I am happy to report that we are really seeing progress on our new fireplace finish!
We started with a standard generic new-construction diagonal fireplace in the living room. It was finished by the first owners with a white mantle and tiled with this horrendous mosaic of 2" square ceramic tile. My first immediate turn-off to the fireplace was the color of the mosaic - a combination of neutral colors (white, gray, brown) with some yellow thrown in. I really hated that tile. If tile can give you headaches, this was a migraine staring me in the face every morning, noon, and night.
The tile comes on a mesh sheet in a regular pattern, but the homeowners had the tile laid to give some element of randomness. Except, if you look closely, the pattern is completely discernible. In some areas the tile does look random, yet other spots are entirely too regular (e.g. the column just right of the firebox has every other tile being white, except in one spot). As we lived in the house and I sat in front of the fireplace day after day, studying the tile, the migration of the pattern from random to regular and back to random, drove me bonkers.
We can live with the diagonal fireplace, although it makes for a difficult decorating proposition. That triangular nook on top is a challenge. It's a great setting for some objet d'art one day... a day far in the future. You can't just run out and buy a stunning sculpture that is a reflection of who you are, as part of your errands for the day. The diagonal fireplace also creates some furniture layout issues with the room. But, changing this was not a key element to our enjoyment of the space. Changing the tile and mantle, however, was necessary.
The new fireplace has a slate mosaic. We popped out a few tiles here and there and replaced them with glass liner tiles, based on a display that I loved in a local showroom. I have to say that the glass tiles had more "pop" in the showroom than on our fireplace, but part of that is due to showroom lighting. So I have a twinge of disappointment that the glass is not more noticeable on our fireplace. That said, I do LOVE our new fireplace tile. I also like the hearth and the bar tiles surrounding the firebox. The bar tiles are actually the exact same slate (which is apparent if you study it up close, in person), but with the rounded edge they take on the appearance of wood.
The white strips on each side are just MDF right now, to provide a hard edge for tiling. Eventually these white MDF strips will be replaced with alder wood in the same stain/finish as the kitchen cabinetry. The wood mantle will also be a simple style in the same stain/finish. This will help to tie the whole great room together and (for us) really transforms the fireplace into a welcome focal point. I wish that we could change the trim on our windows and floor baseboards to be stained wood, however, that would entail a lot of cost as that type of change (imho) needs to happen - at a minimum - on an entire floor of the house, if you do it right.
The grout is a "warm taupe" color -- against the recommendation of the tiler, who suggested "light pewter" which is actually a fairly dark gray. I myself wanted to move away from gray and more into beige-y tan tones. After talking with my color-talented friend who looked at some pictures I sent her, we agreed on our top 2-3 choices and I chose one from that.
Here are some closeups of the tile, which now has both enhancer and grout. You can click on these pictures to see the detail much better: