Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Exposing Brick

Since we have already completed a lot of projects in our house, this blog won’t necessarily go in chronological order of when they were completed or what we are currently working on. I decided to start out with the project that I pushed for and helped out with the most…exposing the brick wall in our living room.

I’ve always loved exposed brick. It just adds that old Baltimore City rowhouse vibe. I suppose that this project does not align with our goal to restore our home, because David tells me Victorians would never have exposed brick. Which makes sense…people would think they were too poor to cover up the brick. Regardless, I love the look of brick walls inside houses. So I lobbied for David to undertake this project. He was game, but explained that it would be difficult work. Not mentally, but physically.

Before: Boring white wall.

Before: On the left you can see the box that covered the radiator pipes which we also exposed.

David checked a small area to make sure that there was indeed brick behind the drywall in the living room. Can you imagine if there weren’t? But alas, we saw red brick underneath, so the project was a go!

First sign of brick, under drywall and a lot of stucco.

In April 2013, David, myself and David’s brother, Daniel started the demolition of the exterior drywall. We used this handy tool that David and his brother refer to as a “Pata de Cabra” which is a Spanish name for the tool and I do not know what it's actually called, but essentially it's a long crow bar. You wedge it behind a slab of drywall and pull it towards you to get the wall to break away. The drywall came off in sheets, oh hey, is that what drywall looks like before it's installed?

Next up was to remove the stucco. And man, was David right, this was going to be tough work. As someone growing up with three older brothers, I have done very little manual labor like that in my day. I was using muscles that I didn’t know existed. But, I pulled my weight. Little by little, I hammered away at the stucco. Essentially beating the cement until chucks would fall to the ground.

When you have an old home you often find some interesting things. We found horse hair in the wall! Fun fact: Back in the day people used horse hair to help bind plaster together.

Half-way through, I get to the middle of the wall and notice after a piece of stucco is removed, that there isn’t brick behind it, but something else. Umm, “What’s that?” I ask. After removing more stucco, we were able to tell that it was a large 4 inch diameter pipe running from the ceiling to the ground. Well, this is great. Turns out that the pipe was an old exhaust pipe for an oil heater and it was smack dab in the middle of my beloved brick wall. I guess you can’t really plan these things. We would just have to make do. So in addition to our exposed brick wall, we would have an exposed pipe. Maybe that gives it character? We also found two sections where a brick was missing and it had been replaced with some wood.

Pipe in the middle.

Did I mention how messy this project was? Dust everywhere! We had put up a plastic tarp to enclose in that section of the living room so the plaster wouldn’t fly everywhere, but it still did. I looked like someone out of an Ebola lab with a huge gas mask and goggles on to prevent the dust from going into my lungs and eyes. We ran a humidifier to help with the dust.

After a few hours of hammering away, the stucco was no longer on the wall, but there was a ton of it on the ground. We filled up industrial size trash bags about a third of the way because we didn’t want the bags to be too heavy to carry. Man, is that stuff heavy! I don’t remember how many bags we used, but it took two trips to the dump to get rid of what was once the outer-wall in our living room. It seemed like we were making some real progress here! The next step was to scrub the remaining pieces of plaster off of the brick with wire brushes. What a great bicep workout!

Brick all cleaned up.

Later, David and his brother decided to investigate the pipe and confirmed that there was no need for the old exhaust pipe and so they yanked it out of the wall. Now, instead of a big pipe in the middle, we have a big hole. We decided that we could fill the hole with some reclaimed wood to match the coffee table and shelf we have. This seemed like the best option, so I tried to focus on the positive…it gives it character!

After that, my role in the project was pretty much over, except for continuing to sweep, vacuum and clean up. We were finished for the day and the exposed wall was looking good (minus the stupid hole).

Lining up wood to fit in the hole. Radiator pipes exposed on the left. 

Solution to the hole in the wall.

The next few days, David used a sealer to brighten up the brick and then re-pointed the brick in some spots (filled in the mortar). The final touches were to fix up the drywall edges on both sides of the brick so that it was straight and installing baseboard on the brick to match the other walls.

Putting the baseboard on.

Wall that David patched to be straight.
Wall patched and radiator pipes painted.

I think the wall turned out nicely and have grown to not mind the piece of wood in the middle of the brick. Though I always wonder what potential renters/buyers will think when we are ready to move out of the house. An additional benefit to the look of the brick is that we gained a little extra space because the wall and stucco were a few inches thick.

This project taught me that with an old home you never know what you’re gonna get, but I guess that keeps it interesting!

What the brick wall looks like today.

You can view a time lapse of some of the work here. The video gets difficult to see because of all of the dust.

Next week, I'll discuss more changes we made to our living room.

Would the random wood in the middle of the wall be a turn off to anyone?


  1. I love the random wood in the middle! I like it better than if it wasn't there :-)

  2. Good to know! Maybe prospective renters won't hate it :)

  3. I actually love the wood as well. It really adds warmth and like you said, character. :)