dear d*s

dear d*s: painting brick + color flow between rooms

by Grace Bonney

[image above by julia rothman]

today is the first installment of dear d*s: a column where d*s editors and experts tackle design questions sent in by readers. this week i’m tackling two of my favorites and next week we’ll be hearing from an interior designer and an architect about space planning and much more. if you have a question you’d like answered just shoot us an email right here with the title “dear d*s”. if you’re asking a specific interior design question please include a picture of the space in question and your budget for any new projects.

question: dear d*s, could you please discuss painting a brick wall? under what conditions is this a good idea? when would it be an absolute no-no? what colors are up to the task? should it match other walls in the room? are there any tricks to the actual painting process?alan and jennifer

answer: hi alan and jennifer! after we posted sabrina’s painted brick kitchen makeover we started receiving emails about the do’s and don’ts of painting brick. i consulted with some of my favorite local interior designers and their consensus on painting brick, and matching walls were pretty much the same- it’s a subjective decision. many of them sites real estate as a reason to paint- explaining that red and brown brick is often cited as an eyesore by those seeking to buy or rent homes. on thing they did agree on was that neutral colors are always a safe and classic option. what colors did they love most for brick? grey, white, cream and light coffee colors– all easy neutrals for a modern or traditional color scheme.

as for the how-to, i emailed one of my favorite local handymen to talk about the pitfalls and tricks of home brick painting. here are their steps, broken down:

1. start with a smooth, clean base: before painting, checking the condition of your brick is crucial. any cracks, holes or broken pieces of brick should be filled and treated before moving to the next step. when the brick is fully repaired, make sure it is cleaned thoroughly to remove any dust and debris.

2. keep it dry: brick is difficult to paint because of its porousness. so treating your brick with a water repellent is important. whether you use a water sealant (surface level) or water repellent (which penetrates up to 1/4″) this step will greatly improve the paint’s ability to stick to your brick wall.

3. priming: because of the porous nature of brick, you’ll always need to prime. you’ll want to use a water-based exterior primer. apply several thin coats of primer, allowing at least an hour (for quick-drying primers) in between coats.

4. paint: a lot of people have recommendations for mixing glue into paint, adding hot water and all sorts of other tricks, but the painter and interior designers i consulted all agreed- regular flat paint is always a safe bet for painting interior brick. the process is a long one because of how quickly brick absorbs paint, but if you work in sections and take your time, you’ll end up with a more professional finish.

*tip to consider: paint with a glossy finish will accentuate any irregularities and unevenness in brick, so if you want your wall to disappear into the room, you will want to stick with a flat paint. if you want to show off the brick texture, look for a glossy finish- it will also be easier to clean (which you can do with mild soap and water) and will highlight the finish of the brick.

CLICK HERE for the next question & answer (color flow between rooms) after the jump!

question: dear d*s, i have a small house and i love color on the walls, but i do not want all my rooms the same color. how do you tie different rooms together when the color on the wall changes?jane

answer: hi jane! this one is a toughy. if you talk to one designer they’ll tell you to go one way, and another designer will tell you another. the interior designers i talked to split straight down the middle so i figured i’d share their advice, along my thoughts on the topic.

1. keep it tonal: many of the designers i spoke with suggested keeping things in the same tone, working from dark to light as you move toward the interior of your home (because interiors usually receive less light). if you want to keep things simple, consider a color you love, or that you and the other people living in your home enjoy, and work with different shades of the color throughout your home. which are the best colors to try for this? if you’re looking to keep things neutral, shades of green, blue and tan work well in a wide range of home styles.

2. carry colors through: the other portion of designers i spoke with felt that if you didn’t want to stick to one color, to consider carrying the color from one room into the next room in an unexpected way- on a ceiling, on the bottom half of a chair rail, on the floor- or even on moldings. you’ll want to make sure this accent color works with the second room’s main color, but accent colors from one room will help you visually travel from one space to another.

3. visual cues: expanding on what the second group of designers said, personally, i focus on trying to make sure there is something in each room that visually ties into the next. that doesn’t need to be a large area of paint though. for example, my living room is grey and my kitchen is electric red/orange. those rooms aren’t terribly at odds, but they’re definitely a big jump in color. so we chose to use wallpaper with orange detailing on a small accent wall that you see when looking from the living room. when you look into the kitchen your eyes notice the tiny bits of orange in the wallpaper and connect visually to the orange walls in the kitchen. the overall effect is a bit of a flow, but in a less obvious way. the same thing can be achieved with colorful lighting, accent pillows, rugs and event artwork on the wall.

*tips on what to avoid: one things that designers mentioned again and again was to avoid playing with colors that clashed in terms of warmth. two different cool colors often work better together than a warm and cool color. if you choose to not focus on “flowing” between rooms (sometimes rules are made to be broken!) keep in mind that loud colors, or colors that clash in terms of warmth may be somewhat distracting to visitors and residents of your home.

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  • I have yet to paint several rooms as I live in a Manhattan apartment, but the idea of carrying the paint through in different areas of different rooms is an excellent, safe way to create intrigue w/out going out on a limb.

    It’s also a nice way of highlighting architectural elements in a unique home.

  • I had to laugh when I saw the question from Jane. I too, live in a small home. I love color…bright, bold colors. I have an orange living room wall, a turquoise dining room wall that is attached to the orange wall, and a wall in the kitchen that is fire-engine red. The rest of the walls and trim is white. Not only have I broken all of the rules, I have thrown them on the floor and stomped on them. Sometimes I think that it looks like I am living in a circus. But you know what? People love it. Every time I mention the fact that I am not sure about that turquoise wall, and probably need to repaint, my friends loudly object. Not that they would necessary paint THEIR homes this way. I think they feel that strongly because it fits me and my family (all artists). Sometimes I wish I was more serene, more Zen, but then I find myself reaching out for that beautiful Fiestaware bowl, or the hand blown glass globe of cobalt blue and lime green swirls and I just sigh…why fight it?

  • So would this be the same advice for exterior walls as well? Though I dislike dark brick in certain instances, I absolutely hate light or pepto-pink brick found on the exteriors of a lot of older houses.

    • lara

      yes- though you’ll want to use exterior paint rather than typical indoor latex paint. and you’ll want to make sure you use a really good water repellent since it’s outside :)


  • Thank you, grace, for responding so quickly to my question. Each point you made was helpful, and I especially like #3 where you mentioned your wallpaper as a transition—I think that it is transitioning that I have the most trouble with, as we do not have moldings, or even doors sometimes, to help with separation. (I was also reminded how much I love the red-orange in your kitchen!)
    What a great new feature. I am trying to hold back with the many other questions I have, in order to give someone else a chance! :)

  • My last house was very small and the previous owners took three colours: red, light grey, and pale yellow and painted one wall in each room a different colour – everything else was kept white and we loved it. It really helped bring bold colour into a room while keeping the room bright and airy.

  • thanks so much for the wonderful tips about painting brick. wondering if anyone can tackle my follow up question. does water sealing help to block drafts in brick walls? our brick walls are so drafty in the winter and my husband and i want to do something to reduce our energy consumption in the winter.

  • Great tips on color flow. We live in a small Victorian style house where most of the first floor can be seen from any of the rooms, and our landladies painted the kitchen and dining room a dark lime green, the living room is tangerine, the small bathroom is cherry red, and the hall is a creamy yellow. It works beautifully and everyone who comes in the house just loves it. I think the keys to it working are that the bold colors are all the same intensity and saturation and the creamy yellow and white trim are a respite from the bright color. We’ve used the ideas of tip #3 to tie it all together with hits of each color in the adjoining rooms. It’s also pretty cool to see that a lot of neutral colors also look good against the bright tones.

  • For those in old brownstones, rowhouses, etc. with party walls, I would really recommend KILZ primer before painting any brick walls. It kept a recent roof leak that seeped in between our wall and our neighbors from turning into a major issue. Also- sealing if you don’t paint is a good idea both for drafts and for water- water can seep through and cause calcification (white powdery residue) which as we found out is a mess and stinks, besides.

  • I painted an interior brick wall in the bottom floor of my carriage house about a month ago. I *highly* recommend using matte finish Behr Premium Plus (Primer and Paint in one). It’s a little more expensive per can, but ends up saving you time. Not only did I use one coat, but the finish is beautiful…I even painted over a previous red finish. Make sure to purchase a “rough surface” paint roler, which will make it much easier to get inbetween the cracks.

  • The previous owners of our home did a great job combining different colors in different rooms. Our living room is a suede-finish khaki, the dining room is a terra cotta red, kitchen is pale yellow & tv room/hallway is a deep eggplanty brown. All of the trim and molding throughout is a lovely cream color. All of the walls work so well together and can be seen from room to room. The only color change we had to make ourselves was the downstairs bathroom. It had originally been a bright orange and I toned it down to a soothing light blue. I love how all the colors work together – and love that we purchased the home this way. I seriously doubt I would have been able to come up with such a great color combination myself!

  • As a decorative painter I have been faced with painting brick many times over the years.
    If you have “used” brick on and exterior or interior that you want to maintain the character of, but the color is too harsh for your palette, you can “color wash” the brick with diluted water based paint. You still see the brick look but tweek the color so it melds into your palette. This works best with warm, light colors like tan or taupe since the orangy-red brick is so warm to begin with.

    The ratio of water to paint should be about 50/50. The process is really easy, just paint it on with a large brush. Keep a bucket of water nearby in case you want to thin out any dense spots of paint. The porosity of the brick actually works in your favor on this technique so you can skip sealing it first.

  • I have seen on an web channel a DIY painting flat sponge, which sits on a base with it’s own handle, but can not seem to buy it now anywhere. Do you have any thing like this here?

  • I have a brick wall that has been painted white. I am in the process of painting the room this wall in in Liberty Gree. Should the brick wall be painted the same color as the other walls in the room. or would it be best to leave it white?

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