DIY Mortar Wash Fireplace Makeover

It’s time for the first update on our progress at White Mountain Cottage. Last week we shared the Before Tour, if you haven’t seen what we started with go check it out!

white mountain cottage

Before we could start anything there was a lot of cleaning to do. Cleaning out furniture and décor that was left behind. Cleaning years of cobwebs and cat hair. A lot of cleaning…

Then we had to get the interior ready for paint. We usually paint ourselves but for the sake of time we decided this would be one project worth sub-contracting out. We found a local painter and unlike contractors in Nashville he was available the next week. That meant we had no time to waste.

First, we removed the carpet and old wall air unit in the loft bedroom:

And then at the last minute I decided to take the closet out. It was small and awkward with the sloped ceiling and prevented the bed from being centered with the window and light:

Then we laid new subfloor and patched the wall where the air unit was:

Patching the outside was a little precarious:

Later that week the painters came and with them the biggest change of the entire project – PAINT!

And with it our first little set-back. There was a miscommunication and the painters painted the doors and trim.

From the start my design plan included black doors and wood trim. Before paint, the doors were a dark wood color and would have been easy to paint after a light sanding. Now they’ll need more prep work. And the wood trim! I can’t imagine sanding all the window and door trim throughout the house so now we’re trying to find a cost effective way to replace it. It’s not a huge problem it just means more work and money when the time comes. Sigh.

And if that wasn’t enough for one weekend another unexpected problem popped up – a roof leak. Turns out the flashing around a plumbing vent has failed and rain is leaking into the half bathroom upstairs and then through the floor to the bathroom downstairs which led to us removing the paneled ceiling this weekend:

But it didn’t keep us from starting our first DIY project this weekend – a DIY fireplace update.

Here’s what the fireplace looked like when we started:

Not bad, just dark and the grout was discolored in places. Here’s what inspired us:

I has an old-world European look. It’s a technique called mortar wash, or if you watch Fixer Upper you may have heard it called a German smear, where you use white mortar to smooth out the surface of the brick or stone.

Unlike paint or white washing this technique lets the texture and colors come through in varying degrees which in my opinion adds to the charm.

Before we could get going we needed to clean the stones. We used TSP and a wire brush to scrub the stones and grout. Then we had to wait for it to dry…

We bought our white mortar at Home Depot for less than $20.

Using a large bucket we mixed it with water. At first it was too thin and difficult to work with in part because the grout lines in our fireplace are so big. We found that a consistency a little thicker than peanut butter worked best.

To apply it I used a rubber grout float which worked well but I still had to smooth it out with a damp sponge at the end.

Like I said the existing grout lines were wide and deep in most places so we used a lot of mortar to fill them in. At first I focused on just the grout lines and it looked a little too giraffe-y to me:

So I mixed more mortar but this time a little thinner – somewhere between yogurt and peanut  butter – and applied more to the face of the stones in varying amounts.

Wiping some off with a damp sponge as I went.

Like the inspiration photos I wanted the coverage to vary; so some stones I covered completely, others are more or less white washed and some have hardly any mortar on them at all. I still have to seal the mortar but the directions say to allow the mortar to dry for at least 48 hours before sealing so that will be project for another weekend.

To finish it off we also updated the old brass fireplace insert. Even though we’ll be using antique brass hardware accents in other areas of the house this was just a little too much for me and it had some rust damage.

To start I roughed up the surface slightly with steel wool.

Then I taped the edges and covered the glass and fireplace with paper to protect it from overspray.

Then we used Rustoleum High Heat spray paint to cover the brass.

It took about 3 light coats in total. Not bad for less than $5 in materials!

I can honestly say that the mortar wash is more labor intensive, tedious and time consuming than simply painting or white washing but the results are worth it in my opinion. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out!

Lightening up the fireplace, in combination with painting the paneling white, makes the living space feel bigger and more airy. It also sets the tone for the design of the space – a modern, rustic cottage.

After three straight weekends of working at the cottage we’re planning to stay home this weekend for some much needed R&R with the kids, church and time with friends. But we’re also planning to pick up our kitchen cabinets Saturday morning and hopefully paint some furniture we’ve collected over the last month (our carport currently looks like a yard sale). I’ll be posting updates on my Instagram stories (@thedutchfarmhouse) so be sure to look for those this weekend.

Next week I’ll be sharing our design plans and inspiration for the kitchen!

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mortar wash fireplace

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6 thoughts on “DIY Mortar Wash Fireplace Makeover

  1. I showed this to my husband to convince him we should do this to our brick fireplace. He approved!
    And of course I love it.
    I’m also gonna tell my parents about your place – they are in Franklin and regularly rent a cabin in the smokies!

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