The other day, a customer asked me to whitewash a brick fireplace in order to get a complete makeover for her brick fireplace. She explained that the brick is too dark. She further commented that she hates the look of painted brick. I don’t blame her. We’ve probably all seen examples of unattractive natural brick that has been converted into unattractive painted brick.

With those two options off the table, what’s left? Just whitewashing, right?  Nope. That’s not correct.

Whitewashing Brick Fireplace

When my customer asked about whitewashing the brick fireplace, I went to Pinterest to pull up some photos of whitewashed brick. I found maybe a half dozen different looks that can be achieved. These have to do with how opaque or how translucent the whitewash is; whether each brick is fully covered; whether the brick is blotted, etc. Have a dozen is good, but it’s still limiting.

There are infinite options for coloring brick that have nothing to do with whitewash. These include stains, dyes, paints, glazes, plasters, cement and more.

All About Paints & Washes for Brick Fireplaces

The method that we most typically use employs paint and washes. The washes are usually diluted paint. The key is to vary tones. Often we will vary the first color applied so that not all bricks are the same. That’s a great foundation. Next we vary the color of the washes. Those are applied the same way – not all bricks receive the same wash. We also vary the method of application. What we end up with is immense variation which makes it look like the colors of natural brick.

There’s an important principle that I’d like to address at this point. While we prefer to take all the measures I just described in order to vary the look of each brick, it’s not altogether essential to do so. For those who prefer a less expensive approach, many times it is adequate to merely paint each brick a slightly different color. (Let me emphasize SLIGHTLY different).

This lesson was apparent to me several decades ago when a condominium asked us to create the look of quarry tile on outside patios. The particular paint product that we used on the project was very sticky and could not be turned into a wash. We used half a dozen slightly different colors to create 1’X1′ “tiles”. Even though there was very little internal color variation within each square, I was surprised to hear residents indicate that they thought actual quarry tile had been installed.

Even though there was very little internal color variation within each square, I was surprised to hear residents indicate that they thought actual quarry tile had been installed.

So even if you can’t create variation within each piece, oftentimes it’s enough to have variation represented from one item to another.

Admittedly, the method being proposed here – of using paint and washes – is more labor intensive than simple whitewashing. The trade-off is that so many more options can be considered. It’s yet another principal – beauty isn’t always easy to come by!

Re-Coloration of Bricks

Two steps yet remain to finish off the re-coloration of brick via paint and washes. After each individual brick has been effectively colored, the mortar needs to be addressed. Whether you started by painting all bricks and mortar or you painstakingly painted individual bricks, being careful to keep paint off of the mortar, it’s likely that there are off colors that ended up on the mortar. Use a round brush touch up the mortar.

Once that’s accomplished, you may want to apply a weak wash on the mortar. This helps to make the mortar look more grainy as the wash settles into low nooks and crannies.

The Final Touch

After all paints and washes are dry, it’s a great idea to apply a clear dull finish to the brick and mortar to cover any sheen that might be present in the paints that have been applied. In as much as the washes are paints which have been diluted, they have lost some of their abrasion-resistance properties. This last clear coat will provide protection for the washes.

These are some of the options available for creating a complete, new look with your brick fireplaces. We can help you with several such ideas for a fireplace facelift at your home.