Adding an exposed brick wall can add warmth and character without fuss or frill – perfect as part of a laid-back, but stylish decorating scheme. An exposed wall can create a wonderful, versatile focal point to a room, but getting the look right takes careful preparation, attention to detail and patience, as it can be a long, painstaking task to strip walls back to their original façade.
Here are some top tips for creating an exposed brick wall in your home, from choosing the right surface, to finishing and sealing the wall…
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1. Pick a wall to expose
An exposed brick expanse is a dramatic statement, as whichever wall you choose will become the focus of the room. The easiest wall to strip will be one with no doors or windows, as working around edges will slow you down, plus will need filling and careful repair when you’re finished. Look at how many radiators and sockets are on the wall, too.
Bare brick works better with a ‘raw’ contemporary look, so I would advise changing the style of any face plates and radiators to metal if they are not already. An exposed brick wall marries itself to an industrial-style interior, so if you go for this look, consider running power cables into some galvanised trunking.
2. Prepare the wall
The scary thing about revealing old brickwork, is there is no real way of telling what the wall will look like until it’s done. If you are the sort of person that will be unhappy with rustic, uneven bricks, cracks and patches then proceed directly to my cheat option (below).
Once you’re ready to take the plunge, first drill a pilot hole to be sure there is actually brick back there. To ensure the bricks are of good enough quality to make a feature in a scheme, uncover a test site (approximately 30 square centimetres), which should give you a good idea of the quality of your bricks. If you are not happy with them, stop there, but if you like the look, get ready to tackle the rest.
How to cheat the look
Modern brick cladding comes in a wide variety and type of bricks. Try Reclaimed Brick Tile for an authentic aged feel, or Slimbrick or Matclad for brick slips that you apply with specialist adhesive.
3. Protect yourself and surroundings
You will need goggles, gloves, masks and sensible clothing. Seal off the rest of the room, too, to ensure nothing gets damaged in the process of stripping the wall. Invest in the toughest plastic sheeting you can find and lay all over the room, floor and furniture, and place cardboard directly under your work area. Remember, this project is going to create some serious dust, so it’s wise to have two buckets on the go for removing the old plaster, so you can continually empty them in small loads.
4. Be patient
I can’t lie, stripping a wall back to brick is a hard and dirty job, but one that is worth it once completed. Think of it as more of an archaeology project than a demolition job, one that needs careful, patient attention to get the best finish.
Don’t just go at the wall with a crow bar or hammer away at random spots – this will only create more dust and a bad finish. Starting at your test area, hit the wall with precision across a one foot square radius. Then, pry the plaster off with a putty knife, which will hopefully come off in chunks. Some parts of the wall will be trickier than others to reveal, but be persistent and don’t lose heart – it will look amazing.
5. Finishing an exposed brick wall
- Sponge down the newly exposed brick to minimise dust.
- Deep clean the bricks using a stiff wire brush and a mix of equal parts powdered soap and salt, combined with enough water to make a paste.
- Use brick acid if there is stubborn plaster residue, or use a sandblaster to achieve a smooth finish.
- Rake out the joints to 2.5cm and flush point with a lime mortar.
- Finish the wall with a terracotta sealant.
Gabrielle Blackman is an interior designer and presenter of BBC One’s DIY SOS and Channel 5’s Cowboy Builders. With more than 18 years’ professional experience, she has worked with designers such as Mary Fox Linton and Nina Campbell, and is involved in many projects, from designing luxury kitchens, TV sets and yachts, to homes for private clients. Follow her on Twitter @CushionCrisis