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How to get the look of graphic cement tile (for much less)

As promised, I’ll show you the steps for creating the look of graphic cement tile, for much less.

Off the entry of our house is a quiet living room. One thing we loved so much about this new house was the potential for impactful updates that didn’t cost a fortune. This room is a great example. With the help of paint, we’ve created an updated space that works with our modern/traditional style and sets the tone for the rest of the house.

The biggest impact in the room is undoubtedly the graphic fireplace tile.

We have long-terms plans to change up the whole facade of the fireplace, which left me with an almost risk-free freedom to try something completely crazy to give the fireplace a much-needed facelift. If it was a total flop, no big deal. We’ll likely pull it all out eventually anyway. Sometimes I just need creative license to try something new and the fireplace was the perfect canvas.

Before we get into the how-tos, let’s look at the before and after:

Ah, I love a good transformation!

The tile is a little crazy, I’ll admit. And yet, it feels so fresh and happy, and that makes it worth it.

If you have a space in your home (a fireplace surround, backsplash, floor) that needs an inexpensive update, perhaps this how-to will give you just the inspiration you need.

Gorgeous graphic cement tile has been a trend in home design for the past few years and it just keeps growing. While I could have just purchased tiles to replace the granite tile on our fireplace, I wasn’t excited about spending a bunch of money on an update that might not stay longterm. So rather than buy, I turned to my DIY ways and decided to just paint the surround to look like cement tile. And I’d say it worked!

To get started, I had to select a pattern. A quick search on Pinterest offered so many gorgeous examples. I looked through photos and tile companies until I found a pattern that I met my two criteria: 1. I could live with the pattern and 2. The pattern could be easily replicated and handpainted.

After narrowing it down to a couple of finalists, I decided on this pattern from a company called Tabarka Studio. I loved the simplicity, the handpainted feel and it seemed like a very simple pattern to paint.

The trickiest part was figuring out the math to make the pattern perfect.

The tiles on our fireplace are 12″ x 6″ rectangles, but I figured I could fake them into 6″ x 6″ tiles. I used a piece of grid paper, a ruler and pencil to find the correct proportions and then painted a few samples to give it a try.

DOWNLOAD MY TEMPLATE BELOW

With my pattern selected, I started in on the fireplace makeover.

STEP ONE | Clean the tile to remove any dirt, soot, etc.

I just used dish soap, an old scrub brush, and a magic eraser.

STEP TWO | Paint tile with primer

For the base coat, I used basic Zinsser Primer, taping off the carpet and around the mantle first.

With just that first coat of primer on there, I knew this was going to be a good choice. I taped up my paper samples just to make sure I loved the pattern, the scale, and figure out placement.

STEP THREE | Paint the base coat

I could have used two or three coats of primer, but the white was a bit stark for our house. Instead, I pulled out extra flat ceiling paint (Shoji White, by Benjamin Moore) which has a much creamier, warmer undertone.

STEP FOUR | Draw the pattern

Using a ruler and pencil, I first marked the tiles into 6″ squares (just drew a line in the center of each 12″ tile). On every tile I made small marks in equal increments along all sides and connected the lines, alternating the diagonal direction.

(That sounds super confusing. Sorry. I explain the pattern making process in the template pdf. Download below.

Penciling in the pattern was the most labor-intensive step. It took a few hours (maybe 4 or 5? split between a few evenings) and I just popped in my headphones and listened to a book or podcast.

STEP FIVE | Paint the pattern

Using a 1/2″ flat artist’s brush, paint between the lines. This part doesn’t have to be perfect – in fact, one of the things I love the most about the inspiration tile is how imperfect and handpainted it looks.

For paint, I used black chalkboard paint. My main reason was that I was hoping to get that dusty, slightly aged look (see below for more on that) and didn’t want any sheen.

Painting was much faster than marking the pattern. The first coat took about 2 hours.

The tile would have been fine with one coat, but it was a little more transparent and the brush strokes were slightly more visible than I wanted, so I went back over with a second coat.

You can see the difference between one and two coats above, and the finished fireplace below.

FULL DISCLOSURE: 

Our chimney has a small water leak that has caused the paint to bubble. I started the project earlier this winter and only got so far as painting the base coat and marking the pattern. At that point, we were having carpet installed and everything from the upstairs was piled in the living room for several weeks. Once the carpet was done and furniture moved back up, I went back to work on the fireplace. We were experiencing the wettest winter ever and unfortunately, moisture had caused the paint to bubble.

My two options:

Sand down the paint and start over (knowing that until the chimney is completely fixed, water will likely leak and cause damage again).

Just keep going and embrace the bubbled paint.

Guess which option I chose :)

You can’t really see the texture unless you are up close and it honestly doesn’t bother me at all. It may cause the paint to wear more, so I’ll keep you posted if it all starts peeling off anytime soon.

Also, when I removed the tape, it pulled up a bit of the paint from the tile. I just went back over with my brush and touched up.

STEP SIX | Season the chalk paint

 

To get that more aged look, I rubbed chalk all over the black paint and lightly wiped it off.

You may remember I did the same thing with the painted lamps in my studio. This post explains the process a little more.


And it’s done!

The graphic pattern gives the otherwise traditional room a nice dose of energy and the classic black and white pattern still feels versatile.

Many have asked – on the living room reveal post and Instagram – if the paint holds up the heat of the fireplace. I would love to give a great answer … but the truth is, we haven’t had a fire in the fireplace since painting the tile. I think it will be just fine because the tile doesn’t get very hot, but I can’t guarantee it. Most interior latex paint is rated to withstand the heat of a fireplace surround (around 200*).

If you paint an area that gets much more wear and tear, be sure to use several coats of protective finish (like this) to seal. This post is a good one from another DIYer who shows how she painted her tile floors.

I put together a guide with my template and how-to instructions to make recreating this project a bit easier.

The download is free and can be found in THE ARCHIVE, my library of freebies. If you are already a JDC subscriber, just enter your email address; if you are new, pop in your email and you’ll be in!

If you do paint your tile, please let me know! I’d love to see how it turns out …

Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you asap.

20 Responses to How to get the look of graphic cement tile (for much less)

  1. Louise November 25, 2017 at 4:18 am #

    Wow. I applaud your tenacity. I’m not sure I could have gotten the pencil-draft right. I’m glad you told us it took several hours as I would have felt really deflated otherwise.
    So sad to have all that effort just for the paint to bubble. I thought your cleaning, prep and primer would have taken care of that problem. Maybe you need to use a pool paint rather than a fireplace paint!
    You also had a ‘heat-proof’ paint in the picture towards the start, but you didn’t say where you used this. Was this on the inside section of the fireplace?
    All-in-all, this was a fabulous result. You’ll have tested some good ideas of what to do the fireplace in when you eventually restore or replace it.

  2. Ellen May 26, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    i love this look! if this can also be done on floors, how do you think it would hold up on a tile island counter top? would the polyurethane coating be sufficient? thanks so much for the inspiration.

  3. Jen May 25, 2017 at 5:29 am #

    Quick question: was your tile shiny? I worry about paint sticking to my shiny granite tiles. Maybe chalk paint would work?? I have actually been planning to try this same thing with my fireplace for the last year. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • emily May 25, 2017 at 9:51 am #

      Yes, our tile was shiny. The first coat of primer stuck really well.

  4. Tracy May 25, 2017 at 4:44 am #

    You are so brave! I’m fine with painting but masterpiece is something to be marveled at, for sure! I love it and great job!

  5. Shara Lee May 24, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    Fabulous DIY with an excellent tutorial (as always). This provides such wonderful inspiration.
    Thanks!

  6. Kristen May 24, 2017 at 3:46 pm #

    This is an awesome update! Such a smart idea for an inexpensive fix!

  7. Jan May 24, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

    It looks amazing! What a great way to update the granite tiles!

  8. Sylvie May 24, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    Beautiful….I wish I could do this over brick!! At what point did you use the High-Heat Paint?

    • emily May 24, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

      from what I read, I think you only need high heat paint for things like radiators and bbq grills … but I would double check with a paint store first :)

  9. Amber May 24, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    Great idea! I hate our FP marble too! Im currently brainstorming ideas to make it look better till we update it for real

  10. Cindee May 24, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    I want to paint my laundry room floor, it’s linoleum. It’s a temporary fix until we put in tile probably in a year or so. Do you think this will work on linoleum? I just might need to google it.

    Thanks for the tutorial! It looks pretty darn good.

    • emily May 24, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

      I would google it … I’m guessing there is a paint that will adhere to linoleum!

  11. Wendee S. May 24, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    One minute I’m curled up on my sofa, enjoying a cup of tea, catching up on my emails and reading your blog post…. and the next moment I find myself on my hands and knees, scrubbing our fireplace hearth tile. (that I’ve hated since we moved in 11 years ago) I’ve already scrubbed it clean and gotten the base coat down. ☺️ Thank you for the inspiration! I have a feeling this is going to be one of those projects that when it’s done I wonder why I didn’t do it years ago!

    • emily May 24, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

      woohoo! That’s amazing.

  12. Kelly May 24, 2017 at 10:20 am #

    Wow! What a clever idea and it looks amazing! Thank you for the inspiration!

  13. Michelle at bebravekeepgoing.com May 24, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    This looks fabulous! So inspired and I don’t even have a fireplace.

  14. Jenn A May 24, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    You have such great, creative solutions. It looks fabulous!

  15. Cindy K Schroeder May 24, 2017 at 9:35 am #

    Where did you get your curtain rods?

    • emily May 24, 2017 at 1:18 pm #

      The curtain rods are from Crate + Barrel.

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