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Is the Natural Brick Fireplace Back? Yay or Nay

By 08/11/2021August 16th, 202124 Comments

Are you noticing this too? Natural brick fireplaces seem to be on the trend again. But, what if you already painted your brick fireplace? Here’s my take on the return of a classic and how painted brick fireplaces can also be timeless.

The other day I received this question from a reader:

I’ve been pouring over your posts, Pinterest boards, and I am currently going through your book “How to Choose Paint Colors.” I’m loving all of it! I have been looking at your fireplace posts as well.

I was considering doing a traditional brick fireplace. But the only advice I see from you on brick fireplace ideas is to paint it. I love painted brick as well, but we are building a house on a farm in Kentucky and I think this is one place where a brick fireplace can work because it goes with the setting.

Do you have any advice on working with brick instead of painting it? I’d love to hear your advice on this subject. This will hopefully be our forever home so I’m not too concerned with resale, etc. but I’m just a little hesitant.

My other design ideas for the house are to go with largely white (or cream) walls and then incorporate plenty of color in the decorating. The kitchen will be mostly white with some wood accents like an old butcher block incorporated into the island. My thought was to use largely white permanent elements to allow for some wood and brick “accents”.   

Below is a link to an exterior photo very similar to how our house will look. That is the brick I’m considering. Thanks! 

The return of the natural brick fireplace

When I looked at the brick on this house, I realized what is happening here.

We are 3-4 years deep into the black and white trend. So far in that most people who are re-decorating, renovating or building are choosing white, the end.

In other words, this trend goes so wide and so deep that stark white walls are simply ubiquitous now.

Read more: Maria Killams Trend Forecast for 2021

Design by C. Brandon Ingram

So what’s the fall-out of that?

We look for other ways to add colour to surfaces that in the past were commonly white or really neutral.

Enter, the new ashy oak stained cabinet, mushroom cabinets AND trim, along with colourful cabinets, AND well, dare I say it, the orange brick fireplace is BACK.

If this reader is considering it for the outside of her house, well, it won’t be long before the same brick will likely show up as a great room fireplace too.


Because the trendy neutral sofa of the moment is cognac isn’t it?

And a cognac sofa sitting in a stark white room with an orange brick fireplace works perfectly.

Life Happens Here

And yes, the brick is a nice “warm” accent in an otherwise stark white room. Just like wood accents, cognac leather and all the weathered and earthy decor elements we are decorating with to achieve balance with ALL THAT WHITE.

But what if I already painted my brick fireplace?

Now, before you start lamenting that you painted your orange fireplace 10 years ago when the brown trend came to an end, go look at some before photos. Chances are, it looked a lot like my sisters fireplace did before it went white. 

What’s the best way to make natural brick look fresh and classic? (Because brick is arguably a classic and timeless material, but like anything, it can be done badly and miss the mark).

Choose a slightly sunwashed or faded orangey red tone that doesn’t lean too far into taupe or grey.  And use pale white, cream or green grey greige mortar to connect with airy walls and create a fresh look.

Because if your mortar is not something in the realm of white, those white walls won’t look right.

And let me just say, I don’t think grey brick is as classic unless it’s so pale that it’s almost “white” (beware of strong pink undertones in very pale brick colour ways). 

A brick that is too saturated and heavy in colour with a darker grey mortar will be just too heavy and, unless it’s in a dark and moody English cottage study with mud toned walls to coordinate, you will be itching to paint it. 

And if you “updated” your older warm brick with with earthy brown and gold or charcoal grey stone from the last two trend cycles and you’re looking at your stacked stone fireplace with one eyeball? Don’t worry, you can paint it too.

The other thing to be aware of is that installing brick on your interior WILL influence your decorating palette. So while you may love terracotta and cognac right now on the warm end of the black and white trend, when you want to pull in some brighter, cleaner colours again in the next cycle, you will be a bit limited by it. 

If you’re someone who knows you prefer more muted colours anyway, go for it! And if you are fickle in your colour crushes, you can always paint it. Because painted brick, interior or exterior, is also a timeless look with pretty texture 🙂

Over to you my lovelies, what are you seeing out there? Is this fireplace back? Yay or nay?

Remember, you heard it here first 🙂

If you need help coordinating your exterior colours, see my eDesign packages here.

Learn how to choose exterior colours in my online course here.

My Fall dates for my virtual Specify Colour with Confidence workshops are now open! Register here.

Also, a lot of people were asking about Day 3 and when it’s coming, here’s an IGTV I just recorded that answers those questions.

Related posts:

Read This Before Your Stone Fireplace Makeover

Should I Paint my Fireplace?

Which Stone Colour is Best for your Fireplace Surround?

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  • Beverly Anderson says:

    Maria, did you really mean we should use grout with a brick fireplace? I thought all brick installations used mortar.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Oh haha, been talking about tile too long, yes mortar is what I meant! Thanks for the correction! Maria

  • Lori says:

    I have loved painted white brick since I was a child in the 70s. My mom was a big fan and that rubbed off on me. There’s just something about it . 🙂

  • Jennifer Holt says:

    As always-you are very on point. I would like to clarify though. When installing brick, mortar must be used unless it is “brick look” tile. The issue being mortar comes in 2 basic colors, Buff and Natural. Buff tends to go pink and Natural is gray-green. That being said you can upgrade to a “white” (never true white) or colored mortar-but expect to have a significant up charge from the mason. The colors may be inconsistent because (at least where I am) they have to hand mix the color into either a buff or natural mortar. If anyone has any other ideas, please share!

    Thank you as always for all of your wonderful insights!

  • DJ says:

    We did a natural brick hearth matching our exterior brick,with our new build now two years old, and I love it. We copied a low-country style where only the hearth is brick, and the frame and mantle are painted wood (white), and the chimney is not exposed (painted sheetrock above the mantle). Yes you need to incorporate some warm or red tones in your decorating, but I was doing that anyway. I love rusty oranges and reds in fall, jewel reds at Christmas, in spring/summer the colors of bright tulips, poppies and roses. It is traditional, but if you like traditional, it’s beautiful!

  • E says:

    I assume your reader’s brick interior will be the same as the brick exterior (the fireplace and chimney). I think it’s a beautiful choice because the exterior brick goes perfectly with dirt, grass, trees, bark, bushes, and sky! I have seen so many houses that clash with their natural environment.

  • Nancy says:

    Maria –
    I look at brick like stone it can boss you around
    I prefer neither .
    I have seen white brick that I like .
    I’ve seen all brick homes where the brick they picked was timeless .
    And even through these homes are old they look timeless and classic. .
    I think it’s because they are all brick and not competing with other colors on the house .
    Everything seems to cycle and recycle through in design .

  • Kj says:

    The inspiration photo is the back of the original house. Chimneys generally don’t belong front and center on most homes, they look better on the side or on the rear where they can be as big as you like without impacting curb appeal. The front and rear design of that home designed by C. Brandon Ingram can be found here (note that the architect did not have a giant chimney dominating the rear originally):

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes I linked to this portfolio in the post! Regardless of where the chimney is, orange brick is back 🙂 Maria

  • Lorena says:

    I don’t think it really left. Classics are always in style.

  • SusanMcLaughlin says:

    In my rounds as a Realtor, I am seeing brick fireplaces, but in a more monotone, traditional aged brick, not the tri-color brick your reader sent. Since I’m East Coast coastal (now getting called Hamptons style), we are also seeing brick trimmed fireplace openings with painted white mantle and overmantles.

  • Pam says:

    Lived with the natural red brick fireplace for 20 years. It was too bossy when I wanted to change the colors in my house. I used your White is Complicated ebook to choose simply white. Painted it last year and have NO regrets. Love how it is softer and blends with the new greens and blues.
    Maria you are the best! Thank you

  • Lorri says:

    See, the natural brick on that house is about as good as it gets. It’s beautiful, but I don’t seem to be able to convince myself to love it.

    I was reading a blog where they built a white farmhouse style house trimmed with red brick. This was a developer neighborhood where they had to choose a model and a facade. The house is really pretty, but the owner could never get used to the brick and painted it white to match the rest of the house. My goodness what a difference – it looks so much prettier and it was already pretty!

  • Dunja says:

    Such an interesting post, Maria! This definitely seems to be the new trend, and in general after the all-white it looks like we’ll be moving back to more traditional design – i.e. more colors and maximalist interiors. People will no longer want “fresh”, but “warm” and “cozy” (which is not surprising since both the grey and the white trend were quite cool, and we are now craving more comfort due to covid). This seems to already be happening amongst high-end designers, but will probably take a few years to trickle down to the average home owner. I love both red and white brick, they’ve both had their place in design history.

  • Lucy says:

    Brick is not just brick. In my opinion it needs to relate to something. I have seen horrible combinations of brick that was put on as an after thought by the architect. In the above picture the brick is beautiful and has been used all the way around the house. It is subtle and yes it does blend and compliment the surroundings. When I moved into our present home the brick around the surround of the fireplace was a mismatch of color so we painted it to be neutral like the rest of the room.

    Always like the thought provoking subject that you present. They keep our minds working!

    Good post!

  • Sonja says:

    We’re renovating a late 80’s house and I love the natural brick fireplace. They were actually ahead of their time and installed an all black gas insert so I don’t have to contend with bright gold accents. When we renovate the kitchen / family room next year, I’ll have to do something about the mantle which matches the oak cabinets of the day but overall, I’m very happy with natural brick and have never really liked it painted.

  • Holly says:

    Makes sense, Maria! The pictures you showed are gorgeous, and I’m not a fan of red brick. Makes me think of a Sabarro’s Pizza joint…

    You mentioned that Cognac is the trendy neutral sofa of the moment, which begs the question, will the cognac sofa be considered dated at the end of the black and white trend just like the gray and espresso sofa’s from the fresh/gray and Tuscan trends?

  • lockshare1 says:

    I love terracotta brick. I bought a heavily imposto’d oil painting to complement a fireplace and people were gaga. Painted brick? There are nasty yellows I’d paint but white brick is sometimes weird on an interior. I’d pull brick off the wall before I’d create an exterior maintenance nightmare with painting. Brick is porous. It breathes. Sealing it will cause spalling and mold behind it when moisture can’t evaporate. An excellent paint job on a brick house costs beaucoup bucks. I like the texture of painted brick exteriors but I always pass on them because I don’t know who how the work was done. Finally, did you know some gothic era brick Victorians were intended for pain as built? So can be historically accurate but damaging to integrity of the brick envelope.

  • Veronica D says:

    I do like the brick in those settings. I love white and beige but I think that my house sometimes is too neutral. I’m actually glad I didn’t paint my oak cabinets. I can believe I’m admitting that after all the headaches I gave my husband trying to convince him to have them paint. I’m ready for new countertops and backsplash though.

  • Selina says:

    We recently purchased a home with a large (red) brick fireplace in the den. My current plan is to paint the brick and put a mantle over it. We are also remodeling our kitchen. Does that backsplash need to relate to this fireplace if it’s not visible from the kitchen? And if so, does it need to be brick to relate or is subway tile still the recommended choice?

  • Diana Wiggins says:

    I was planning a white and black kitchen but it connected to our family room and my husband doesn’t want to paint the red brick fireplace. Would a white and navy kitchen look better idea?

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