there.
Just a word to the wise— this is definitely a time consuming project. I often have super unrealistic expectations of how quickly we can accomplish a project. This, this was one of them. Mostly due to the fact that our fireplace covers A TON of surface area and like I mentioned before, the depth between the rocks is very deep, hence, it was more time consuming to fill in the gaps with mortar. It took us about 6-7 hours, start to finish.
Here is what we used for the project:
Quikcrete Cement Color (color: buff and charcoal)
You’ll also need:
Corded Drill/drill attachment
Some kind of pointing tool (we used paint stirrers)
Following Chris Loves Julia’s lead, we mixed our mortar with water. They recommended about half the amount of water for dry mortar mix used (so, for every 6 cups of dry mortar mix, we used 3 cups of water). We used a 2 gallon bucket and mixed the mortar and water together with a corded drill. We did purchase this attachment to mix everything together– but be careful! If the drill starts to struggle a bit, add more water to thin out the mixture and mix slowly.
Per CLJ’s tutorial, we also purchased concrete dye to make the color of the mortar a bit more soft and less sterile. Here was my first mistake. They recommended adding 3 drops of dye per 6 cups of mortar mix. However, the concrete dye didn’t come with a dropper bottle of any sorts— just a screw off lid with a pretty wide mouth. My “drops” ended up being huge glugs and we ended up with a much darker mortar then I had wanted. To counteract the dye, we ended up mixing more dry mortar mix and water (creating a bigger batch than we needed), in order to get back to a lighter, white shade. I wasn’t able to get it quite as light as I wanted but thankfully, we found out that the mortar dries a shade lighter than when its wet. All that to say, go easy on the concrete dye— a little goes a long way!
Next, we each filled a piping bag with wet mortar and began to fill in the gaps between the stones. I struggled a bit at first with this— the bag is heavy and a bit cumbersome, but the key is to keep a steady pressure on the bag as you guide the tip through the gaps. This probably means I need to decorate more cakes or something. Definitely can and will do that.
This where the bulk of our time was spent. Like I mentioned, the gaps between our stones are super deep so we had to fill it with a TON of mortar to try to get the stones to appear smoother.
By the time we had grouted the entire fireplace, the mortar was more than ready to be flattened into the stone as it was almost dry. You want the mortar to still be moist, but not so much so that its sticking to your flattening tool. We ended up using old paint stirrers that worked great, by the way. This part was also time consuming because you’re essentially going over all of your work a second time. As we flattened the mortar into the gaps, we made sure that the mortar covered, in a thin layer, at least part of the faces of the stone. This diminishes the size and look of the stone overall!
Lastly, we took a craft brush and a sponge, dipped in warm water, and went over all of the mortar again. This helped smooth the mortar down and helped the grout lines fade naturally into the stone. As we took note of our work, the stones still seemed a bit big and less over-grouted than I had hoped. Again, I blame that mostly because of the size of the stones and the extremely deep gaps in between them. In order to achieve a softer look, I ended up mixing the sponge with a very, very watered down mixture of mortar and pat down each stone. This gave each stone a white-washed look, really toning down the severity of their color and size.
After letting it sit overnight, the mortar completely dried and we were left with our finished result. The end product definitely gives off a softer, more cottage-y vibe now, which blends in nicely with the white walls and carpet. Instead of feeling overwhelming, it adds a warmth to the room that complements rather than distracts!
Ahh. So much better.
I highly recommend the over-grouting technique, especially if you have a dated/not-the-prettiest-stone fireplace. Bonus points for the entire project costing us roughly $150- super budget friendly. The great part is that you can play around with the amount (as well as shade) of grout you use in order to achieve the effect you want. We’re so pleased with the finished product and love how it really meshes with the rest of our living room now!