I am wondering why you say tile would be out of the question. I am thinking about 12" decorative tile to surround the fireplace opening, and possibly have someone build an oak mantel and oak down the sides. I have seen it in other houses of this period (1917). The cement fireplace is 8'-9' wide and is painted now. Would the paint have to be removed before we brick, etc? I believe it is brick underneath and maybe they thought they were modernizing it when they redecorated about 40 years ago and cemented it over. The room is large so if we were to use regular brick and not Z brick, it wouldn't be a problem. However, the additional weight of regular brick might be. The fireplace is in the middle of the house and there is a basement underneath it. It seems structurally sound now, but we wonder about the additional weight of the real bricks. I am trying to avoid just painting it again and forgetting it. But, I might have to. Thanks for your professional advise. It is very much appreciated.