As an architect in New York, people often ask me about exposed brick in their homes and apartments. They want to know why exposed brick might be a good option, and why there is such a cachet around exposing bricks in New York City.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries brick was one of the most ubiquitous materials in New York City for exterior wall and bearing wall construction. As time passed, the trend of exposing the brick became popularized for townhouses, lofts, and apartments, as the brick added character and historic reference to the interior spaces. Brick has texture and color, which can be quite charming in comparison to some more contemporary buildings.
I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture. In this post I will show you some examples of exposed brick in our projects. I personally like exposed brick, but we do not do it everywhere. It has to suit the client and the space. Exposed brick is not for everyone and not for every home.
Exposed Brick in NYC Lofts
You cannot discuss exposed brick without talking about New York City Loft apartments. Lofts are former industrial buildings converted to residential use. These buildings were typically built with brick exterior walls. It is quite popular for people to leave brick walls in these types of buildings exposed. This adds historic reference to the original construction of the building and to the original industrial use.
Exposed Brick Bedroom
You can leave brick exposed in bedrooms as well if you want to have a textural feel. Brick can be exposed in certain areas or all over. This is a big choice you have to make when renovating.
In the bedroom photo below you can see there is exposed brick on two walls, which adds a lot of texture and character to the bedroom design.
Exposed Brick Walls for Art
Brick walls are also a good backdrop for hanging art. People always think you have to put art on white walls, but this is not necessarily the case. It has been much more on trend for galleries to hang art on dark walls and grey walls, but having texture like brick is okay too. Putting art on a brick wall can result in a great deal of depth and contrast. Of course it depends on the art as well. Homes have to be designed with cohesion.
Exposed Brick Wall Apartments in NYC
We all know New York City is famous for its exposed brick walls in lofts, but regular apartments can have exposed brick walls as well. A lot of buildings built in the early 20th century have brick bearing walls. These walls are normally covered in wood lathe and plaster. We can probe these walls to see what is inside and, if it is brick, the plaster can be removed to leave the bricks exposed.
You want to take the quality of the brick into consideration. The interior bricks are usually lower quality than the exterior bricks and the workmanship usually rougher. These walls were not originally meant to be exposed. The bricks will be rougher and more inconsistent. This adds character for some people, but others may not like it. It comes down to personal taste on this one. Be warned that the interior bricks usually will not look like the exterior bricks.
Exposed Brick in Townhouse & Brownstones
NYC is famous for its Brownstones and Townhouses. These were normally made with brick bearing walls that are 3 wythe thick. A wythe is a layer of brick measure in the wall thickness. A standard brick in NYC is 2 1/2″ x 3 3/4″ x 8″. The 3 3/4″ in is the brick depth. When you account for mortar a 3 wythe brick wall is 12″ which is what we very commonly find in New York City townhouses and smaller apartment buildings.
Because townhouses have existing brick walls on all four exterior walls, you can remove the plaster and lathe on these walls and expose the brick, which has become a very popular practice in NYC. This does have a timeless and classic look that can work with most interior design solutions. The bricks can be exposed in large areas, on all exterior walls or just in certain areas of the townhouse to act as an accent wall.
Exposed Brick Accent Wall Old and New
Mixing old and new can be a real great interior design feature. You can expose small sections of brick to act as an accent wall. This will derive a sense of contrast while adding the distinguished nature of brick.
In the picture below you can see a 100 year old brick wall against brand new sheetrock walls. This makes for a nice contrast and the bricks pop against the white walls. It is a feature wall that adds a real sense of feeling to the overall space without overwhelming the room.
Exposed brick Fireplace
Historic Townhouses and Brownstones in New York often have brick chimneys and either brick or marble fireplaces. The chimneys can be left exposed to stand out as one independent architectural element.
This brick fireplace photo is in a Brooklyn Townhouse where the chimney and fireplace was brick. As these townhouses were renovated the chimneys were often used to accommodate boiler flues and bricked in, as this one was long before we renovated this townhouse.
The bricks on interior walls can be inconsistent, as they were not meant to be exposed. You will want to probe the walls before committing to exposing the brick to see what you are dealing with.
Opening in a Brick Wall
You can make an opening in a brick wall even if it is a bearing wall. This will need an architect and/or an engineer to assess the existing wall condition and design a detail for adding a header. Steel headers are typically installed in brick walls to transfer the load from the new opening to the sides around the opening.
The brick wall opening below is from an apartment where we combined two separate apartments into one. There was a 12 inch thick brick bearing wall in-between the two apartments. We had to make an opening in the wall and install a steel header to add the walkway opening.
Exposed Brick Kitchen Backsplash
Sometimes you have brick on the kitchen wall. You can leave the brick exposed if you would like to have an exposed brick backsplash, but this is not always the best option. Brick is porous and will absorb liquids and mess. Be warned that this could become problematic over time. You can always add a backsplash later over the brick if you like.
You can see another post we have on Backsplash Design Ideas if you want to read more on the subject.
Why People Use Exposed Brick
Exposed brick adds texture, color, and character to an interior space while making a historic reference to the building’s past. Exposed brick is a great and easy way to add a level of detail to an apartment or house by using elements that are already existing.
Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Exposed Brick Interiors
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.