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Grey-Washing A Red Brick Fireplace: Before And After

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.

Before the grey paint wash, red brick fireplace makeover

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.

(clockwise from top: one, two, three, four, five)

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.

Fireplace makeover DIY with a grey paint wash on red brick.

Fireplace makeover DIY with a grey paint wash on red brick.

Source Guide

Toy CabinetIkea Kallax Shelf

PaintBenjamin Moore, Escarpment

White FramesKiera Grace Economical Frames

BrushesAmazon

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  • Reply Julie Croucher

    I love your fireplace, I’m thinking of using the same paint on my equally ugly red brick fireplace, I see you used Benjamin Moore escarpment CC-518, please can you share which finish type the paint is please? Many thanks

    August 25, 2017 at 1:39 am
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      I just used a regular eggshell finish that you would use for any living room wall. After I bought it, it occurred to me that I should have purchased matte, but once I used the paint I realized it didn’t matter. The paint soaks into the brick so much that I don’t know that the finish makes any difference at all.

      September 11, 2017 at 3:14 pm
  • Reply Bev Yeager

    Looks like your fireplace had black grout, mine does too and that’s what makes me nervous about whitewashing it. Did you have any coverage problems with the dark grout? Any tips?

    September 26, 2017 at 12:50 pm
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      No I didn’t have any issues with grout coverage at all. You just have to make sure that you get your brush in there everywhere to deposit the paint. Grout is porous unless its been sealed.

      September 26, 2017 at 1:33 pm
  • Reply Yvette Gomez

    Love all, what is the color for number 4?

    September 28, 2017 at 10:19 am
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      I believe its Valspar Smoked Oyster if we are talking about the same image.

      October 31, 2017 at 1:20 pm
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      Overtop of a pre-existing white paint btw. If you click “four” below the photo collage it will take you to the information about that project.

      October 31, 2017 at 1:21 pm
  • Reply Lynne Helm

    Wouldn’t primer do the same thing as your first coat of paint?

    January 19, 2018 at 4:17 pm
    • Reply Jenn Schleich

      Hi Lynne, probably… but why would you buy primer and your paint colour? Because brick is so porous it wants to take in the paint – you don’t need a primer to prep the surface for proper adhesion.

      January 22, 2018 at 11:23 am
  • Reply cindi

    Did you have to clean or prep the brick first? I also have a red brick fireplace and the bricks look a little shinny like maybe a product was put on it to make it shine. Doesn’t look like the paint would soak into the brick. I was thinking I needed to get that off before painting ?

    February 3, 2018 at 3:45 am
    • Reply Jenn

      Hey Cindi!

      That’s an interesting question. So, yes I did clean my bricks because they were surprisingly dusty when you got up close and inspected them, and also its a wood burning stove so I wanted to clean off any ash dust. I thoroughly vacuumed the entire surface and then I used one of those dollar store scrubbing brushes that’s for cleaning floors or dishes and some water in any spots that seemed particularly grimy.

      I’ve never seen a “shiny” looking brick before. Do you have a picture that shows this well? I’m wondering if there is brick sealant on it? I don’t know anything about removing that, but I think you are right in that it might prevent the paint from absorbing into the brick as the purpose is to repel water. I’m sure there is a way to remove sealant.. you would need some kind of solvent. How big is your fireplace? Is there a spot that you could “test” that would be hidden, like behind some trim or behind a stove insert?

      If you want to talk more feel free to DM me on instagram @jennyfromthebruce

      February 3, 2018 at 12:19 pm

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