Whitewashing a Brick Fireplace

As mentioned in recent posts, we’re busy doing some home renovations, mostly with paint, to freshen things up.  One project we tackled was to whitewash our brick fireplace.

Here’s a pic of our original fireplace.  The brick is the same as on  the outside of our house which was built in 1987.  I like the color, but wanted to make the fireplace more current.   The fireplace sits in a corner of our room and runs up to follow the line of the vaulted ceiling, so the high side is about 10′ tall, and it’s a dominate feature in the room.  But we’ve never figured out why they put the fireplace, which should be a focal point, at the edge of the room.  But you have to work with what you’ve got.

I considered different options, including covering the brick with the trendy shiplap, some faux wood ceramic tile, or even stacked stone and spent lots of time browsing the internet and pinterest for inspiration.  I also knew I wanted a full surround mantel, and found a great unfinished one on Houzz and it was on sale, so I ordered it and had it shipped to our house.  Finally, we decided adding shiplap or tile would be a lot more… more permanent, more work, more money, so after viewing some examples of whitewashed brick, we thought let’s give that a try.  It’s inexpensive, looked easy, and if we didn’t like it, we could always cover it up with shiplap or tile later.

I found an inspiration photo to use as a reference and kept that handy on my ipad.  I had picked 3 Behr paint colors at Home Depot to use throughout our living room, entry, dining room and kitchen to keep it all cohesive….

  • Engagement Silver (a dirty gray with blue-green undertones)
  • Mocha Light (a light greige)
  • Painters White (white with a hint of gray)

and when you are whitewashing, Painters White seemed an obvious choice, plus it’s the same color I used for the faux board and batten wainscoting in our dining room. 

 All the tutorials I had read and watched said to thin the paint with water to a milky consistency.  I poured about a cup of the white into a small paint container.   Added approximately the same amount of tap water and mixed well with a paint stick.

Other supplies I used:

  • Drop Cloth
  • Ladder
  • Blue Painters Tape
  • Cheap natural bristle brush from Home Depot (2″ angle which was about $3) – you want something a little stiff because you will be scrubbing it into the rough texture of the brick and it’s hard on a brush
  • Small paint container which I could hold in one hand (also purchased from Home Depot)
  • Dustpan

Before starting you can use the blue painter’s tape to protect any edges or trim.  Then, to paint the brick, you simply dip the brush into the thinned paint and start scrubbing it on the brick.  I started near the top as high as I could reach and worked in sections, scrubbing the paint into the mortar between the bricks first, then brushing it out over the surface of the brick.  The thinned paint will run, but just scrub out the runs before they have time to dry.  (Many videos and tutorials I found online say to use a rag to wipe away the excess paint, but I didn’t see any effect using a rough terry cloth towel to scrub and wipe, so didn’t bother with this step.)  After I worked for a while, my husband wanted to try his hand at it.  I worried the area he painted would look different because everyone has a different ‘touch’ and he was working it a little differently than me, but in actuality, you can’t see any difference where he worked or where I worked… it all came out the same.  After the paint was drying, I did go back and hit it with more paint here and there.

I didn’t get quite the effect of my inspiration photo.  In trying to analyze why, I realized in my inspiration photo the mortar was more even with the surface of the brick, so it showed more white. My mortar is set deep, so even painted white, it leaves a stronger, dark shadow pattern between the bricks. To get more of that inspiration effect, I would have to do a ‘german smear’ using white mortar and I didn’t want to tackle that.  The surface of my bricks are medium textured, some parts rough, some more smooth, and once I brushed the paint over them, the texture gives the effect of thick paint layers that are chipping off.

We did the hearth in the same manner, and when I got to the bricks that touched the carpet, I took a plastic dustpan and pushed the edge between the brick and the carpet and used it as a shield while I whitewashed the bricks above it, moving it along as I worked from left to right.

The Pearl Mantel came unfinished and required just a little bit of easy assembly.  I was very impressed with the quality of the mantel.  It’s quite heavy, solidly built, and well sanded.  We chose Minwax Polyshades Espresso to finish it.  This is an oil based stain/varnish combination. I applied the first coat with a natural bristle angle brush, and let it dry according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  This first coat raised the grain of the wood, so much for it being well-sanded to start, so I had to steelwool the entire mantel to smooth the grain back down.  We almost decided to stop at this point because we did like the rustic look of the sanded stain, but after mulling it over, I decided I wanted the stain a little darker to match some rustic shelves over our kitchen coffee bar, so onward with the second coat.  I applied it with the natural bristle brush, then wiped it with a soft cloth to make sure the finish didn’t get too heavy.  After the second coat, it looked even better, so we were glad I opted to do the second one.

The mantel required that we screw a french cleat board onto the brick to hang the mantel from.  All these parts come with the mantel except the masonry screws to attach it to the brick. Instructions are included for how to measure the placement of the cleat on the fireplace wall.  It actually was easier than I expected!

Below are some photos of our fireplace re-do, although we still have a little more work!  Namely, repaint the fireplace doors.  Waiting for some warmer weather, so I can take these gold doors off and into the backyard to spray paint.  But then again, isn’t gold making a reappearance as a hot trend???  Maybe I should just clean and polish them up!

The buffalo canvas is a photo from our Yellowstone vacation last August.  We were sitting in traffic on the park road watching the buffalo on the left side of the road along with everyone else, when Dave yelled at me that two buffalo were charging over the hill to our right coming directly at me in the passenger seat.  I don’t know how, but I managed to get the window down, my camera up, and fire off a couple shots as they veered toward the back of our car and ran between us and the car behind.  Dave took my photo and did his magic enhancements to it in Photoshop and had it printed on a canvas.  We think it’s a perfect accessory for the newly transformed fireplace.

Let me know what you think about this re-do!

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