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Creating a Fireplace Surround

Fireplaces, especially wood-burning units, are often the heart of interior home design. Inevitably, the warm crackle of the fire becomes the focal point of social and family gatherings. On holidays, gifts are opened at the foot of the fire. Somehow fires invoke family memories and reminiscences otherwise forgotten. Yet this uncanny ability to inspire friends and family is not simply a result of the dancing flames. Mood is created by the entire package: the mantel, trim and, of course, the fireplace surround.

All of these aspects work together to build that soothing and peaceful environment, and not just for gatherings, but for homeowners who want a place to relax and warm their toes every evening. Despite the current focus on creating a fireplace surround, it is important to ensure that the surround complements the mantel, trim, and overall aesthetic of the home.

In creating a fireplace surround, there are a few initial factors that should be considered. First, determine in what capacity the fireplace will be used. Will it be relegated to special occasions or on a daily basis to provide heat? If on a daily basis, maintenance must be considered for wood-burning fireplaces.

Budget is also an important factor. Large, natural stone surrounds can get very expensive. So be careful not to get in over your head before you consider the ramifications your design will have on your bank account.

The other main consideration, and the heart of any design, involves which material to use in constructing the surround. Their are a wealth of choices including limestone, brick, wood, concrete, tile, marble, and other natural stones. In some cases these can mix and match, most commonly in the combination of a tile surround with a wood mantel and trim. Design of your fireplace surround is limited only by your imagination. Following are some ideas for creating a fireplace surround, with a focus on the more popular materials listed above.


Brick has long been the traditional choice. It has, however, steadily decreased in popularity because it tends to darken a room and because stone and other materials offer much more diversity.


Stone surounds are exceedingly popular. They include limestone, granite, marble, and others. There are several benefits to a stone fireplace surround.

  • No two stones are alike. The beauty of a stone surround is that you are guaranteed a unique result. Every stone has its own texture and color.
  • Freedom is another plus for stone. That is, you can design the surround as simple or as intricate as you would like. Again, remember that your surround should match your mantel and trim.
  • Local stone is a popular and eco-friendly choice. Many homeowners prefer to have a surround that illustrates the area in which they live. What is better than stones pulled off the mountains that populate your “backyard,” so to speak. In addition, using local stone saves on shipping costs and fuel, which often results in money saved for you.
  • Safety and durability. Stone is also the safest choice in fireplace surrounds. It is in no way flammable and will outlast other materials. For this reason stone is advantageous for outdoor fireplaces as well.

Wood, Plaster, Resin

These three materials are more common with prefabricated gas fireplaces. The obvious dangers of combustion limits them as wood-burning surrounds. Nonetheless, they do offer some advantages.

  • Budget. These surrounds are typically cheaper than more ornate stone designs. They also come prefabricated, which cuts down on labor costs incurred while the surround is constructed on site.
  • Variety. Wood and resin especially come in some very intricate designs that are not to be ignored. Especially with wood; however, the more complicated it gets, the higher the price tag. Such intricate surrounds can run upwards of $5,000.
  • Stain-ability. Wood and resin surrounds usually take stain so that you have a little more control over the finished look.


Concrete is an up-and-comer in fireplace surrounds. In recent years, options for designing with concrete have greatly expanded. Concrete surrounds give a stone-like feel with the added versatility of being moldable.

  • The choices are endless. Because it’s concrete, it can be molded and shaped to any number of designs, from traditional to stone to contemporary. The intricacies of some concrete designs are truly amazing. Absolute ConcreteWorks, a Seattle-based company, has quite the diverse online resume.
  • Eco-Friendly. Concrete is widely considered an eco-friendly option as well (although it does take some energy to create it). Many concrete countertop, floor, and fireplace surround manufacturers use a high percentage of recycled materials – ceramic, glass, tile – in their concrete to further improve its eco-friendliness.

Finally, the most important step in designing a fireplace surround is to find a contractor to build or install it. When you know what you want in your fireplace and surround, you should involve your contractor deeply. He or she should have extensive experience in building the specific type of surround you want and will subsequently have valuable advice that will aid you in the process.

Speak with a certified, pre-screened contractor today.

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