When I bought my home in 2013, the fireplace and vaulted ceilings were definitely the focal point of the living space. While it was nice, it was very beige. While I love a good DIY project, I also try to justify my projects by need. The fireplace was in good shape and I wasn't sure I wanted to open up Pandora's box not knowing what lied beneath the beige tiles. Then the day came that some of the tile was damaged while doing a demo to the surrounding floor. The mystery was unveiled, there was brick beneath the beige!!! While I was excited to find brick, there was still some uncertainty of what I would find under the tile. Since the damage was small I lived it with for awhile pondering my options.
After laying new flooring, my fireplace looked sad. I decided to start popping off the tile. No turning back now! The tile on the bottom came off fairly easy but the vertical tiles had a different type of adhesive and they were not easy to remove. By the way, ceramic tile will cut and shatter just like broken glass. Make sure you wear gloves and protective eyewear. I made it about half way through the demo and my husband used some muscle to remove the remaining tile and molding. I pondered the demo for several days trying to decide what my options were. I love the German Schmear look but I wasn't sure if any stripping goo could touch the tile adhesive. The adhesive was super thick on the bottom which ruled out painting or possibly retiling without first removing it. While the vertical surface was thinner it too would probably need stripping. I finally decided to strip as much as I could and make decisions as the project progressed and let the fireplace speak to me.
There aren't a lot of products that claim to be able to remove tile adhesive. I opted to try Kleen Strip. It only came in a gallon size which was about twice the amount I needed. Much to my amazement there was no odor. It is the consistency of wallpaper paste. I started with the horizontal bottom surface first. I applied it fairly thick with a brush, covered with garbage bags to keep it moist and let it set for about 3 hours. Using a putty knife and a wire brush I scraped the adhesive off in no time at all. There was a white haze remaining but the actual adhesive was gone! I then moved to the vertical surface. This was definitely messier. I reused the same trash bags and some grocery sacks. Although this adhesive was thinner, it was a lot harder to scrape off. I'm sure if I wanted to completely remove all of the adhesive, one or two more applications would have done it. However, my fireplace was revealing to me what the final design would be. The German Schmear!
My research revealed several methods to the German Schmear. Most were for outdoor brick. Some used mortar and thinned it out while others thinned out pre-mixed adhesive. Some looked more like a wash while others left the texture. Since I was used to working with premixed floor tile adhesive (white), I went with what I know. Get the smaller size. 1 gallon was the smallest my store carried. It has a light airy consistency somewhere between marshmallow fluff and peanut butter. I did not dilute it. I used it right out of the container. I began working the adhesive into the grout lines with my putty knife. Leave it messy. Don't try to make it perfect. About half way through I found it easier just to use my fingers to run it through the grout lines and occasionally giving it a smear with the putty knife to distribute it onto the face of the bricks. I let it dry overnight and hit it with a wire brush to get off any "crumbs" and excess.
This is the finished masterpiece!!! I haven't decided if I want to put all of the molding back. I kind of like the look of the rustic/imperfection. I'm still pondering that. I can't wait to build a fire in a few more weeks. This whole project cost me around $50.00, but I still have half of the supplies remaining. The hardest part and most time consuming part was removing the vertical tile. Once the demo was completed and allowing 3 hours for stripper setting time, the scraping took about 1.5 - 2 hours. The schmear took about an hour. This is a great DYI project and it made my broken, beige fireplace fabulous!!