Gray Wash

Have you ever seen brick at the beach? Me neither. Have you ever walked through a little beach town and said, oh look at all these lovely brick beach houses? Not unless they are painted neon yellow or flamingo pink right? Definitely not red/black/tan bricks. If you’ve been an avid follower of my blog, you can already picture the theme of our home. We have a beach house, plain and simple. The color schemes are as follows: blue, teal, gray, white, with a hint of beige.

Did our den fit that criteria when we bought the house? To quote Rachel Green, “Really, really, NOT.”



It was dark, it was dank, it was like a log cabin from the lost woods. Maybe cool back in its heyday, but it was not for this lay-day! (get it?) You’ll understand when you keep reading and see how many paint fumes I inhaled this weekend.

So you have probably seen the previous post Power Painting, but there has been a long slow succession of transformation in this room, mostly involving lots and lots of paint. We started with installing new white oak floors (more about those from earlier post), and then I painted the god-awful paneling and the built-ins. That was HUGE. The room had light, it was less creepy, and it was so much more inviting.


Still, I have been feeling like the room could be brighter. The brick on the fireplace and the beams were still orange-red, old, and outdated. Had the beams been any other type of wood or stain, I might have been ok with them. But no, it had to match all the knotty pine in this house. I was dreaming one afternoon staring at the fireplace and beams, and thought aloud to my Hubby, “How would you feel if we painted the fireplace gray and refinished the beams, to lighten up this room even more?” I was not sure what he would say because you either love painted brick or you hate it, there’s not much of an in-between. He was on board, as he usually is, and that was all I needed.

I shared my ideas with my mom, my fellow lover of cosmetic renovations, and she got really excited. So excited in fact, that she started practicing different ways to re-do the beams, and in the process painted the cabinets in our weird bathroom/laundry room as a test run (see that post for updated pics!). They came out AMAZING. She did a gray chalk paint with a surprisingly long label: Deco Art Americana DECOR Chalky Finish, Chalk Acrylic ARTIFACT (found at michaels) with a the same brand BLANCO white wax over top, which really brought out the grain and knots in the wood. They still looked like wood, which was the plan for the beams, so it was perfect. We all agreed that we wanted the beams to look exactly the same.

My Hubby and I went away for a weekend, and when we came home it was late so the house was pitch black. I happened to notice out of the corner of my eye that our clock was resting on the window instead of it its hook above it. Now we had people working on the outside of our house while we were away, so my radar was up. I called to my hubby, and not really sure why, I asked him if he moved the clock. He of course, had not, but posited that it had fallen down. Really? and it landed perfectly resting on the window? He makes me giggle. Suddenly I just knew. I screamed excitedly, “MOM WAS HERE!” and immediately turned on the lights and looked up. “SHE PAINTED THE BEAMS!” I was SO excited. My hubby took this all in and said, “I wonder how many days it would have taken me to even notice these if you were not here…”


They look amazing. So of course, now I HAD to get the fireplace done. The very next weekend, I was researching what to do and how to paint brick. I encountered four completely different blog posts on how to do it, down to what to use to clean the brick. One said vinegar, one said TSP, one said soap and water and nothing acidic. I was so confused I was ready to give up there. I think I texted my Mom for an hour straight asking her question after question and bouncing ideas off of her (it was her turn to be away, so I was bugging her via text–SORRY!). These were blogs from Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Houzz. Places that do renovations and sell the products, so I figured they would have the answers. Unfortunately they were all conflicting and I needed more answers. I printed out what I found on there and then went on Pinterest. Alas, I got a whole different perspective and slew of recommendations from there as well. I am super glad that I did go on pinterest, however, because this was how I got to my final decision and discovered that you can actually whitewash brick.

I don’t love the look of one solid layer of paint on bricks. It’s neat and pretty yes, it’s much easier to do yourself, and it works for most homes… but it’s not what I was looking for. Of all the images I found, my favorite look was the whitewashed look. These blogs all said one thing, “It’s so easy your kids can do it, but don’t let them because it is the messiest project ever!” I don’t have kids, so that wasn’t really an issue, but I was grateful for the warning about how drippy and splatter-y the paint would be. The other bonus was, NO PRIMING! I went to our “paint shelf” in the garage (remember I painted every room in the house so we have a lot of leftover paint), and grabbed Sherwin-Williams (Duration Home Interior Acrylic Latex paint Flat or Satin finish) Rock Candy and Gray Screen of which we had about 2 cups each leftover. I really did not want a white fireplace, because the built-ins on either side were white and I did not want it to be too blinding. I decided I would make up my own term and GRAY WASH it! I did some experimenting in the garage because we have steps with the exact same brick leading up to the house. I found that I liked both colors, with two coats, and made an executive decision then and there…

Here is how I did this:

  • Scrub your bricks with soap (dish soap works) and water and a good stiff brush to get any loose mortar up and clean any soot off, wipe with a wet cloth to get up all the soap (dry with a fan). Start singing “It’s a hard knock life” because that’s how you will get through this annoying and messy task. IMG_4864
  • Use a shop vac to get all the loose mortar up (there will be a lot) so you don’t get it in your paintbrush. Go over the bricks multiple times to make sure it is all up.
  • Mix 1 cup of paint to 3/4 cup water (important: constantly stir the mixture as you work or the paint will settle) and use a stiff 2″ brush, anything too big will make it tough to keep the look of different colors on your bricks.
  • Tape all surfaces and use trash bags/plastic and drop cloths or paper to cover everything because you will get tiny splatter everywhere. Wear old clothes, and put your hair up.
  • First paint the mortar with your lighter color choice, mine was Rock Candy. I kept my stick in the mixture at all times, stirring and using it to blot my brush. As you dip the brush into the mixture, you’ll want to wipe each side of the bristles on the stick to get excess liquid off, otherwise you’ll have a lot of drips! I found I did not have any drips when I was careful about wiping the brush first.



You will see that the mortar color makes a huge difference already..

  • Next all of the dark/black bricks and yellow/tan bricks would get the darker gray color, my choice: Gray Screen
     I started top to bottom, mostly because I knew the top would be covered by a TV eventually and this was a good place to practice. Also, you can catch any drips that fall on the unpainted bricks below and paint right over them.
  • Next use your lighter color for all of the regular red bricks (and at the same time the mortar gets a second coat) my choice: Rock Candy

It actually looks really cool with just one coat (below right) and if this is the look you are going for, a muted red brick, then you can stop here! We just wanted more gray to show through than red, so I kept going..


  • After you have done one coat of each, you can mix the two paints together, creating another shade of gray, and cover up any of the really red or yellow bricks that show through. I poured half of the Gray Screen mixture into my Rock Candy mixture, so it would darken just a little bit. *This gives it dimension and keeps the look of the multi-colored bricks. Nothing natural is ever uniform so it looks more realistic than just one color slapped over top of it.

Next I painted the mantle and the trim. The mantle is the same as the beams the chalk paint (see above) Artifact and I have not yet decided if it will get the same white wax over top.. This whole project took me all day, 9:15am-9:00pm with only a break to cook and eat dinner..I might have neglected to eat breakfast or lunch. I don’t really recommend that.


NOW The Pictures you’ve all been waiting for and some before/afters side by side…



Of course, the mantle won’t stay that way. I just put those things to stage it.. our giant TV will soon return and take up the whole top portion of the brick.. oh well! For now I can enjoy it while I sip my coffee and smile. It’s so peaceful in here! The biggest bonus? I did not have to spend any money on paint or supplies! The 4 cups of paint (roughly 2 of each) was more than enough and I was shocked!





MY NEXT PROJECT: To spray paint the black fireplace screen silver with a high heat paint by Rust-Oleum to match..



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