Monday, January 5, 2015

DIY: Stone Fireplace

Familiar with the John Muir quote, "the mountains are calling and I must go"? I love a relaxing mountain cabin weekend as much as the next person. The crisp, clean air, a cup of coffee on the porch overlooking rolling mountains in the distance. Rustic and natural home decor has always called to me, and as we make our house a home, I'm finding little ways to tie that in.

This weekend, we tackled our first DIY project of 2015, we installed a stone look wall under our mantle. Ever since we toured the model almost 2 years ago, I always thought I'd love to customize the fireplace that the builder offered. Here's the "Before," still decorated for Christmas. Hi, Stella! That cat loves to be in on the action.

I first heard of Airstone on Pinterest, and have since seen it on a number of home design blogs. Most of them seemed to be writing sponsored posts, which this is not. I'll include the good, the bad, and the ugly in my post. If you haven't heard of Airstone, it's a faux stone product made of concrete which weighs about 75% less than real stone. The stone-like tiles are cast in molds made from real stones, so they are pretty realistic looking. The product is available at Lowe's or on the Airstone website. All in all I am thrilled with the results, but it wasn't quite as easy as some of the blogs made it out to be. We used the Airstone Autumn Mountain color, with flat edges. The Autumn Mountain stones are warmer colors, tans and browns, whereas the Spring Creek is cooler, and more like natural stone. There is a third color, Vineyard Blend, but I could only find Autumn Mountain and Spring Creek at the Lowe's stores nearby. We used almost all of one box, there are about 10 pieces left. We also used about 1/3 of a tub of the Airstone adhesive.

The stones come shrink wrapped and divided up by color. Most of the stones were light tan, with about 1/3 being a darker brown color. Here is Stella getting in on the un-boxing:

Our first challenge was that we were working with limited space, the slate insert between our mantle and the actual fireplace was only 5.5 inches wide. Airstone comes in a box with an assortment of sizes, all of them being in multiples of 2. This would be perfect if you had an even number of inches to work with, but for us it meant that we had to cut at least one piece on every single level. The Airstone website and manual, as well as many of the blog posts, say that the product can be easily cut with a hacksaw. No. If you cut Airstone with a hacksaw, you are crazy. We tried at first, and used it for a few cuts, but quickly switched to a Dremel tool with a diamond blade. This cut easily, but brought some other challenges, we often had to make multiple cuts on each stone to get to the desired length. You'll definitely want to cut outside, or in our case, the garage with the door open and a fan blowing, cutting the stones makes a ton of dust.

We started the whole process by taping out the dimensions of our fireplace on the garage floor with painters tape. After that I started laying out stones so that we had an idea of the pattern we would use. I'd looked at tons of sample project posts, which was helpful. We decided to lay most of the stones horizontally, with a few vertical pieces thrown in here and there.The result looks really natural, I think.

We started adhering the stones to one side and went all the way up to the top before moving to the other side. Then at the end, we just had the overhanging part left, and were able to use the pattern to our advantage, wedging pieces in without fearing that they would shift. It is important to have a plan for how you'll support the middle overhanging pieces. We used a board and a piece of folded cardboard...the finest of things!

The adhesive is easy to use, and is magic if you ask me; while it looks like marshmallow fluff, it doesn't feel sticky, it spreads easily on the stone pieces and adheres quickly to the mounting.

Now, it wouldn't be honest to say that I was totally confident the whole way through. I have a bad habit of doubting my projects part way through. When we decided to paint our half bath (light) purple, I panicked while I painted, and it wasn't until it was totally dry and everything was back in place that I knew it was a good idea. Here, I worried that the stone would get lost with our builder beige walls, but I think that in the end they play off one another really well. Finally, here's the "After."

Would I do it again? Yes, but I'd definitely prefer an even number of inches or a large wall without the need for an overhang. Also, I'm SORE today, my knees hurt from where I leaned on the slate floor in front of the fireplace, and we still have a few dried spots of adhesive that need to be coaxed off a few stones. But, I'm really thrilled with the overall look, and the relative ease and length of time it took to totally transform our fireplace. I love being transported to my own mountain lodge without leaving the living room!

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