Ask Monica: Brick Choices for Chris’ Modern Farmhouse

Hi all!  We hope you’ve been having a good couple of weeks.  We can’t believe how early everyone is starting to decorate for Christmas.  It looks like we’re not going to be too far behind.  So much to do, so little time!

We decided to do something a little bit different for this week’s blog post.  Because we get so many questions about brick we thought we would do a little Q & A.  We have a reader, Chris, who has gotten himself into a bit of a situation.  Chris is building his dream home and had to make a brick selection.  He had a vision of a white modern farmhouse with a dark red brick with brown tones and a black roof.  Chris said he felt like he jumped the gun, didn’t do enough research, and ended up with a gray brick that was not at all as he had imagined.  He gave me the color name, Garrison Gray, which I looked up online.  You can’t go by online photos when choosing brick; you must see the real thing.  Online, Garrison Gray looked very tan.

Here is some of my conversation with Chris:

Chris: Hello – We are currently building a modern farm house. We ended up choosing Glen-Gary Garrison Gray for our brick watermark with a white mortar. I’m having second thoughts as it’s going on now. A few concerns I have and a few questions for your team. We are using white vertical board and batten vinyl siding along with black asphalt shingles and black metal roof accent pieces. I think the white is too much for the brick, but it’s hard to gauge since only a small section is in. I’m thinking about going full German smear on the watermark as I wanted to originally use a red weathered brick as the watermark but rushed my decision and choose this. I know gray compliments the home we’re building, but would German smear be a bad idea on this brick? Also, our chimney can be stone or brick we have to make that decision within the next few weeks. I’m having trouble deciding what brick would look good for the chimney or what stone would look good for the chimney with leaving that brick the way it is… and if I go full German smear what brick/stone do I choose then. Any advice or help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Monica:  “I’m looking at Garrison Gray online and I see a lot of tan in it.  If that’s the case I would not go with white mortar.  You have to be careful when pairing brick or stone with white siding because you don’t want to end up with earthy and white, which really don’t complement each other.  Have you taken a look at our brick?  When going up against white siding, a better choice is a red or true gray brick softened with whitewashing and white mortar.  Our brick is Old Carolina in Charlestowne, which is a whitewashed red brick (comes that way; we didn’t add anything to it).  We also used a “sloppy” heavy mortar application for an aged look. The brick you chose is a modular brick, meaning it is perfectly rectangular, 2″ wide by 4″ long.  I would have recommended an oversized handmade brick, but it sounds like it is too late to go back.  While we do answer basic questions and are happy to do so, we normally do not do unpaid consultations; however, I really do not want to see you make a big permanent brick mistake, so here is what I would do if the decision were mine:

  • Go with the brick you have and paint your brick skirting and your chimney the same white as your siding.  In this case the mortar doesn’t matter. 
  • DO use Romabio Masonry Flat Paint (color match to your siding; they can match to Sherwin Williams/Benjamin Moore).  This is breathable paint that is meant for brick.  I would be happier with this look over German smear. 
  • Do not mix brick and stone.  If you do brick skirting on the house, make sure the chimney matches.  Are you doing a fireplace?  Repeat your white painted brick and it will be beautiful.
  • Keep in mind that white and gray go with black, and cream goes with tan (thank you, Maria Killam, for teaching me that years ago).  Again, I cannot tell from one online photo how much gray is in your brick, which is why I asked to see your photos.  If it is very gray with no tan it is possible that white mortar will be OK.  Mortar completely changes the look of brick, so do be careful.
  • See the attached photo for painted white brick with white siding.  Keep in mind that this modern farmhouse is a much softer look than yours will be, since you are using black instead of silver and light gray, but you will still get the idea.
  • One mistake I see is that people mix too many materials and end up with a disjointed look.  Keep your materials and colors simple and don’t try to get too fancy.  Black and white is classic on it’s own.  Keep it simple and I think you’ll be happy that you did.”

Chris:  “The Glen-Gary Garrison Gray I thought had beige/tan in it as well.  I saw a picture online that I really liked and brought it up to the place where I’m sourcing my brick from and that’s what the salesperson said it was… to my surprise it wasn’t and the masons started putting it on without me fully inspecting the brick. The brick is gray and has a few different shades of gray, some light and some darker. I used white mortar bc that’s what the salesman recommended for my home; but I have my doubts now that’s it going on.. and as you know white sand, and white mortar can be expensive. I don’t think the brick looks bad; but it’s not what I was expecting.  I absolutely love your brick and I was thinking about putting that brick or the Savannah Gray for our fireplace on the inside; so yes we are going to have a fireplace… but I didn’t find out about the brick you have on your home until after I already ordered these. So unfortunately, I was too late. When building a home, decisions come fast and furious and are sometimes made too quickly without thinking through carefully. Good to know that a brick skirt should stay with a brick chimney, because we considered a stone chimney… and currently our porch is designed for stone but we can easily switch to brick; but would it be bad if we used a different brick for the porch, if we did opt for the paint or smear? Also, would it be a bad idea to use the hand made old Carolina brick on the inside fireplace if we did paint everything on the outside white, and is it common for new home construction bricks to be painted? Or German smear?  Last note, we will have a sandstone cap on the brick.

Monica:  “Seeing your photos makes a huge difference, in that I can definitely see the gray.  

I have no problem with white mortar with your brick, and would stick with the white. I would not do the sandstone cap.  It does not relate to your brick.  I would cap off your brick with your same brick, turned, so the short side is facing out.

Chris:   I’m happy to hear that, most people I show love this brick and mortar color. I think I’m just having a hard time with it because it’s not what I wanted.. I really do love the browns and reds and I think that’s what’s really bothering me. I try not to rush my decisions but in this case I did.  I was thinking I should go that route too, the rowlock I feel gives it a more farmhouse feel.  Decision made there!

Monica: If your brick is not as you imagined and you are not in love with it, my only recommendation is to paint it the same white as your siding, as I mentioned before, with the Romabio brick paint.  Same with the chimney.

Chris:  So do you think the paint would look better than a smear?  I’m seeing more and more new modern farm houses online that are being built who are painting their brick. I think it looks really nice, but why is that? Is it bc white brick costs more money or does the color tend to fade?

Monica: I absolutely would not mix stone with your brick.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  If you are not great at visualizing you may not be able to imagine what this will look like, but it won’t be good.  It is the exception rather than the rule that brick and stone look good together!  I would not recommend it in any case.

Chris:  Thank you, I definitely agree with you on that one. I think this is why it’s bothering me so much because I really wanted to choose a beautiful brick for my chimney and skirt and I feel like I dropped the ball on that one.  So truthfully the best bet is to keep the same brick and then paint it? 

Monica: Keep your chimney and fireplace the same as your brick skirting.  Do not choose my brick for your fireplace!  If I sound like I’m being bossy, I am :). You’re not going to end up liking the mish-mash of materials and colors.  You can whitewash your fireplace with thinned white latex paint so some of the brick shows through, or you can keep it as is, or you can paint it solid white.  Those are your three fireplace choices if you’re using brick (no stone). It sounds like you’re not a huge fan of the brick as is, so would you want that brick inside?  My two brick fireplaces match my chimney, skirting, porches, etc.  All of my brick is the same, and it’s cohesive. I do have natural bluestone with my brick on the pool patio, which looks beautiful.  The bluestone, however, is used sparingly, and is meant to complement brick, which it does.  It’s also used as a paving material, rather than a facing material. It’s perfectly fine to paint your fireplace brick white while keeping your outside brick in its natural state, if that’s what you end up doing.  I really don’t think your brick looks wrong/bad on your house.  With that said, what were you hoping for?  What look are you trying to achieve?

Chris:  I appreciate you being bossy and your full transparency!! It’s definitely needed in a hard situation, haha… The look I was going for was somewhat of a rustic modern farmhouse, that’s where my original thought process was to go with a white washed red/brown brick across the home and then at the last minute I changed it to this one bc I was also a little bit scared to have a lot of red on the home; but seeing yours, it’s absolutely stunning. Now looking back on it, I wish I would have went this way because I do not love the brick and I feel like I may have to paint the skirt and the chimney. I also agree with you on the stone, I’m not the biggest fan of mixing the two, I do not like the way it looks on some homes.  I have seen quite a few that do it and it’s not very appealing to the eye. 

Monica: Yes, it would be bad to do your porch in stone with the brick skirting.  Look at photos online of homes with your brick and a stone combo and see if you like the look. My bet is that you would not like it once it’s up.  You may imagine it in your mind, but I bet it doesn’t turn out that way.  This is too expensive of an investment to mess up, so once again, I stress…cohesive and simple.  If you want to get fancy and mix things up, do that inside with fabrics and furnishings…in other words, things that aren’t permanent.  I caution you to be careful with your interior hard surfaces as well (countertops, floors, tile, etc.).  These are not areas to pick things that are trendy.  You will end up not liking it.  Trends last, on average about five years, ten max.  You don’t want to look at your house in ten years and say, “Oh, this house looks like it was built in 2021.”  You want it to be timeless, which = never going out of style (again, thank you Maria, for those lessons).”

Chris:  I totally agree with you, and that’s the look I truly want to achieve… is a timeless farmhouse home without jeopardizing the look of the outside.. I want to make sure I do it right, and this home looks just as beautiful 30 years from now (with it being still in style) that it does now… this our dream home, we’ve been waiting years to build it. We have a lot of work to do on the inside yet with picking materials.  (a good example is drywall return or trim on the windows); but I’m being as proactive every day and working hard to make sure the interior will look nice!

Monica:  I do think paint looks better on a modern farmhouse, compared to a smear.  Why is that?  For one, you’re going for a modern farmhouse look, which is a  little bit more contemporary than a classic traditional farmhouse.  Nothing wrong with that.  In my opinion, a smear will look “contrived” on a modern farmhouse.  I do love a nice heavy coating of German smear…on old-world, European-style homes.  Putting smear on a modern farmhouse to me is a little like putting shiplap in a traditional-style home.   Others may disagree, and that is fine, but that is simply my honest opinion.  I would also steer you away from limewash because, believe it or not, when it rains, limewash “disappears” until the brick dries. Romabio paint is breathable and is made for brick.  You asked about white brick.  There is nothing wrong with white brick, but the problem is, it most likely won’t match your siding.  Plus covering the entire surface of the brick, including the mortar, with paint, gives you a substantial solid finish while maintaining the texture of the brick.  I think you wouldn’t want more than two textures on your house (your board and batten and your brick; that’s plenty).  Again, people try to get fancy by turning their siding this way and that, or combining horizontal lap siding in one area with vertical board and batten in another, and maybe brick in yet another.  Too much.  Remember:  simple and cohesive.  White brick will not fade.  There is something I love about painted bricks done well.  It’s crisp and clean, and I think that’s what you would want in a modern farmhouse.

Monica: I’m glad you’re going with the rowlock.  Good choice.  

Monica: I’ll reiterate that I see nothing wrong with your brick, other than the fact that you were going for a different look.  How about this:  leave the brick alone, let the masons finish, get the siding up, and let everything come together.  Take a break from this part now, and decide once it’s all done.  If you’re still not happy with your brick, paint it.  Don’t jump the gun and ask to have the brick painted now.  You can always do it later.  Paint will also cost considerably less than German smear.  Do the same thing for your fireplace inside.  If you’re not loving it, take baby steps.  Live with it for a little while after everything is finished.  If you don’t really like it, try a whitewash with paint as I suggested in my last email.  If that doesn’t make you happy, then just go full-on paint.  That will be beautiful without question.

Monica: You were nervous to have too much red in your brick.  The reason you like mine so much is because it is softened with whitewash (comes that way; I did not paint it) and I did a sloppy heavier mortar treatment.  My mason looked at me skeptically when I asked for sloppy mortar, but I knew it would be perfect. BUT, I had them do a mock-up first.  ALWAYS do mock-ups before proceeding.  If you had done that with your brick first, it sounds like you may have changed your mind.  Even if the builder or contractor fusses, insist on it.  Another word of advice:  the vast majority of builders are not designers or decorators, but they will give you advice anyway.  Ignore most of it.

If you are uncertain of making poor decisions, are feeling overwhelmed by the vast array of choices, or need a simple color fix, consider hiring an interior decorating consultant or designer.  

Get my Free Design Estimate

We hope you found our Q & A helpful.  If you need more design advice or assistance in choosing brick for your home, contact us for a consultation.  

Until next time…

From the HartLand with Love,

Monica, Cheyenne & Brittany

Leave a Reply