Exposed brickwork 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 and your brickwork, it can be an authentic period feature, a grungy industrial accent or an ultra modern feature.
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 all the different scenarios, what exposed brick I have in my home, and points to the experts where you need them…
Exposed brickwork 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! The brickwork has been previously painted off-white, and that paint has been partially stripped to leave a creamy patina which works well with the soft rosey hue of the Victorian brick.
Last year, when redecorating the ground floor, we decided to give the dining room’s chimney breast the same treatment. This chimney breast was painted pale grey, but as we started stripping we discovered cream underneath, which means the patina matched.
We used Nitromors paint stripper and specialised scrapers to do this work. It was VERY messy – we were lucky to be doing it in the midst of a full redecoration, so there was no carpet laid or nearby furniture that would be damaged by flying paint flecks or or dripped paint stripper. Paint stripper is nasty – I wouldn’t recommend doing a job like this with pets or children in the house, unless you can securely shut the room off.
This room’s on the other side of the open double doorway (you can -just- see the frame of this 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…
When we’d re-built and stained the deck, we decided to continue the theme further into the outdoor space. There, too, we had a cream-then-grey painted brick wall. The job out here was much easier (though no less messy!) as we could take a jet pressure washer to the wall, which cleared off a good portion of the paint. We’ve left more paint on this wall for a heavier patina and overall more rustic finish, because I think that’s better suited to a garden wall. It’s a quick and efficient process – just be prepared to clean up the ground, nearby windows, any uncovered furniture and yourself thoroughly – 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 brick wall in my house?
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 – especially in period properties, it was common for internal walls to be built with lower quality bricks and by apprentice layers. 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’ve exposed, cleaned up and sealed your brickwork but it’s… not how you imagined? Because of the cream paint patina on ours, I’m often asked if we whitewashed. 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.