For Dan and Sarah Pollio, the husband-and-wife DIY duo of Joinery and Design Co., the heart of the home isn’t the kitchen—it’s the hearth. Before settling into their newly built Minnesota house just two months ago, the couple decided to take their living room fireplace into their own hands. “I really wanted to have an organic, textured feel for the fireplace,” shares Sarah. “Dan and I started looking into stucco, but eventually we realized it just wasn’t in our budget. Then we came up with this concept of a concrete look.

Call it what you want—faux concrete, concrete-inspired, concrete-esque—the imitation treatment was appealing for a very good reason: Real concrete is pricey. “Normally, the way you get a concrete fireplace is by forming the mantel and chimney from scratch,” explains Dan. “That’s definitely something you’d see in a $2 to $3 million home.”

Using Ardex Feather Finish, a self-drying, cement-based mixture that’s been a popular resource for pro DIY-ers and design bloggers over the past few years, the Pollios achieved the look of a real concrete fireplace for just $215. Ahead, the pair walks us through their budget-friendly fireplace hack, step by step.

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

Even though the Pollios were covering a large surface area, their supplies were fairly limited. Here’s a brief breakdown of their budget and materials:

Note: The above items are ones the Pollios had to buy for this specific project. There are a few common construction tools (like a trowel to apply the cement mixture and tape for the joints) missing from the list that you’ll need to complete the project.

Step 2: Install the Durock and Corner Bead

Because the Pollios didn’t have existing drywall or a mantel to work around, they went straight for the Durock—cement boards that are also typically used as backers for tile or stone. They screwed each panel into the wood frame with cement board screws, as well as the corner bead to keep the edges and seams sharp and clean. “There are certain clearances you have to follow, depending on your fireplace type,” says Dan. “The nice part is, the Durock is considered flame-resistant, so most city and state codes will allow you to go right up to the fireplace with it.”

Step 3: Apply the Ardex to the Joints

In order to get a smooth finish before you skim coat, you’ll have to tape and mud the joints just as you would with drywall. “It’s a pretty simple process of mudding and taping the joints with the same cement finish you’ll use later,” explains Dan.

Using the Ardex Feather Finish mix, take your trowel and fill in the seams between the adjacent Durock sheets. Smooth the compound as you progress. While the mixture is still moist, use Sheetrock joint tape to cover the mixture to keep it in place. Apply one more layer of the cement finish over the tape.

The most time-consuming part of this process will be waiting for the initial joint coats to dry. “It basically took us a day to screw all the sheets on, and, in our case, we also used metal trim around the fireplace to give it a nice finish where the sheets ended,” says Dan. “Let that dry overnight and then you can start doing the full skim coat.”

Step 4: Skim Coat the Entire Surface

This is the part where you get to call upon your inner artist. Still, you won’t want to take too much time for contemplation as you work across the surface. “[The Ardex Feather Finish] has what’s called a 15-minute working time. Mix as much as you can use in 15 to 20 minutes and start spreading it on,” suggests Dan.

Were you to create your mixture in a bucket and walk away for lunch, the compound would be rock solid by the time you came back. “You have to keep up with the process fairly quickly,” says Sarah. “There aren’t any coffee breaks in between.”

Apply the cement mixture to the fireplace surface with your trowel. How many coats you apply is really up to you and the look you’re going for. If you decide you don’t like the texture of an area that’s beginning to dry, come back to it later and touch it up. “It almost feels like you’re making art,” she adds.

Step 5: Smooth Out the Surface With a Damp Sponge

This part is optional. If you prefer a sleeker finish to that of stucco, Dan suggests keeping a sponge and bucket on hand. “There are two ways to do this. If you want it really smooth, apply it and then take a damp sponge and lightly wipe [the surface]. It gives it a softer texture,” he says. The Pollios ended up doing a little bit of both. Because the material sticks to the wall really well, you can play around with the composition.

“I think one thing we wanted to do in this house was give it an organic look,” explains Sarah. “Our plan is to always try to DIY and make our projects look as high-end and professional as possible. We feel like we really achieved that.”

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