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How to Paint Brick Fireplace Surround

Updated on April 4, 2017

When we added our family room onto the back of our house, we knew we wanted to leave a partial brick wall exposed as a backdrop to our wood burning stove, but we had a big problem: the brick itself. It was old, dingy, and red--not at all the color I wanted in my family room.

We decided we would paint the brick, but my husband wasn't sold. Wouldn't painted brick look...well, painted? Then, I discovered a faux brick painting technique that could turn my dingy, ugly red brick wall into a beautiful, light and still brick wall.

It was too good to be true. Paint the brick to look like brick? Wouldn't I need a professional for that? No! Painting the brick turned out to be easy and relatively inexpensive--just 3 quarts of good, quality paint and a few painting supplies.

Materials and Tools

  • stiff brush
  • 1 Gallon 123 Primer
  • 1 quart each 3 coordinating colors: I used Sherman Williams Mindful Grey, Accessible beige, and White Duck.
  • 3" Paint brush
  • small sea sponge

Choosing Colors

This may be the hardest part. You'll want to choose three colors to combine. Choose a medium beige or gray for the base coat, which will also be the grout color, a light beige or cream for the for the contrast color and a shade of white or light cream final coat or highlighter. If you are nervous about choosing color combinations yourself, you can't go wrong with a color-combination card from your local home improvement store.

Here's my brick wall before painting. Clean, but dingy and red. Need I say more?
Here's my brick wall before painting. Clean, but dingy and red. Need I say more?

Step 1: Cleaning the Brick

My first step was cleaning the brick well. Using a stiff bristled brush, I brushed the debris and dirt off the wall, working from top to bottom--Had there been grime or grease on the wall, I would have followed up with a cleaning solution, a good rinse and allowed the wall to dry completely. I finished by sweeping the floor below the section of wall I was painting.

A word of caution: painting brick is messy, paint-tossing business. I had the luxury of working in an unfinished room, but you will probably be painting in a finished space which of course will need protection from paint splatters and over brushing. Don't forget to protect the walls and floor around your brick!

I used Rust-oleum 123 primer. Regular primer, such as what you would use to prime drywall, may not stick well to brick. It took about 1/2 gallon to prime my 5'X8' wall.

Here's the section of wall that will be left exposed.It's primed and I've started painting on the base color.
Here's the section of wall that will be left exposed.It's primed and I've started painting on the base color.

Step 2: Priming the wall

Now comes the fun part. Using a 3" or larger paintbrush, paint the entire wall with a primer approved for brick. The first coat will go on super slow--brick can absorb a lot of paint! Keep plenty of primer on the brush at all times but spread the paint out well, watching for paint drips along the mortar lines. Start at the top of the wall and worked your way down to the floor. Painting in small sections, paint the mortar lines first and then paint the bricks in each section before moving on.

Apply a second coat to ensure that the brick is completely sealed and ready for painting, and let the primer dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step. The second coat should go on much quicker than the first. The first coat goes on super slow. Did I say that already? Don't say I didn't warn you.

Of course, if your brick has already been painted, and you are just changing the paint colors, you can do a little dance and skip this step--unless you have issues like mold, mildew or stains.

Wall after base coat application
Wall after base coat application

Step 3: Applying the Base Coat

The fun begins. Using a clean paintbrush, apply a thick base coat. Again, you'll want to work from top to bottom and painted the mortar lines first before painting the brick. Now, you could leave the wall one solid color at this point--apply a second coat of mindful grey and call it a day, but where's the fun in that?

Note: The color variation you see in the picture is because some of the paint was still wet when I took that shot. In reality the wall was one beautiful, solidly colored wall and I really was tempted to leave it just like that...

Here's the wall with the contrast color applied. Notice that the shading is varied and sporadic.
Here's the wall with the contrast color applied. Notice that the shading is varied and sporadic.

Step 4: Applying the Contrast Color

As soon as the base coat is on, it's time to switch to the contrast color--I used accessible beige. You could wait for the base coat to dry, but I like how the contrast color mixes slightly with the base coat, varying the shade a bit.

Using the sponge, dab the beige on each brick, taking care not to get paint in the mortar lines. Leaving the lines grey is critical to achieving that faux brick look. Again, work in small sections, sponging paint on one brick, and then working with the bricks surrounding that first brick. Do not, I repeat, do not sponge the contrasting coloring in horizontal lines. Wait to add more paint to the sponge until the paint starts going on really faint. Finish the brick you are working on and then add more paint to the sponge.

At this point, you may be tempted to feel discouraged. The wall does look a little worse before it looks amazing. That's normal. Keep painting.

While you're at it, you may want to brighten up your fireplace as well. Rust-oleum Stove Paint if specially formatted to take the high heat that your fireplace will put out.

Step 5: Applying the Highlighter

Final step, you can do this! Without rinsing your sponge, start applying the highlighter and final coat before the contrast color has had a chance to dry. Start in the center of the wall and chose a brick to paint solid "White Duck," Continue dabbing paint on the bricks surrounding the first brick and let your sponge start to run dry. Then, stand back and chose the next brick to paint solid and repeat the process. Varied the amount of paint on your sponge and the pressure you use for application, to create the faux brick effect.

I painted a few bricks almost solid white, a few I just barely dabbed on a smidge of white, and the rest were everywhere in between.

The key to getting this part right is to not paint in straight lines. Paint in a circular pattern, and step back every few bricks to look at the entire wall to make you like the way it looks and to plan where your next light brick will go. Don't think to much about it. You can always add more highlighter or contrast color as you go if you don't love what you've done.

A Word About Paint

Regular paint is not formulated to withstand high heat. In my case, the wood stove wasn't in yet and I was able to have it placed as if it were against drywall, which only pushed it out from the wall a foot or so. Ultimately, I felt comfortable using a standard paint.

Sherman Williams also offers a product called Powdura, which is formulated to withstand temperatures up to 200oF.

Your third option is to go with the online company Brick Anew. They offer paint specially formatted for fireplace and wood stove surrounds. Although, a little pricey (about $200), they take the guess work out of choosing coordinating colors and safety issues. I have not used them personally, so please do your own research and check reviews.

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Creating the Faux Brick Effect

If you have never sponge painted a wall before, this section is for you. Dip-don't dunk--the sponge in the paint and tap it on a flat surface to remove some of the extra paint. Next, gently dab the brick you want to paint with the sponge. Use more paint and a heavy hand to paint the entire brick surface. Use a lighter hand and less paint to allow the previous coat to show through. You will want a combination of a few heavy and light coats with a mixture of everything in between to give your wall the varied appearance of brick. Play around with your technique and see what you like. Any mistakes are easily correctable by adding more paint!

Paint one brick at a time, taking care not to get paint in the mortar lines. Avoid painting in a straight line, even on the same brick. Start with any brick and paint it, then paint the bricks immediately surrounding that brick. Pick a new brick, and repeat.

Stand back and look at your wall frequently as you work. What are you looking for? Several things. Do you like how dark or light the wall is? As they dried, I realized that several areas were a little dark and lightened them up using the highlighter. Do you like how the sponging effect looks on the brick? When I stood back away from the wall, I noticed that some bricks looked "painted." My sponging didn't look natural. Another easy correction as I went along.

Finally, look at the big picture. Avoid a set pattern--you want natural variety in shading. Also, watch out for consistency throughout the wall so that you don't end up with one section darker or lighter than the rest of the wall.

If you look at my wall, you'll notice that I have just a few really light bricks and a few really dark bricks. The rest are every shade in between.

There you have it! That's how I went from drab and dreary to elegant and cheery in just one weekend and for under $100 bucks. I still can't believe the difference!

So get out there and paint your fireplace surround. I'd love to hear how it goes!


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    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      An interesting technique.