Fireplace remodel ideas anyone.......

All,
I have a early 1950's home with a fireplace that was I guess used for show mostly till about the late 80's. In the 80's the previous owner bought a really nice insert with multiple blowers etc that will actually keep my house around 55-60 all through the winter. The owner also had the flues checked/lined as well. So in all its in good shape as far as usability. I have in the past used it to completely to heat the house a full winter and I have used it quite a bit in the past 3 years to keep the gas bills at a minimal. So in all I am really pleased with it and would like to keep the setup as there is no problem with the insert/assembly/usability.
The problem arises from the surrounding brick. Over the years the mantel front shelf area has begun to seperate from the main fireplace brick stack. I am planning this weekend to tear it down and to rebuild that section, from the floor up to the shelf with the insert pulled out. I am not overly afraid of this as I have done quite of bit of masonry work in the past including rebuilding 1-2 complete foundation walls and a complete large front porch. The main stack looks to be very solid. My main problem is mostly decorative in nature I guess.
The brick is the small (2x4? type pavers) that have been painted multiple coats of white/off white and I want to spruce this area up as it is the centerpoint of the room or could be but also keep the functionality where it is at currently. I do not have any kind of floor hearth or ceramic at this point under the insert on the floor either and the room has been completely gutted and is currently in the final stages of finish up including moldings/paint/carpet. I would like to incorporate a Pennsylvania Slate color thats a river rock type look to the fireplace area as the adjoining hallway is going to be Pennsylvania Slate color scheme Ceramic Tile.
So my question is the following;
What ideas can I use to spruce this fireplace up besides what I have plan?
My plan is as follows, please chime in if you see anything wrong or have any suggestions, or ideas, pitfalls to avoid etc.
1) First I am removing the insert, cleaning the area , and removing all loose brick (aggresive to get all possible issues now and in the future).
2) Rebuild the problem shelf area from floor up.to shelf
After this is where I go astray and can find no supporting info on except a little help from stone supply shop.
3) I am going to build using (2X2s and 1X2s, wire mesh) a cage around the whole fireplace area. I am then going to apply a thin set of mortar all over the screen and let dry
4) Then I am going pick up my stone from the local stone supply. I have been told I can go 2 different ways here 1) Buy kit stone (lighter then real stone) and apply it. 2) Buy actual stone (by the pound) and use it. I am leaning to the By Actual stone as I get to pick out actual colors and it may be a little more inexpensive in the end but not by much. The kit stone is supposedly faster. The only negative for real stone is weight but my house is on a concrete slab, so I think this is really not a issue. Any feedback on this anyone?
5) Attach the stone using mortar,etc and let dry.
6) Then grout the stone area in and it let dry.
7) Ceramic tile or place a slate/granite hearth at the base under where the Insert would go to protect the carpet from fire role outs etc.
8) reinsert the fireplace insert
9) rebuild mantel wooden shelf from scratch and stain and install
Then I will remold the rest of the room so I can paint and carpet.
Anyone have any suggestions or ideas on what they have done in the past with their fireplace?
Any good books,websites, or other media on this subject anyone know about?
Thanks for the help, Chris SolomonMan
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its a good plan.

its just mortar... dont make it too watery... have fun. You might want to drill the main stack and set some hooked rebar in it a few inches to secure the mantle structure. being careful not to create any cracks with the drilling.
its probably not necessary though.

Id skip the wood, and mesh and go with solid stone myself.

use real stone. kit stone looks good though. your call. depends on the overall architecture.. kit stone will be cleaner..real stone might look ancient in 10 years. a mix maybe.

probably use motar instead of grout. its stronger. maybe you want to add a strenthener to the mix.

buy a book on fire places with pictures... look at dozens of them, do it right dont just design it by what you think at the time.

click this link http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=fireplace+pictures+stone+mantel&btnG=Google+Search
learn how to use googles web search function...notice the search string I used, dream up yer own.
Phil Scott

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Phil and all, Thanks for the advice/opinion.
I did some exact measurements and figures last night on the fireplace and what I am looking at for square footage. The fireplace is basically 5 foot 1 inch By 8 foot with a shelf step that sticks out about one foot at about 5 foot up for the mantel shelf so I am figuring that I need about 50 square feet total +-10%..
I did some research this morning at the Local DIY stores and found some Composite stone that fits the style I want and it happens to be on sale as well. I am still not sure 100% whether to use real stone or not. At first the composite stone was in the neighboorhood of about 500 dollars just for the composite stone plus the incidentals. With the sale it drops it to about 400 out the door plus incidentals. I think I am going to let the price be the final decision as the stone composite comes with a 50 year warranty. I have to run out to the stone place over lunch and figure how many pounds per square foot it roughly it takes. I am leaning towards the natural stone I think because of quick availibility and I can pick Size and color so installation will be easier.
I have run into a question that I can not get a straight out answer on. I hope some one out here in the News Groups can help me with.
To repair the initial block that is coming loose what mortar should I use to repair it, Can I safely use Quickrete Brand Premix Mortar?
I have to put a layer of material over the screen mesh, what should I use. Should I use mortar and if so is standard Quickcrete Brand Premix Mortar ok to use?
Also to Grout it in, I am wondring also what should I use? Should I use mortar and if so is standard Quickcrete Brand Premix Mortar ok to use?
I was just going to use Quickrete brand mortar originally but did some reading about the different mortars/masonry mixes and I read Type N can be used for Chimney/Fireplace work so now I question what I should use really. I called Quickrete and they told me none of their Products are fire rated. I doubt it gets that warm really in the area I am working except maybe mainly right next to the insert. The insert I have is a big steal black box with front blower that detaches. I was told by the DIY store that I can use the Quikrete Mortar premix to repair the block. Does anyone have any opinion on this or Guidance?
Thanks, Chris
Phil Scott wrote:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=fireplace+pictures+stone+mantel&btnG=Google+Search
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err...there comes a time when you have to use your own head. you cant come onto a newsgroup like this and ask which end of bubble to chew and expect ongoing response.
--
Phil Scott
Ideas are bullet proof.
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Why the metal mesh covered with mortar is that a safety thing to seal out gas or something? I just put put in a gas insert and framed it and then covered the frame with granite tile - why the mesh? Phil Scott wrote:

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