Exposed Brick as a Design Element

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Brick is a durable building material prevalent in areas where local clay is abundant for its production. Brick homes are common in the southeast US, but older urban buildings were also made of brick back when shipping costs were cheap. As renovations take the place of new construction in this economy, brick walls are being discovered, uncovered and utilized in interior design.

If you are lucky enough to live in an old brick factory or warehouse, you may be able to create an accent wall by exposing some brick. You could uncover interesting archways, doorways and maybe a fireplace or two. An architectural element can become a focal point, and the room can be designed and decorated around it.

Exposed brick as accent walls

Any room can be spruced up with a brick accent wall – kitchen, bath, living room, family room or bedroom – by adding visual interest and texture.

Brick can be dressed up or down. Old brick creates a casual, rustic feel. The colors are warm and add to a charming country décor with antique, vintage or distressed furniture. Exposed beams and wood floors complement the brick. Dark woods create contrast and make the space cozy.

If you have one brick wall, painting the others in warm beige, yellow or warm off-white will make the brick stand out. Alternatively, brick can be painted to blend in with the other walls. Light will make subtle shadows, which will highlight the lines and texture of the brick, creating visual interest.

Painting brick can give a room a clean, contemporary feel. Think of pure white in a black, white and stainless steel kitchen, or make a child’s room playful with bright yellow. Painted brick also gives you the flexibility to change a room, just like you can with a painted wall.

Brick as artistic loft space feel

Brick walls in urban lofts have a vintage industrial look with exposed plumbing and heating ducts. It makes me think of the early 1900s, when work forces were moving to the city, and these factories were churning out products. As factories moved out of cities to expand, these buildings were turned into living spaces. They were frequently artist lofts with large windows and good light. Each floor was left wide open, and furniture and dividers defined the various rooms, but the exterior walls were all brick.

As with any material made from the earth, brick is an excellent thermal mass for passive solar heating. It will absorb the heat from the sun or even warm ambient air, then radiate it out as temperatures drop. Exposing a brick wall in a south facing room would be very effective and lower heating bills.

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The drawback of old brick is that is can be dusty and hard to clean, since it is not a smooth surface. It may also collect dust and other allergens that could irritate residents. Luckily, brick can be sealed. It will give it a slight sheen, but will keep the house cleaner.

Since brick is porous, it will absorb water and needs to be sealed in damp places, such as the kitchen and bathroom. This will reduce the likelihood of mold growing on and in it.

Brick wall veneers

If you want the look of brick, you can apply a veneer along any wall in your house. This is a surface treatment, which is less expensive that building a brick wall, and a great alternative in new construction.

Exposing brick or applying veneer can be DIY projects, but do your homework before starting and especially if you are a renter! There may be zoning or neighborhood association regulations to consider, too. With a little forethought, you can have a unique focal point in your house with exposed brick.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.