Exposed brick walls…

We’ve got two exposed brick walls at our house.

I don’t really much think about these walls until someone new comes over and starts asking questions.

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  • Do you like the exposed brick walls?
  • Did you expose the brick walls yourself?
  • How did you do it?
  • Did you seal the brick?
  • Why didn’t you remove all the plaster around the windows in the dining room?

Ok. Let’s start at the top.

Yes, I like the exposed brick walls in our house. I wish we had more. I find exposed brick walls add character and coziness. Tad isn’t quite as impressed as I am.  His desire to promote energy conservation outweighs his appreciation of the character that it adds.

Our dining room was exposed brick when we moved in. I didn’t know how much I appreciated the previous owner’s work until I had the opportunity to expose a brick wall myself.

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I exposed the master bathroom brick wall myself. Initially, I tried to talk our contractor into doing it. I had never before tried to expose a brick wall but I knew it was likely a lot of work. Our contractor was no fool. He had one of his guys try to remove the plaster for a second and told me that it wasn’t working.

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You can see below where the guys tried to remove the plaster and gave up – in the center of the photo.

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I decided that I was not going to be talked out of that exposed brick wall. I decided to prove that it was doable. I got it done myself with a hammer and a chisel. It was tedious. Thank goodness the wall was relatively small at only 4 feet by 9 feet. It took a good part of a weekend to get it done, but I proved it was doable. It was worth it in my opinion. And – I can now say I did something that others said couldn’t be done. Or – was it just a contractor ploy to not do something they didn’t want to do?…

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Our house (like many other older houses) has two layers of bricks that make up the exterior wall. The exterior brick is the nice finished brick that is seen from the outside. The interior wall is the red, soft, sandy brick that is exposed when the plaster is removed. The soft, sandy interior brick flakes easily and creates a fair amount of dust. As well, the old mortar between the bricks is really sandy so that also creates a bit of a mess. I don’t think it is a huge issue if the wall isn’t in a high traffic area. However, in our case the exposed brick wall in our master bathroom is where our towels were going to be hung to dry.  I wanted to prevent dusty towels and a constantly gritty floor in that area so I felt like some sealer was in order. I extensively researched what sort of sealer should be used. The research only confused me – as usual. I wanted a product that would not darken the bricks. I also wanted a matte finish. Most of the brick sealer products out there looked like they darkened the bricks and created a shiney finish. One day, the light bulb went off – or maybe Tad suggested it – I don’t really remember the specific details :) – but I ended up using the same sealer I used for the grout in our shower. I liked that it didn’t darken the stone in the shower and it was low sheen. I hoped for the same results on the brick wall.

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I applied the first coat of sealer with a spray bottle. I did a little happy dance – low sheen and no color change of the bricks. It is pretty exciting when things work out like they are supposed to.  I applied four or five – maybe six coats – maybe more – definitely not less – I sort of lost track.  Anyway, it was a lot of coats of sealer. The exposed brick wall in our master bathroom is dust free and beautiful with it’s low sheen finish.

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Nice new drywall built out on three sides and the tile floor scribed to the wall finishes it perfectly. That is the benefit of exposing the wall first then building in around it. You will see why I specifically mention this as a benefit when I present our exposed brick dining room wall…

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Now about our dining room exposed brick wall.

As mentioned earlier, our dining room wall was already exposed when we moved in. It is a focal point. It is one of the first things people notice when they enter our house. This is a good thing because the view out the dining room windows isn’t that great. The neighbor’s house is a few feet away and our view is of their side wall and iron security windows.  

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Anyway, the exposed brick wall itself is not in perfect shape. Since it is a focal point in our space I would like to get it cleaned up a bit. When we first moved in, we could see through the wall to the outside in a few spots. I was concerned about bugs coming in. Tad was concerned about the lack of energy efficiency. We got the outside brick tuck pointed. The inside tuck pointing is still on the To Do List. I’ll get it done eventually. I am also planning on sealing this wall as I did the bathroom wall once I get it tuck pointed. While it isn’t necessary like the bathroom wall, I still like the idea of decreasing the dust in our house if possible.

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So, for the final question. Why didn’t we remove all the plaster around the windows? The answer is that we didn’t not remove all the plaster. When we moved in the plaster had been removed. I actually added the plaster back around the windows. I know that sounds crazy. There was a good reason though. The window frames were protruding several inches out from the exposed brick wall. That didn’t work well for finishing purposes. For years, I checked out other people’s exposed brick walls and window finish solutions. Finally, I saw a loft where they left plaster around the windows. It looked cool and provided a solution to my window finishing problem.  It provided the structure for the window trim to lay flat against something. So, I added plaster back around the windows in an effort to mimic that loft detail I liked so much. It was pretty easy to do.

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The only time consuming issue was the painting of the plaster. It took a full 8 hours to tape off and paint the plaster around the three windows. I am not looking forward the day when I have to repaint that again…

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The other problem areas of the exposed brick dining room wall are the floor and ceiling gaps left after the plaster was removed.The top of the wall at the ceiling had about a 1-1.5 inch gap up into the attic. I wasn’t sure what to do about that so I added some plaster back on the wall to fill that gap.  I hope to remove that plaster and finish that area a bit cleaner when we  go to replace our sagging plaster ceiling with drywall. You can see that at the top of this photo…

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There was a gap in the flooring as well.  The previous owners filled it with scrap type wood – I think the filler wood was actually shims.  It was pretty ugly, unfinished, and messy.

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The best solution would have been to repair the wood flooring by patching and refinishing it.  We weren’t prepared for that work or expense, particularly because the rest of the flooring is not in good shape and could use patching in about five other large areas.  We ended up doing a border of sorts with just some stained wood. To do that, we had to cut back the flooring about a foot to reach the flooring joists. It accomplished what we intended – to fill the gap and neaten it up a bit.

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Long term, we think we want to replace our wood flooring and run it right up to the wall.  That would be optimal.

Go for it – expose a wall – it’s worth it.

Mixing metals – and a thought on the Mona Lisa…

I get a fair amount of questions about mixing and/or matching metals and metal finishes.  It’s not like someone asks every day or even every week, but it does seem to come in waves.  I had three people ask me last week so it got me thinking…

I looked around our house in search of metal mixing.  I think we might have every kind of metal finish somewhere in our house – and I mix metals in just about every room.  Our new bathroom is a good example where we mixed polished chrome faucet and shower fixtures, brushed stainless cabinet hardware, aluminum tile trim and outlet covers, white gold frames for artwork, and oil rubbed bronze door hardware.  I think it works.

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Obviously, I think mixing metals is ok to do.  In fact, I think mixing metals and metal finishes actually adds interest.  It’s kind of like matching bedroom sets – a little boring because everything is the same.  Same with too much polished chrome or brushed stainless – a bit uninteresting.  Mix it up though and we’ve got some interest out there.

Question #1 & the most common question – Is it ok to mix other metals with polished chrome in the bathroom (or kitchen)?  

My answer: Yes – definitely.  I am not a fancy pants (or smarty pants), but I do think every kitchen and bathroom needs some shine and brightness.   I will always choose polished chrome for faucets and fixtures.  I can’t think of any situation where I would opt for any other kind of faucet or shower fixture finish.  I like polished chrome faucets that much!

You can see here that the polished chrome on my little red teapot adds a lovely bit of shine against the brushed finish of the stove.  It’s the same concept with polished chrome faucets and a surrounding cast of characters in brushed stainless/nickel cabinet hardware and such.  It adds “layers” as the designers out there might say.

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 Same deal with brushed aluminum, matte aluminum, any aluminum…

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I feel like oil rubbed bronze is a beautiful contrast to polished chrome – not only in color, but also style and feel.  Oil rubbed bronze is like the working man’s metal – patina-ed, low maintenance, well worn and understated.  Polished chrome is like the talking man’s metal – dressy, a bit high maintenance, showy and over the top in high doses.  Oil rubbed bronze is soft and warm.  Polished chrome can be hard and cold.  Together, these two metal finishes provide a contrasting visual “interest” and “balance” – again, as the designers out there might say.

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Copper is another metal that is nice with polished chrome, but less likely to pop into your head.  There just isn’t much copper out there. I once searched the world (or at least all the local stores and internet) for a bright copper light fixture for a bathroom project.  I found only one option.  A friend had a custom made powder coated copper countertop installed in her kitchen.  It was unexpected – I loved it. These days, I think copper is a bit pricey so accent pieces such as outlet covers/switch plates and towel racks might be better on the budget.

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I used a copper switch plate in our old bathroom because I liked the warmth and artsy element it added to the cold feel of the polished chrome, grey walls, stark white tile, and watery green and blue art pieces that dominate in there.  An added bonus of my copper switch plate is that being in a damp environment (we don’t have ventilation in there) a few spots of blue/green patina have shown through (think Statue of Liberty).  I like that well used, well loved patina – it coordinates with the frog on the wall above it.  Here is a close up – you may be able to see it better in this photo – inside some of the curly cues.

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Question #2 & second most common question – What sort of finish would you recommend for door hardware?

My answer:  I like to keep the finish consistent throughout the house. I don’t think you have to match all the door handle styles throughout the whole house, but keeping the finish the same is good for tying together each space with the next. The front door is the exception. The front door is a great opportunity to do something different, fun, dramatic, unique.  I say go for a completely different style and/or finish there. Make it stand out.

Guests are greeted with a stainless brushed egg knob at our front door.  I like eggs – not only as food but as a shape and as art.  In fact, I’ve got a thing for eggs as art – but, that is a subject for another day.

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Oil rubbed bronze is probably my favorite finish for door handles.  As mentioned previously, it is like the working man’s metal – low maintenance, understated, soft, warm.  It’s a nice contrast to most wood tones and all white doors.   This is an original oil rubbed bronze finish, from way back when…

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Todays oil rubbed bronze is darker, less patina-ed, but still feels like a modern version of the classic and traditional – so it works well in our old house – I think.

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Question #3 & the final question – What can I do to make polished brass look good?

My answer:  Nothing.  Sorry.  Polished brass is just bad.  Nobody likes that polished brassy gold look.  Nobody ever liked that polished brassy gold look.  I wish there were a way to antique that stuff though because I do appreciate a little bit of antiqued brass/gold in small accent doses.  Our fireplace window hardware is antique brass.  It’s nice.  It’s got that old school, non trendy, retro, mid century kind of feel.

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On a side note – I really like the whole gaudy antiqued brass/gold frame thing – not sure why.  Maybe, it’s reminiscent back to the days of self taught amazing painters and original old art – very European and Louvre like…  On even more of a side note (or is it a tangent at this point?) – when visiting Paris, we went to the Louvre with one mission in mind (well two if you count saying we saw the Mona Lisa).  I have this print (framed in gaudy antique brass/gold) and a friend told me that the original was in the Louvre.  Without an era, name, or any identifying factor, we found it!  Crazy!  Out of a bazillion pieces of old artwork, we actually found this original painting!  And, as you can see, this original is also framed in antique gaudy gold!

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Oh – and we technically can say we saw the Mona Lisa as well, but from really far away – we couldn’t get anywhere near that tiny painting due to the huge crowds around it – but I did notice that it too was framed in gaudy gold.

Ok – back on point and in summary:

  • I say always use polished chrome faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, but mix in some other metals and/or metal finishes for interest.
  • Brushed stainless steel, brushed nickel, aluminum, oil rubbed bronze,  and copper work well with polished chrome and with each other.
  • Do something different with your front door hardware – make a statement there.  Otherwise, door hardware looks best when the finish is consistent throughout the rest of the house.
  • Polished brassy gold doesn’t work with anything at all.  However, gaudy gold/brass antiqued frames are perfect for artwork in any environment and with any other metal – in my humble opinion.
  • I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, but it isn’t that impressive.  If you are ever in the Louvre, look for the Delaroche – it’s more interesting than the Mona Lisa.

Pops of pattern, cowboys, aliens & orange sapphires…

I’m picky about patterns.  Not prickly – just picky.  I like patterns that surprise.

I think I am not generally drawn to large swaths of pattern in my overall environment.  I have never in my entire life brought home patterned drapery panels. I also tend to avoid patterned bath towels and bed covers.  However, I looked around the place and found that I have more pattern in my life than I would have expected – including two large “swaths” of it.

I do love the cow print floor tiles in our mudroom.  I didn’t bring this large scale, graphic pattern home specifically for the mudroom, but I am glad it made it’s way there.

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Then, there is our naked tree wall treatment in the basement.  This large scale, contrasting pattern feels like an amazing piece of artwork.

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I think graphic, contrasting, non-serious is my thing when it comes to patterns.

You always hear about people using “pops of color” to add interest to an otherwise neutral space.  I think I prefer to use “pops of pattern” to add interest to my space.  It feels more personal to me.  It feels like pops of art.

I could stare at this throw for hours.  It’s repetitive and calming, but not overwhelming.  I like that I can fold it up for a less intrusive pattern.

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I like patterns that peek out.  For example,  it’s exciting every night to pull back the solid white bed covers and discover bright patterned graphic sheets.  It’s art on my bed – and it is surprisingly calm.

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The kitchen is the other place I have patterns that peek out.  I love opening my kitchen linen drawer.  It’s happy.  It’s fun.  A new pattern is created every week when I put the freshly laundered towels and cloths away.  It’s bright blocks of color and a lovely pop of pattern in my kitchen drawer!

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So – I’ve got a thing for dish towels.  I like colorful, interesting patterned dish towels.  I found this little blue checked, ric rac, vintage inspired cowboy patterned towel a few years ago.  I think it feels a bit retro – like a picnic – in a Colorado sort of way.  I like ric rac.  I like a little retro.  I like picnics.  I like Colorado.  I like my cowboy dish towel.  It’s my kind of kitchen art.  Weirdly – it also makes me think of aliens.

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Yes, aliens.  Have you ever seen Unsealed Alien Files?  I am fascinated with the whole alien thing.  I’m not obsessed.  I wouldn’t want to be abducted and probed by aliens or anything like that, but I might want to have some tea and cucumber sandwiches with an alien.  That could be kind of fun.  Anyway, I feel like my cowboy dish towel and alien pottery go together – cowboys and aliens are explorers, adventurers, pioneers – at least in my mind.  When I see my cowboy dish towel and alien pottery together, it feels like a story – not a real story – an imaginary one – of exploring, of newfound adventures, of pioneering places unknown.

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Because I’ve got a thing for dish towels, I am always on the look out for something new.  The market has been seriously lacking in great dish towels for quite some time – maybe,  a couple of years.  So, imagine my excitement when I happened upon some perfect colors, patterns, and textures at Crate & Barrel.  I was pretty happy!  When I saw this cute little old fashioned tractor and veggie print, I swarmed – and swooned.  It has artichokes and radishes on it!  These remind me of simpler, maybe, more beautiful times.

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Crate & Barrel also had some pretty amazing solid color, waffle textured towels that I couldn’t resist.  These don’t match my kitchen or anything in the house for that matter – but I got one in every color anyway.  I think these would be described as jewel toned – very saturated – nothing muted here.  Emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and more sapphires (did you know that sapphires come in pretty much every color including orange?) – beautiful, clear, crisp colors.

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I figure I could pair these with my cowboy towel when I serve tea and cucumber sandwiches to my alien friends.  Those aliens will think they are in the company of royalty with all the jewel tones around this place.