Fireplace Insert..Ideas on how to clean up fireplace area...Help...Ideas....

All, I am fairly handy with my hands and have completely gutted two homes in my past to the studs and have completely renovated both buildings. Besides that my father was in the trades (35 years), before he passed, and I done most everything in house construction with him all the way to sewer lines, electric lines, and water lines outside of the actual home to roofing and gutters. Its not to often that I run into anything that I am unsure what to do, I either find a book, magazine, TV program etc that may help me out and/or call a friend who is a professional\\done it before guy and ask them for some help.
So here is what I got;
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/rock type look to the fireplace area as the adjoining hallway is going to be Pennsylvania Slate/Rock 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 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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