Exposing brick is one way to add character and visual interest to an otherwise plain space. It’s also a fairly simple project to undertake with the right tools and supplies.
While recently having some professional ceiling repair work done in an upstairs bedroom, we discovered what looked to be the top of a brick chimney hiding behind the old plaster walls. We tested a few spots along this wall, which revealed more brick, so we decided to expose the entire chimney for an all-over bedroom makeover.
Here’s a “before” look at the room we were working in, prior to exposing the chimney. You’ll notice where we had some ceiling damage in need of repair.
We’re so pleased with the transformation of this space, now with the full brick chimney exposed, ceiling repairs complete and a fresh coat of paint applied to the walls. The brick chimney really has been the star transformation of this room.
Note: When working in older homes with several layers of paint buildup on the walls, be careful of lead paint, which is related to health hazards. If you are unsure if your walls contain lead paint, you can purchase a testing kit at your local hardware store or online.
Things You’ll Need
- Padded dropcloth
- Protective glasses
- Masonry chisel
- 3-pound drilling hammer
- Wire bristle brush
- Mason brush
- Bucket & warm water
- Quikrete mortar repair
- Caulk gun
- Interior brick sealer
- Standard paint roller
- Standard paintbrush
- Silicone sealer
- Two-by-three wood trim
- Interior trim paint
- Broom and dustpan
- Industrial trash bags
First, clear the area you’ll be working in by removing furniture and decor, and then lay out a padded dropcloth directly underneath the area of wall you’ll be working to expose. A project like this creates a lot of falling debris and residual mess, so clearing and protecting the area will help with cleanup in the end.
Older historic homes (like ours) were typically built with brick and wooden lath — both common materials found directly underneath plaster walls. That being said, you can never be certain what exactly lies behind a wall or the condition of the brick, so it’s best to test a few different areas to determine if there’s brick along the entire space you’re looking to expose and if it’s in the condition you are hoping for. Bricks that were laid on interiors were never meant to be seen, so the original workmanship can be sloppy or have a mix of different bricks as compared with the exterior. Exposing the brick is a bit of rolling the dice, and we were pleasantly surprised with what we uncovered.
Wearing protective glasses, test a few small holes near the top, middle and bottom wall area using a drilling hammer to apply pressure against a masonry chisel. Doing so will help expose what lies directly beneath the wall.
Note: If for some reason the test reveals something other than brick, it’s easy to fill these smaller test holes back in with plaster mud for a quick repair.
Begin exposing the brick using the masonry chisel and drilling hammer. With a few firm taps of the drilling hammer, the chisel will chip right through the plaster layer, stopping at the brick.
Some sections come off easier and in bigger pieces, while other areas will take a little more detail work to expose.
We captured this video while chiseling to show a better idea of the process:
Keep working with the chisel and hammer to remove the plaster along the entire chimney surface and sides. Remove plaster all the way to the edges where the walls of the room meet the brick. It’s OK if the wall isn’t perfectly flush against the chimney; decorative trim will help conceal these areas at the close of the project.
Clear away debris as needed to keep the work area clear and workable. It took me four hours to completely chisel away our chimney’s 38-square-foot plaster walls. I broke this process into three separate stages because my arms needed a rest in between. Whew!
When completely exposed, go back over areas with the chisel to remove any larger remaining pieces of plaster stuck to the brick. Some remaining plaster can add character, so remove to your aesthetic liking.
Roughly run a wire bristle brush over the surface and sides of the chimney to remove any remaining debris and loose mortar in the brick.
Wash and scrub away any remaining dust along the brick and mortar with a mortar brush. Dip the brush into a bucket of warm water between strokes.
Patch and fill in areas of missing or broken mortar. We found a quick-drying mortar repair filler product by Quikrete that comes in a caulk tube and can be used for touching up holes and cracks for a smaller project like this. It’s easy to guide along the mortar lines straight from the tube with a caulk gun and then gently smudge with your fingers to match the style of the older mortar.
After the filler dries, apply two even coats of interior brick sealer over the entire chimney surface. Use a standard paint roller for broad coverage, and go back to fill in crevices with a standard paintbrush. Brick sealer will not only prevent future dust and debris from continuing to fall from the brick but will also act to seal cracks the plaster would have previously covered, helping to eliminate drafts.
Brick sealer comes in various finishes, from matte to glossy. In a room like the bedroom we worked in, a matte finish will keep the brick looking in a natural state. A glossier finish in rooms like a kitchen or bathroom will make for easier cleanup and a shinier look.
When the sealer is dry, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for completing the task of exposing a brick chimney, as the real manual labor is over.
From here, it’s all about finishing details. If there are unfinished areas along the ceiling and walls surrounding the chimney, apply a layer of silicone sealer (which comes in caulk tubes) along the wall line to seal away open cracks and help prevent drafts.
Install decorative trim along the walls, ceiling and base of the chimney to create a visual barrier where the brick meets the finished walls.
We used precut pine two-by-three boards as a trim base and then stacked precut decorative moulding strips over the boards to add visual interest.
Because we had a ceiling repair taking place around the same time frame, we ended up giving the entire room and new trim a fresh coat of paint, which really made the exposed chimney stand out.
Looking for more home improvement ideas? Learn how to create an industrial storage system using metal rails and baskets and see how your house is measuring up with this Fall Home Maintenance checklist.
Mary & Tim
More from Tim and Mary
Keep up with Mary and Tim’s adventures in DIY, home and gardening on their collaborative lifestyle blog, 17Apart. Find them on Instagram (@17Apart) and page through delicious recipes on Tim’s food blog, E.A.T.
Photo credits: Mary & Tim Vidra