Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whitewashing Brick

I painted my fireplace a year ago and since then, I've received several questions about how I did it.  I've intended to do this for a while, but tutorials can be a little time consuming so I'm sorry its taken so long but here it is.

Here's what I started with before we moved in.  The bricks look like they were recycled, but mostly they were still so dark and depressing and that's not the least bit appealing in a basement room. 

I hated the fireplace and mostly tried to just pretend it wasn't there.  I just thought that someday we'd just pay to reface it with stone, have it removed or something.  Then, one day I thought of all the days I drove home from work through a certain neighborhood admiring the old homes.  Some homes were brick and had been painted.  Some of the painted brick homes had weathered paint and, some looked like some kind of chalking had given an uneven white appearance to the brick like on the house below.  These houses were the ones I loved the most.

Inspirational lightbulb moment.
I loved this on the exterior of a house so why not on a brick fireplace wall?

Make no mistake.  I'm normally gung-ho for paint projects but I was truly afraid to do this.  In the house where I grew up, I watched my dad spend years stripping layers and layers of paint (red, white, blue) from a brick fireplace probably 1/4 of the size of mine so I knew that once I put a paint brush on that brick, it would be forever.  Ultimately, I decided that if it went wrong, I could just paint it all out completely and I could live with it because I'd rather have a stark white wall over the dark hole it was.  After I made peace with my decision, I went for it.

All I needed was semi-gloss white paint that I had on hand and a 2.5" brush.  I have an angled brush pictured below and it will do the job fine but if you have the square type, its probably better.  I did not paint the grout - Brick only. 

Now, on to the details (on sample bricks):
~ Don't put too much paint on the brush at one time.  I dipped the tip of the brush into the paint and wiped off a good portion of the excess. 

You do not want too much paint.  Starting out, I would suggest using less paint until you get the hang of it and find the right amount that works for you but keep in mind that less is more here.  Too much paint and you're going to end up with a solid white brick or a glob.  You can also come back later if you want to add more.  This is the perfect amount ...

~ Next, brush across the brick, without putting too much pressure so that you get semi-even paint across the brick but you aren't getting solid coverage. 

Then brush up and down blending out any brush strokes. 

Its okay if its uneven because randomness is what you're going for.  There is no exact science to this and it doesn't have to be perfect, but you also don't want it to be an obvious glob of paint or brush strokes.  Don't worry about perfection.

This part is important!
~ Step away from the wall every few bricks.
 Take a step away from the wall and see how it looks overall.  The appearance of your work is going to look different up close than it will standing away from it when you look at an entire section of bricks and your technique will change without your ever realizing it.  In the photo above, for example, there's what I think an obvious horizontal paint glob that I would blend more.  I didn't notice this standing so close.  When I worked on my wall, I found myself slowly adding more paint as I went across the wall and taking a step back helped keep things even.

This may sound scary and complicated.  It really isn't.  I actually think its easier than painting a solid wall because you aren't cutting in, doing trim or striving for perfection like when you paint a wall.  Its been a while since I did it but I think it took about 90 min. for me to do the entire wall. 

I know many people are anti-paint on brick and I completely understand that, but if you're like me and really hate it, its your house and you should make it something you love.  I hope this helps for anyone out there considering this project.


  1. Melanie, your fireplace is stunning! I love that house that was your inspiration too! Wonderful job!

  2. wow! looks soooooo beautiful.

    isn't it amazing how a white wash can seriously make anything look so much better!

  3. I love a house with worn painted brick like your inspiration photo. I used to live for a short time in a red brick house and my Dad and I would talk about painting it white and then sandblasting some of the paint off....he loved that look too.

    I think your fireplace wall looks fantastic.

  4. One more thing....doesn't your inspiration photo just scream....Christmas? I think at Christmas time there is nothing better than a colonial house. Even though I'm super happy in my tudor Christmas...I could sure go for a colonial.

  5. You've certainly made the best improvement to the hearth. Looks truly fabulous!

  6. This is an amazing did a fab job...your fireplace looks just beautiful!!!

  7. The "new" fireplace transformed the room. It was nice before, but absolutely stunning and welcoming now. You did a beautiful job. I'm one of those people afraid to paint bricks because of what your dad had to do. But I do love the way it looks once it's been done right. And you did it just right!!
    Patricia :o)
    Ps: Love the chandelier!!

  8. It looks great.. hard to believe regular paint does it! Thanks for the tutorial.

  9. I would so love to try this, mine is brown brick and I hate it!!! Great job on yours:)

    Love the house that you showed too


  10. Honestly, it's fabulous!

  11. You did a fantastic job on this. It looks so natural! Love the end result!

  12. I think it's beautiful! I bet you are so glad you went through with it!

  13. Debra in Northern INNovember 16, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Thanks so for the inspiration.

    I have been going around and around, in my mind (adds to the overall dizziness!!) about attempting to "dry brush" the exterior of my floor to ceiling brick fireplace in the FR. When I say floor to celing, I am talking open ceiling in a 2-story home!!! Needless to say, I am scared you-know-what to proceed, and your info is so valuable! I think I will experiment a little with some bricks, might try cutting the paint with some water. Did you try sanding the brick when you finished? I love the sandblast brick look (the house pic), too, and love the aged paint--uneven and peeling--on brick even more.

    Thanks so much for your post, can't believe I found it!!!

  14. Debra,
    If you're nervous, practicing on a couple of bricks first is a great idea. I'm not sure about adding water to the paint. I wonder if it will make it harder to blend. I suppose that can be part of your experiment on your sample bricks.

    When I think of sandblasing or sanding, I think mess. I did not attempt that.

    Good luck with your project!


  15. What a huge and beautiful difference white washing your bricks made. Love it! Thanks for sharing the how you did it!!!

  16. thank you for your inspiration. Here is my fireplace now!

  17. what do you think of sponging the paint one and more of a natural color instead of a white?

  18. White is simply my own personal preference. The reason I chose white was because it looks like the the chalking that happens on old brick. However, this could work with any color.

    The Old White Cottage

  19. I think the house was done w/a lime solution. I really like that look bc the brick color shows thru. Although your bricks look great too. I like the more 'mottled' look. I like that you practiced on some bricks so you knew how the brick was going to soak up the paint. That is sooo much better than starting right on ur fireplace first.

  20. Your inspirational house is absolutely beautiful. However do you think you should have a little more of the natural brick showing through? Maybe this picture does not do it justice. It is beautiful, but I think there is just a little too much white all around.

  21. Love it!! The grout in between my bricks is black. Would you suggest covering that before starting on the brick? Also, any idea what to use on the grout? Thanks for any help; I hope my fireplace ends up as beautiful as yours :)

  22. Love it!! The grout in between my bricks is black. Would you suggest covering that before starting on the brick? Also, any idea what to use on the grout? Thanks for any help; I hope my fireplace ends up as beautiful as yours :)


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