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Interior Designer, Licensed Therapist & SoCal mama of three. Welcome to the blog!  I hope it brings you inspiration to create a life (and home) you really love.


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DIY Fireplace

February 19, 2020

For this project I knew I wanted a distinct pattern with a strong personality that would still feel cohesive with the rest of our Modern California first floor. I chose a neutral design with a small pattern, the hand-painted Sanxenxo. I definitely recommend this middle ground for #neutralovers who want to venture outside their comfort zone a bit.

Guys! I’m so excited to finally share the full story behind our biggest DIY to date- a DIY Fireplace Tiling Project! Apparently we didn’t have enough fun with the DIY Beadboard Project because over the past few weeks we took on one of my longest, biggest sticking points in our house and transformed it into the hearth we always wanted with hand-laid, hand-painted tiles. 


First things first: the WHY. With the Anita Yokota Method® I always have clients start with identifying what they want to get out of their home but aren’t getting now. This project was no exception. Trav and I sat down to discuss what we want to focus on and cultivate with our family over the next few years. The answer was clear: quality time together with our girls. Our current family room setup, while styled and restyled by me over the years, was never structurally set up to foster the comfortable, inviting family time that we crave.

Before view of family room

When we first bought this home ten years ago it came with no mantel – in fact, it didn’t even have a fireplace grate to hold the logs. (!) For me Christmas means stockings hung over the mantel, a pretty garland, and family pictures on display, but this fireplace just wasn’t going to make this a reality.

Beyond the holidays I also have many pretty and meaningful pieces of decor that I love to display but the simple Home Depot mantel we ended up putting in (one our very first DIYs – we’ve learned so much since then!) was extremely shallow at 6”. As a result, I couldn’t layer in the three-dimensional way that I teach you guys about all the time, with larger pieces of art in back and smaller objects in front.

The solution was clear: we needed to reinvent this fireplace to become a bright and inviting hearth, the true heart of our family home, AND to add a window to the right of the fireplace. This will add natural light and much needed symmetry that I had unsuccessfully tried to achieve over the years with chairs, mirrors, and more. And boy, now that we’re living with the final product, I’m so glad we went for it!



From the start, I knew I needed a compelling tile to draw energy toward this space. I turned to one of my favorite brands – Fireclay – to find the perfect design. I had the opportunity to visit their factory in the Bay Area last fall where they make all their tiles (California love!) and fell in love with so many of their amazing patterns and colors.

Sanxenxo Pattern in Black and White

For this project I knew I wanted a distinct pattern with a strong personality that would still feel cohesive with the rest of our Modern California first floor.

Ultimately I chose a neutral design with a small pattern – the Hand-painted Sanxenxo – whose California-mission-inspired pattern still feels fresh and modern. Because this style is hand-painted to order, I was able to choose the exact color combination that I wanted using the Color-It Tool. a soft off-white called Daisy paired with a warm gray called French Linen and White Wash. Below is the same Sanxenxo pattern in a black and white motif – you can see how different it looks with a more high-contrast color combination! The small size and neutral tones ensure this pattern doesn’t overwhelm so I decided to lean in and tile all the way up to the ceiling for maximum effect. I definitely recommend this middle ground for #neutralovers who want to venture outside their comfort zone a bit.

fireclay tile


There’s nothing worse than getting midway through a recipe only to realize you don’t have enough of a key ingredient. Same with tile! Measure carefully and double-check your work to ensure you order sufficient tiles for your project, including the all-important overage.

I promise this is simple – even for those of you who aren’t practicing geometry with your kids every night 🙂 – and Fireclay actually has a great guide for this. 

You calculate the total area of the section to be tiled and divide that number by the area of each tile (in our case 6” x 6” = 36”). Then – and this is the important part – you add 10% as overage.  This is your Plan B, just in case you end up needing extra, breaking a few, or mangling the first few you lay. Now you round up to the next whole number and voila, that’s how many you need!


You’ll need the following tools:

  • Sponge
  • Thin-set
  • ¼ trowel
  • Metal spatula
  • Tiles
  • Grout
  • Spacers
  • Bucket of water
  • Paper towels
  • Rosin paper
  • Blue tape
  • Schluter trim
  • Ladder
  • Safety goggles


We used a pre-mixed thinset but the consistency from tub to tub was different and I had to add some water to drier buckets. I wanted to save on time and convenience by buying pre-mixed but I think next time I would mix the thin-set myself for greater control.

Tiling Tools


To prepare the area for tiling, we removed the dinky old mantel and sanded off all of the remaining glue from the surround. Then we gave the innermost section a fresh, even look with high heat enamel flat black protective spray paint.

You know the old expression ‘measure twice, cut once’? With tile it’s ‘dry lay at least five times, tile once.” It’s critically important to layout your tile out ahead of time to no only ensure you have enough tile for the entire project but to see how they look together and arrange them to your liking. Plus you’re able to discover in advance where you may encounter issues and think on how to approach those challenges before you have thin-set drying before your eyes. This is the time to experiment, take a step back, come back, rearrange, and repeat. Because once you start tiling, it’s nearly impossible to start making changes. 

dry lay tile fireclay tiles


All in all, we ended up spending twelve days tiling the fireplace, adding one tile at a time as it’s important to not spread more thin-set than you’ll be able to cover in the next five to ten minutes. We worked methodically from the floor to the ceiling and added spacers between each tile to ensure consistent spacing for when we later added our Mapei Platinum grout. Without spacers, the tiles can shift or sag, particularly on vertical surfaces, so this step is definitely non-negotiable. 

Tiling Process Shot

Mid-way through the wall we stopped to install a modern white oak mantel, one with plenty of room for three-dimension styling.  I’ll post a separate blog post on how we built, stained, and installed this piece. Last we did the hearth tiles, as we didn’t want to step on those tiles while finishing the wall. 

Finally time for finishing touches! I added these super modern wall sconces that complement this fantastic arched black mirror. I love how it perfectly echoes the arched pattern of the tiles and the black interior of the fireplace itself. 

Now moment of truth – time to style the mantel!

Guess what?! It’s the perfect depth to showcase my favorite books, decor, and plants. Okay, so maybe not a total surprise given how carefully we chose the mantel this time around. But still, we’ll take the win!


Which brings us to – today! We’re so happy and satisfied spending the evening in our bright yet cozy family room, the perfect setting for random Tuesday night charades and Christmas Eve alike. First a DIY Fireplace Tiling Project, next – who knows?!

White Oak Mantel

After tackling our biggest DIY to date, Trav and I have a few major takeaways:

Block out time, if you can

you’ll move much faster if you work in longer stretches of uninterrupted time. Of course like many of you we have busy schedules and had to tile late into the night most days  – not ideal.

Get quality tiles and tools

We splurged on a hand painted style from Fireclay and couldn’t be happier with the warmth and personality they bring to the space. But even beyond the tiles themselves be sure to invest in quality tools – even spacers! We had trouble seeing the cheap white ones once they were in place and they fell out easily. By comparison, the bigger green ones were stable and easily visible, which made it easy to ensure we had them in place for every tile.

Get a partner!

It’s SO nice to tackle this project with someone to and give moral support. And if you’re like me and have a Mr. Meticulous partner, they can measure and align so nothing goes awry! But most of all you’ll get to soak in the joy of a completed project and reimagined room as you only can when you do it yourself.

DIY Tiled Fireplace

I’m in awe that Travis and I completed this wonderfully challenging design DIY! Now we can honestly say we know how to tile! So, does this make you want to go out and get tile? I sure hope so!

Happy day!





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  1. Samra says:

    The tiles are looking great on the wall and sides. The mirror and sidelights are creating a fantastic look. I love the way you decorate the fireplace with rattan baskets. The natural color of the rattan is always attractive. These baskets are perfect to put and enhance beauty while you are not lighting the fire.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Very beautiful result. Wondering if you can tell me where you got the mirror on your mantle I’ve been looking for one just like it!

  3. Cari Gillespie says:

    Can you please let me know what stain you used for the mantle?

    • Anita Yokota says:

      Hi, it is custom but what you can do is take any example and show your cabinet maker and they can make a stain for you!

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