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.

Color psychic…

The previous post about artwork and my friend Tobie in Wyoming got me thinking about color.  Tobie is a fan of crazy colors on the wall – same as me.  I once spent a weekend – in Wyoming – picking colors and painting accent walls at her house. I also think it was Tobie who once mentioned that professional sports teams do color coordinating the best.  For example, Tobie’s favorite NFL team, the Miami Dolphins, with their turquoise and orange.  I think her observation was a good one.  I have this combination in my own house – as mentioned in the previous post.  It works.

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In 2010, turquoise was the color of the year.  The description of turquoise that year — it “inspires thoughts of soothing, tropical waters and a comforting escape from the everyday troubles of the world, while at the same time restoring our sense of wellbeing.”  I chose turquoise for our laundry room in 2010 – not because it was the color of the year – though that description sounds pretty nice for a laundry room.  I chose it because it felt like a good transition between the sea green bathroom and the orange sunroom.  When I found out turquoise was the color of the year, I was worried about our laundry room color being trendy.  3 years later, I still like the turquoise and am no longer worried about it being trendy.  Officially, our turquoise color is Millspring Blue HC-137 by Benjamin Moore – just to keep it all accurate.

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A number of people have walked through our house and asked “Why orange – in the sunroom – full of windows and bright light?”  I work at home.  My old workspace used to be in the purple room, our future master bedroom.

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Purple is my favorite color.  I thought I would love working in a cool, calm, quiet environment.   It made me sleepy – very sleepy.  So, when I had the opportunity to relocate my workspace I opted for a vibrant, energetic color that would keep me awake.  Thus, the orange.  It helps to wake me up in the morning – I have never been, am not currently, and will likely never be a morning person. It helps to get and keep the creativity flowing.  It minimizes the sleepy afternoon lull.  It makes me optimistic.  It sounds a little odd, but I feel like all the windows and outside views keep it from becoming overstimulating.  I also chose 2 different oranges for the room because I was initially nervous that the bright orange might be too much for me.  The brighter orange is Billiant Amber 161 by Benjamin Moore and is painted on all the window walls in the sunroom and mudroom.  The darker orange is Pumpkin Spice 126 by Benjamin Moore and is painted on the 2 walls opposite the window walls in the sunroom.  My thought on this was that the darker orange might absorb a little of the glare from all that sunshine pouring in.  I don’t know if my theory has officially been proven, but I feel like it has worked out like I had hoped/planned.  Anyway, I chose these colors in 2010.  In 2012 Tangerine Tango was the color of the year.  I felt like I was kind of on a roll with color picking.  First, the turquoise.  Then, the orange.

This is the view from my desk.  I get energized just thinking about it.

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2014 color of the year is Radiant Orchid – a fuchsia purple with pink undertones.

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I searched my house high and low for anything close to this color.  The only thing I could find – in the entire house – was my laptop envelope.

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You might be wondering why I am mentioning this color then – because it doesn’t really support the “I’m a color psychic” thing?  Oh, but it does – here is the deal.  I know someone with an accent wall in their living room that is very similar to this fuchsia color.  The thing is that I actually helped them pick it out!  I wish I had a picture for proof – or something.  I don’t.  Anyway,  you would be hard pressed to find this color in professional sports.  So, I had to look to my second favorite place for color coordination – nature and the garden.  These fuchsia wall people have orange leather chairs and we went with a pale green paint on the other walls in the room.  This fuchsia, orange, and green combo is surprisingly unexpected and lovely – and I was a part of it…

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Seriously, I think I might be a color psychic.

Bathroom – the final details…

The final details of our newest bathroom includes paint, all things metal, glass, art, fish hooks, a shower seat, and caulking.

Paint – I like vibrant colors.  I normally would never paint a wall white – or any other pale color for that matter.  Well, I did both in this bathroom.  I figured with the variety of tile colors going on in the bathroom, a neutral color would highlight the tile. I wanted to keep the tile looking like the star in the space. The vanity wall is painted a very pale green – as an accent.  The other three walls are white – with a slight yellow/green tint.  I think I am the only one that notices the pale green of the vanity wall…

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Fixtures – I like polished chrome in the bathroom.  It feels clean and bright.  I like simple and sleek.  I also went with polished chrome on the shower door.  As much as I like polished chrome, I do like to mix up my metals a bit – for interest.  I kept with the simple, sleek style for cabinet hardware, towel rings, towel hooks, toilet paper holder, and vanity feet – but went with the brushed stainless finish on these items.  I think it works.

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Outlet and switch plate covers – Fancy outlet and switch plate covers are sort of my thing. I decided on a simple patterned metal style that works well with the grey quartz, tile, and other metal finishes in the space.  It feels like art.

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Glass – The textured rain glass is a cool decorative feature in our bathroom.  I am not really sure how this ended up in our space but I am happy it did.

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Art – A new space is always an opportunity to support our local artists/business in my opinion.  We don’t have much room for art in the new bathroom but I did manage to find a few pieces.  I think the art closes the color gap between the red exposed brick and the pale green and turquoise tile.  The first is a series of three by the same artist.  I don’t think he is a local guy but a local frame shop /gallery carries his work and it is all original and unique.  The second are 2 prints (hand printed) by a local artist – very delicate and beautiful.  The bat is felted wool – procured at a fun craft show last Christmas season – a bit quirky.  Finally, everyone needs a horseshoe somewhere – you know the good luck thing and all.

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Fish hooks – I wanted something big enough to hold bath towels.  I wanted something unique and fun. I searched all the local haunts and hardware stores – no luck.  I searched the internet for hours – I became a little obsessed. I finally stumbled upon these.  The function is perfect.  The design is fun.

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Shower seat – I searched for the smallest teak seat I could find.  The teak adds a bit of warmth to the hard, cool surrounding surfaces.  It’s  movable. It’s nice.

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Caulking – It might seem a bit odd to call caulking a detail but it makes a huge difference in cleaning up the tile in the shower, in the corners, around the sink, along the backsplash, between the Schluter and the wall – pretty much everywhere there might be a gap.  I could write an entire post just about the merits of caulking – and I may do just that in the future.  Suffice it to say, caulk is my favorite finishing tool/treatment.

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Stay tuned for one more post about the bathroom coming up – a final summary/interview of what we like best, the hardest part of the remodel, where we saved money, what we would do differently if we did it all over again, and more…