Fireplaces are central to the home. The hearth wouldn’t be such an iconic concept and word if it wasn’t important to the family. So, if your fireplace is focal and important, shouldn’t it look nice? Unfortunately, almost all houses have ugly fireplaces, unless you built yourself. Why that is, I can’t answer, but it’s something that can be remedied very easily with a grey paint wash or a white paint wash. I’ve now painted several brick fireplaces with paint washes and you can see more of that on my Instagram account. Click to jump to method and source guide, or scroll down.
A white wash wasn’t going to fly with my fiancé, and I’m actually glad we didn’t go that route because I am so happy with how the grey paint wash turned out. As you can see this fireplace is in our basement and it was dark, dank and RED before. I was really scared to tackle the grey paint wash, because I was worried that I would do something wrong. But guess what, it was so easy. I had nothing to worry about and neither do you, because you could literally do this in your sleep. You can’t screw it up!
Let’s back track and I will show you the before so you can understand the complete transformation that this project created. I know you can’t tell it from the above shot, but this is a wall-to-wall brick fireplace. It was a monstrosity of red brick and pine bead board.
My fiancé has long took a firm stance against my desire to paint brick. I think he was envisioning some kind of glossy thick oil paint scenario. Oh no boy, you couldn’t be more wrong. When he finally relented I wasted no time, perchance he changed his mind. I mean, he literally left for work the next morning and I whipped out the paint.
Let me tell you. He was very abashed when he came how and saw how wonderful the fireplace looked. He couldn’t stop saying, “wow” to me. And he downright admitted he had been wrong all those years (something unheard of in our relationship).
Here is my inspiration board. It took me hours to hunt down an inspiration image of a fireplace paint washed in grey (bottom right) — almost everyone does a white wash on red brick. I studied this photograph thoughtfully, because though my fireplace had a bare wood rustic mantle, it didn’t have the white elements that make this space contemporary and bright. I decided I couldn’t proceed with the brick makeover without tackling the pine wainscotting, so at the same time as I painted the brick I also painted the pine.
I did a lot of research before I even broached the topic with my fiancé, out of fear of irrevocably damaging the brick and to demonstrate to him that I was fully equipped to handle this project. What if the grey paint wash went terribly wrong, making the already dire situation worse? Like I said, I had no reason to fear. This is not rocket science, in fact, it’s not even science. You don’t need measurements, you just need a set of eyeballs and some common sense.
Many blogs recommended that a paint wash was a two-person job, but I effectively tackled this project from start to finish solo by myself over the course of an eight-hour day. The paint-to-water ratio, number of coats, and method of application varied from blog to blog and project to project, but the results all seemed relatively the same.
Grey Paint Wash Method
You will need…
- paint of choice
- cheap paint brushes that you can throw out
- plastic container to mix paint in
- rags for blotting
- painter’s tap
- plastic sheeting or drop clothes to protect surfaces
Clean the surface first with a thorough vacuum.
Using a mix in the realm of 2 parts paint and 1 part water will probably be a sufficient dilution (you WILL have splatter, protect nearby areas). I applied two coats of paint, and worked the paint into the grout and across the bricks as I went, rather than edging first and painting the bricks second. Some blotting was required but I wasn’t neurotic about it as all the excess paint eventually seeped into the brick and grout with no discernible “drips”, like you would get when painting drywall.
The paint colour used is Benjamin Moore Escarpment and I highly recommend using brushes that are cheap and disposable to apply the paint. Your brick will destroy your paint brushes.
At the end of the day I found that doing a grey paint wash on red bricks didn’t preserve the colour variation in the bricks like a white wash would. In the end I wasn’t happy with the uniform colour, so I went back to my grey paint and in one bowl mixed in some white paint and in another mixed in some black, so that I had a dark and light shade of the same paint. I thinned the two new paints only slightly with water (I eyeballed it) and then applied the darker and lighter paints to a random selection of bricks to achieve a more natural effect.
There’s been unanimous awe. Everyone is very impressed with the results of the grey paint wash, even my skeptic other half. I am relieved it turned out so well. As for durability, the paint is completely soaked into the brick so there is no risk of scratching it off accidentally.
Toy Cabinet – Ikea Kallax Shelf
Paint – Benjamin Moore, Escarpment
White Frames – Kiera Grace Economical Frames
Brushes – Amazon