This is a rare statement from me, however for this project I am going to warn you not to follow in my footsteps. Do not try this at home! This project was a downright miserable endeavor. I’m very pleased with the outcome and, if I had it to do over again I may have done the same thing since the results are great, however I will warn you that the battle was hard won.
As we are rounding the corner into finishing up the kitchen, I’ve set my sights on the adjacent dining room. Not many renovations are needed here, other than new flooring, so I was optimistic that this would be an easy room to do. HAH. There is a small bump-out on the wall that is shared with the kitchen and, from having worked on the kitchen walls, we knew that behind it was a lovely original brick chimney. We’d agreed a while ago that we wanted to expose the brick as a nice accent in the dining room. Since this was going to be a messy project, we had to tackle it before the floors. It was time.
Spoiler alert – 100-year-old homes were built to LAST and they do not like to come apart. The brick had been covered with a layer of concrete (the old horsehair kind), which had to be somewhat carefully removed so as to not damage the chimney. That meant working on it daily for at least two weeks, chipping, and hammering, and chipping, and hammering…. very…. very…. slowly. It’s no surprise to hear that they knew how to make concrete ‘back in the day,’ so it was extremely reluctant to being removed.
Note – if you do this (please don’t), use plastic sheeting to sequester the room from the rest of the house. The concrete dust gets everywhere. I washed the floors about four times before feeling like they were “sort of” clean again. We also used face masks and eye protection while doing the demo work, which I would recommend.
In case you couldn’t already tell, this was backbreaking and handbreaking work. After weeks of daily pain, hand cramps, and exhaustion, finally, finally, the concrete was off. We went through about 6 or 7 chisels on this project, which should tell you about how sturdy the concrete was. We are looking for a more rustic, French-styled look in this room, so we purposely didn’t completely clean the bricks to make them look shiny and new. We left on the concrete haze intentionally to get the look we were going for. If you do this (don’t) you always have the option to take off as much or as little of the wall as you like to get the look that you want. To finish up, we quickly brush cleaned the wall and mortar with wire brushes, vacuumed it, and wiped it with soap and water.
Since unsealed brick and concrete tends to give off dust, the last step was to seal the chimney. Since it’s an active flue for the water heater, the sealant needed to be breathable. After some research, we came across a product called Seal-Krete. I highly recommend this, because it worked splendidly after just one coat. I just brushed it on, and miraculously it bound all the surface material together. Now, if you rub your hand across the bricks, absolutely no residue will come off, whereas before you would get a handful of dust and tiny rocks. This is about the closest I’ve found to a magic product, so if you ever need to seal in brick or concrete, Seal-Krete gets 5 stars from me! It cost about $16 for a gallon, and we probably used less than a third of the container on this project.
After the very literal blood, sweat, and tears, the brick is now exposed and can begin its new life as an accent wall. We both love how this project came out, and it really does do wonders for the room. I think once the floor is done, this is going to be one of the more beautiful spaces in the house, thanks in no small part to the exposed chimney. While I must caution that this is no quick project, in the end I’ll reluctantly admit that it was worth it, and if I needed I would make the same decision again.