Exposed brick is an interior design showstopper. It can show off the character of your home, add dramatic texture and create a focal point in any room. Depending on your home, it can be an authentic period feature, a grungy industrial accent or an ultra modern statement.
But getting there can be a tricky, messy job. How do you expose a rendered brick wall or chimney breast? How can you strip paint from brickwork? Can you lighten dark or bright red brick with whitewash? Do you need to seal exposed brick?
This guide walks through different scenarios, the exposed brick in my home, and points to the experts where you need them…
Exposed brick in my home
When we moved in to this house in 2018, the chimney breast in the living room was already exposed. It was one of the eye-catching features that made me want the place! Previous owners painted the brickwork off-white and then partially stripped the paint. This left a creamy patina which works well with the soft rosey hue of the Victorian brick.
Paint stripper to expose brick
If you have painted brick walls and want the exposed brick look, you’re going to have to get familiar with paint stripper.
Last year, when redecorating the ground floor, we decided to give the dining room’s chimney breast the same treatment. Previous owners had also painted this chimney breast pale grey. As we started stripping it, we discovered cream underneath which meant a matching paint patina.
We used Nitromors paint stripper and specialised scrapers to do this work. It was VERY messy – we did this mid-renovation, so there was no carpet or furniture to be damaged. Paint stripper is nasty – I wouldn’t recommend doing a job like this with pets or children in the house.
This room’s near the double doorway (you can -just- see it in the living room shot earlier). So they’re only a few feet apart, and their matching finishes helps to ‘tie the spaces together’ as a more professional interiors blogger might say…
Exposed Brick Outdoor Walls
When we’d re-built and stained the deck, we decided to continue the exposed brick theme further into the outdoor space. There, too, we had a cream-then-grey painted brick wall. The job out here was easier (though no less messy!) as we could take a pressure washer to the wall.
We left more paint on this wall for a heavier patina and more rustic finish – I think that’s better suited to a garden. It’s a quick and efficient process – just be prepared to clean up everything – that paint will fly EVERYWHERE.
These three brickwork features are all on the same aspect of the house, in adjoining spaces. So you can stand back and see all at once. This offers a portion of pleasing consistency as you move through the ground floor.
But because I share photos of these spots a lot on Instagram, I’m often asked how to whitewash walls (as that’s how ours can look), or how we removed plaster and render. And the answer is: I don’t know! We didn’t have to do either of those things! So I’ve rounded up some comprehensive guides to answer those questions…
Should I create a feature exposed brick wall?
Deciding to reveal brickwork is a big choice because, while it’s not as if you can’t go back – it would actually be relatively simple to patch up your test spot with plaster, let it dry, re-paint and pretend the whole thing never happened – it would certainly be a bit of a faff.
So if you’re deciding whether to take the plunge, this article from Country Living might help you decide, as it thoughtfully weighs up the pros and cons.
For my two cents, I’d suggest trying to establish what your brickwork looks like under there. Take a good look at your exterior walls – do you like the tone of the bricks and the mortar? Would you be happy with that look? But remember, that’s no guarantee. In period properties it’s common for internal walls to use lower quality bricks. So: is there anywhere you could test removing some plaster to get a look? Perhaps behind a big piece of furniture or inside some fitted storage? To remove it, simply drill through your render and gently lift a piece away with a chisel or claw hammer.
How do I remove plaster from a wall or chimney breast?
This is a difficult, messy job, and my honest advice (even as someone who loves to have a crack at a project) is to get help from a trusted contractor.
But if you’re confident, and have enough time and tolerance for mess, have at it! This guide walks through the process for removing plasterwork in a safe and logical way.
Removing paint from brickwork
This is the route I’ve gone down personally, so I’ve included my personal experience earlier in this post. But I also wanted to the guide that I read before we did those jobs.
This article from Paint Master is super comprehensive, and explains how you should seal your brickwork after removing paint. This is important to prevent dust but also to protect your beautiful new brick from absorbing moisture – especially important in humid rooms like kitchens or bathrooms.
How to whitewash bright brickwork
So. What happens if you expose, clean up and seal your brickwork but doesn’t look the way you hoped? Because of the cream paint patina on ours, I receive a lot of questions asking we we whitewashed our brick. The answer is no, but whitewashing is a good option if your brickwork is too dark or bright for your liking.
Whitewashing basically involves watering down white emulsion paint, and thinly applying it to your brickwork to lighten and soften the appearance. This piece from Home Depot is a simple step-by-step guide to effective white-washing, including what ratio of paint to use and how many coats you may need.
If you don’t fancy whitewashing, you could always fully paint your brickwork. There are some beautiful finishes and paint techniques you can use to make a real statement with painted brick. Split tones are particularly effective, as you can make use of the naturally-slightly-imperfect geometry of the brickwork…
Brickwork is the beautiful, raw skeleton of so many of our buildings. It takes heat and pressure to create a brick, skill and experience to lay them, and a little patience and determination to reveal them once again in your home. But if you’re looking for a statement that’s about as authentic to the bones of your home as it can be, then it may be worth the effort for you.