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Advice for HomeownersFireplacesTimeless

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround be Subway?

By 02/19/2015December 24th, 202024 Comments

This is a great question that I have never talked about on my blog, so here it is:

Ask Maria

“The current tile I have around my fireplace is pinky-beige left over from the tucson brown era. I plan on removing the existing tile and would like to replace it with something a little more timeless. I know from reading your other posts that timeless tile is very limited. Would it be alright to install white, off-white or cream subway tile for the fireplace surround? If so would you do the same 3X6 size you generally recommend for a kitchen backsplash?”

And I said yes and yes!

Yes you can happily use subway tile and yes 3×6 works great.

Groundbreaking right? ; ) ; )

Since a fireplace surround inside a mantle is usually not much more than 12″, a smaller scale tile looks better than a large one.

Trendy fireplaces are just as hard to decorate around as trendy kitchen or bathroom finishes. So let’s take look at some lovely, classic fireplaces shall we?

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround Tile be Subway?

{via pinterest}

I have been in many homes with Carrara marble surrounds that have been there forever!

No one ever wants to rip them out? That’s how you know it’s classic.

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround Tile be Subway?

{via pinterest}

Colour is certainly trendier, however if you stick to a simple, classic white or cream mantle (above), it’s cheap enough to switch out the surround when you change colours.

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround Tile be Subway?

{via pinterest}

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround Tile be Subway?

{via Dabble}

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround Tile be Subway?

{via pinterest}

This is pretty as well (above) but I personally prefer smaller tile on a fireplace surround like this.

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround Tile be Subway?{Brooke Shields in New York}

White 4×4 tile repeated on the backsplash too.

Ask Maria: Should my Fireplace Surround Tile be Subway?

{via pinterest}

Love this green tile with a medium brown stain.

There are lots more ideas beyond subway tile here on my ‘Fireplaces’ Pinterest Boards.

xoxo Maria

Related posts:

Should Your Great Room Fireplace Relate to the Kitchen

How to Choose Colour around a Stone Fireplace

Which Stone Colour is Best for your Fireplace 

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact us! We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous e-design consultation packages here.

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  • Kay says:

    Agree completely about Carrara, which is what we chose, in slabs instead of tiles. The only lines are where the top piece meets the side pieces, giving a very clean look. I think that black marble is also classic, having seen it used in beautiful old houses, usually with a white mantle. Carrara makes sense especially when it is in your kitchen or bath, or both.

  • Chris says:

    Maria, what other tile options would you suggest for those of us (me) who hate subway tile? Yes I know everyone but me probably loves subway tile but I cannot stand it. I live in Toronto & subway tile reminds me of the subway, dirty, smelly, etc. so any other suggestions for a backsplash that are classic, timeless? Much thanks!

    • KA says:

      LOL! Reminds me of 1994 Manhattan dirty under renovation subways with horrible convoluted detours. Underground. Ugh.

      I’d be able to handle it in marble. Or in 2×8. Or larger. You could try looking at it in a non brick joint installation and see if you’d like it….

      • Maria Killam says:

        It certainly doesn’t have to be subway. I also love harlequin tile around a fireplace surround but I couldn’t find a picture to show in this post!

        Just keep it white or cream! Maria

      • KJ says:

        Ugh, there’s that exact same comment you’ve posted a bazillion times. Again. About the subway. OK, we get it; you HATE subway tile. Obviously, you are in the minority. And I apologize in advance to Maria and her readers for posting this comment, because I’m being just as rude as you are and it’s never right to answer rudeness with rudeness.

        • Chris says:

          Exactly how was I being rude? By asking Maria for other suggestions? By not liking what you like? If I have posted a similar question I apologize, I don’t remember that so I guess I have Alzheimer’s disease like both of my parents. Terrific. I feel sorry for you that you have no life but to keep track of the number of times a stranger posts online. I just discovered your nasty & unnecessary reply as I looked for a reply by Maria. Thank you Maria, I do love your newsletters & site. Thank you!

  • I would love to switch out my greenish tile on our natural wood stained fireplace. But after seeing that picture above, I think I kind of like it the way it is.

    • Cherie says:

      Once upon a time I lived in a century home with the identical green tile – original to the house. It did limit colour choice in the room, but green “goes with everything”, so as long as you repeat the colour somewhere in the room – plants, pillows, art. I think you’re wise to leave your tile!

  • Carol says:

    Thanks Maria,

    So, I am gathering having non-bossy tile or non-bossy brick wrap around the fireplace (with no wood on sides) is not timeless.


    • Maria Killam says:

      If it has a lot of busy colours and patterns it’s definitely far from timeless, but not everything has to have a mantle. Maria

  • MARTHA says:


  • sherry says:

    That blue tiled fireplace is gorgeous! I have a brick fireplace that the previous owner painted brown. It makes me sad.

  • Fran says:

    I completely agree with you that Carrara marble makes a timeless fireplace surround. We have a black marble surround that’s also very elegant. Great post!

  • AnneElise says:

    My “builder grade” townhouse used pieces of slate for fireplace surround and hearth, with a traditional white wood mantel…at 30 years and counting, it still looks great. A good alternative to tile or brick.

    • teresa says:

      I agree. Both the fireplaces in my 100yr old house have slate slab surrounds. One has a white wooden Adams-type mantle and the other is a arched marble seashell design. It looks great with both, although the styles are quite different. I think it really depends on the style of fireplace and house.

  • This is totally awesome! I am excited to just learn these tid bits!

  • Diane says:

    Maria… has a great example of a harlequin pattern fireplace here

    but I must say I prefer the modern look of larger tiles around a fireplace. But as my grandmother used to say “If all the flowers in the garden were the same color it would be boring” in other words different opinions add color to the world.

  • Jill says:

    Great post Maria, I will be tiling my fireplace next week. Quick question: In the first fireplace picture (the one with the Carrara marble tile) I noticed that the tiles are laid in a classic subway tile pattern around the fireplace and then in a herringbone pattern at the base. Is this something I could do with just a plain cream tile. Or should I be staying away from two different patterns?


  • What if I don’t have a fireplace surround Maria? I have just big tiles and the mantel. How can I update that?

  • Betsy OShea says:

    I think mosaic tile in shades of cream&awhite can be pretty…if you hv brick and can’t afford tile then just PAINT the brick either w whitewash or an accent color in the room. I have a classic styled white mantle w panel insets surround and I painted the brick navy blue. Maria PLEASE do your color confidence class in NEW YORK CITY!

  • megeranski says:

    Am very fond of painted brick around a fireplace.

    The black marble sounds terrific.

    Suppose it depends on the style and architecture. I have seen modern fireplaces with stainless steel, and have seen ornate older style with cast iron. Have seen stone around a rustic fireplace that looked marvelous. Have seen copper, cement (poured and blocks), glass in different forms..

    PROBABLY, whatever you choose, there will be SOME time when you will tire of it and wish for something else. Fireplace surrounds just do that. Which is why i like the brick. Just paint it another color and off you go!

    (also depends if you are gonna use it, and for what, and for how often).

    have fun!!

  • Maria says:

    For those who don’t like subway tile for a fireplace, I covered my ugly brownbrick fireplace with white, cream and gray pebble tile. There are many photos of pebble tile fireplaces on Houzz 🙂

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