Our fireplace is definitely one of my favorite DIY projects of all time. I decided pretty early on in our living room makeover, that this fireplace HAD to be concrete. I love the look of concrete feather finish and I’ve used it on shelves before as well. I used Henry’s feather finish on both projects and it’s a really easy product to work with. For this DIY Concrete Fireplace, it was kind of a three step process.
How to DIY a Concrete Fireplace:
First, we demo’d the old fireplace out, which included removing this craftsman style wood fireplace that was here when we moved in. While it’s a beautiful surround, it really didn’t fit our house or my vision for the living room. Once the surround was off we ripped off all the ugly brown tile and we were left with what you see in the pictures below.
Once demo (and wallpaper removal) was complete we had to figure out a way to build the fireplace out. I knew I wanted a really clean lined, modern look. Originally I wanted to build the entire fireplace out in such a way that there was no mantle and it was the same depth all the way up to the ceiling. That idea was quickly veto’d by my husband, Joel haha! Then I decided I could just build a little surround around the already bumped out lower part and still have a nice clean look. Bonus: Our built-in storage benches on either side would be flush with the bump out! Clean lines for the win!! I will always be a clean lined, modern minimalist at heart. Even if I do live in a Queen Anne Victorian house now.
To bump out the fireplace, we just used 2×4’s – I’ll let the photos do the explaining here. We did it in such a way that we did not have to drill through any concrete. We just used L-brackets to attach the 2×4’s in some spots. The upper half of our fireplace is plaster, FYI. All I did on it was use some drywall mud to repair gouges and holes, then applied the feather finish directly to the plaster.
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Once the fireplace bump out structure was in place I was ready to do the concrete feather finish. I did a little research first and found that my friend Tasha at Kaleidoscope Living (formerly Designer Trapped in a Lawyer’s Body) did this to her fireplace for under $100. Sold!!
What you will need for this DIY Concrete Fireplace Makeover:
I covered the whole thing with 1/4 inch cement backer board using the screws made especially for backer board. Make sure you countersink every single one so your concrete feather finish will go on smoothly. I did make a dumb mistake and placed the backer board on with the grid lines and letters facing out. This made covering with the concrete feather finish take many more coats than had I put those facing in. You live, you learn. You DIY, you learn….sorry for the awful photo and this is the only one I took of the backer board process.
Once the backer board was up I used joint tape to cover all of the seams. Now it was time to mix up the concrete feather finish and start coating the fireplace! I was nervous about this part but once you start, you get a nice rhythm going. Play some tunes or listen to a book on audio. I found a handy tool when I was skim coating a wall that also made this job a lot easier. It’s called a magic trowel and if you’ve ever worked with drywall mud with a metal trowel, this thing will blow your mind. It works SO MUCH BETTER! It’ll take a few tries to get the hang of it.
For my first couple of coats, I mixed my concrete up slightly thinner than the box suggested so that it would go on smoothly. Otherwise, follow the directions for mixing on the back of the box. I made sure I didn’t have any really big ridges as I went, and was a little more meticulous because I knew I didn’t want to sand my feather finish. It makes a huge mess, and the color/texture changes when you sand and I didn’t want that look. You might, so I suggest you practice the finish on a piece of wood or scrap something, sand and see if you like it.
Another word of advice, this stuff dries so fast especially if you have zero humidity like I do here in the west. So don’t mix up a huge batch unless you’re prepared to work super fast so it doesn’t start setting up in your pan. Once you have the mixed finish in your pan, take your mud knife and start smoothing it on your fireplace surface, in about 2 feet sections. Then use your magic trowel to smooth it out. Wipe your trowel with your wet rag so it’s clean and smooth for your next round. Repeat this process until you have one coat on the whole surface. For the corners you can use your fingers or use your trowel no get a nice edge on those.
Let the layer dry for an hour or two then do this over and over until you have your desired thickness/finish. I wound up doing about 6 coats on the lower portion that has the cement backer board on it, but only 3 coats on the upper plaster portion, thanks to those darn letters on the backer board! Oooops!!
The finish will vary in places but that’s the beauty of this concrete feather finish in my opinion. It’s very textural and natural, exactly what I wanted in this space. The juxtaposition of the cement with the brass Victorian insert and marble hearth just makes my heart sing with joy.
This same process could easily be used on a brick or stone fireplace though. You could attach the cement board directly to your brick/stone OR you could do lattice strips of wood, attach cement board to those strips then cover with the concrete feather finish. If you have any questions feel free to ask!