Brick is the material of choice for houses if you want low maintenance and fire resistance, but it's usually confined to the exterior and, inside, to fireplaces. In fact, because it withstands the heat of a fire, brick is the most common choice for lining fireboxes and facing fireplace surrounds.
Depending on the style of your home, the fireplace surround may be a few discreet rows of bricks or a commanding structure. Beyond the fireplace, if you have a contemporary style house or if you've added a room, tackled a loft conversion, or remodeled, you may have an expanse of interior brick to deal with.
Whether it broods darkly over your room or brings comfortable rustic character depends largely on the color of the brick and how well it works with your room's color scheme.
The clay that goes into making the brick determines the color of the final product. Different mineral compositions respond to firing differently, yielding hues ranging from buff and yellow to salmon pink to dark red-brown. If coatings such as sand or limestone are added during firing, they will affect the color and texture as well.
To integrate a brick feature into your decorating scheme, first decide whether you want to feature or downplay its presence in the room. Use its hue to choose wall colors accordingly.
If the brick is a color you cannot live with, consider painting it.
Treat the brick's color as you would a fabric, paint, or carpet color, and use the color wheel to guide you toward harmonious hues.
Brick that's primarily pink, salmon, or light red works well with soft yellows, cool greens, and creamy antique whites.
Yellow or buff-color brick combines handsomely with neutrals such as cool grays or warm browns; look for subdued or grayed shades to blend with the earth tones in the brick.
The greater the contrast between the color of your brick and the color of adjacent walls, the more attention you'll draw to the brick. Incorporate touches of the brick color elsewhere in the room, in fabrics or accessories, to knit it into your design scheme.
Instead of trying to counteract the dominating effect of dark brick by painting the adjoining walls a lighter color (which would only contrast with and emphasize the brick), choose a neutral that's in the same tonal range as the brick. This integrates the brick into the room, creating a more harmonious, unified whole.
If the walls are the darkest element in a room, the space can feel oppressive; to prevent this, include a darker element.
If the natural color of the brick doesn't suit your decorating style, consider painting it.
To play up the architectural importance of the feature, paint it to match the trim in the room. If that draws too much attention to the element, color the brick a shade or two darker or lighter than the walls and paint the mantel to match the trim.
In the case of a fireplace, match the brick to the room's woodwork to emphasize its role as a natural focal point. Or paint the brick to blend with the walls and match the mantel to the room's trim.
To paint raw brick, get advice from a paint store for your particular application. Generally you'll want to apply a good-quality exterior latex primer, which adheres to brick better than interior primers do. Alternatively, you can use a primer-sealer stainkiller.
On previously painted brick, prime with a stain-blocking primer-sealer formulated for glossy surfaces (a deglossing primer) so you won't have to sand first.
Brush on the primer, working it into all the crevices. Then apply two coats of the desired color of latex paint (oil-base or alkyd paints are not recommended for brick, because they trap moisture).
For these finish coats, a high gloss or semigloss will show off the texture of the brick better than a flat finish and will be easier to clean.