Renovation & Design

CONNIE OLIVER: Some handy dos and don'ts with feature walls

Before: Even with the ultra-cute Campbell Soup kids keeping a watchful eye, this outdated feature wall was in desperate need of a refresh.
After: Connie opted for the inexpensive and simple update of painting the brick out in a flat white paint.

A few weeks back, I mentioned there was one more update needed in my kitchen.

The brick wall on the wall opposite the cabinets has been a thorn in my side since we purchased our home years ago. The brick 'feature' wall was circa 1970s and wasn't exactly realistic-looking but was probably popular with the DIY crowd back in the day.

Happily, the man-made stone products available on the market today are more representative of the real thing. However, there are things to consider when installing a permanent feature wall made of brick or stone.

As with my brick wall, once it's up, it's a lot of work to undo. I You can see from the before-and-after photos the kitchen is much brighter and has an updated look in keeping with the other updates I've completed.

The person who installed my brick feature wall broke a lot of common-sense rules that made the wall more of a detriment than a feature. I thought it might be a good idea to cover the dos and mainly the don'ts of this kind of application for those of you who might be considering installing the same.

Rule No. 1 is to choose the right wall. In my case, my kitchen is long and narrow but the brick wall was installed on one of the long walls, which made the space feel even narrower. If your room is rectangular, consider using the smaller, end wall for the focal wall.

Rule No. 2 is to be mindful of lighting issues that may arise. Darker stone and brick feature walls will suck up a lot of light in the room. In my case, the dark stone was on the wall opposite the window and did make the room a lot darker than need be. Once I painted the brick white, the room was much brighter. In a den or family room, low lighting might be acceptable and even conducive to watching television or movies, but in a room such as a kitchen, darker tones can make the room seem glum.

The third rule is to consider the impediments on the wall you choose. Again, the person who installed the brick wall in my home chose a wall with a recessed niche, light switches and electrical outlets. You can see by the before photo they did not do a great job of cutting the brick around the light switch. I was able to rectify this once I painted out the brick. Had they chosen the smaller end wall of the room, the installation would have been much easier because that wall had no such obstacles to work around.

Rule No. 4 is to think about the use of the room in question and whether brick or stone is a good option. The brick wall in my kitchen runs beside the kitchen table, making it a backsplash for errant catsup and spaghetti sauce spatter. This makes for difficult cleanup. A textured wall might not be the best choice for a kitchen, a bathroom or a child's room.

Undoing what was done incorrectly can be a challenging task. I would have loved to remove all of those bricks to get a smooth wall surface back, but the walls underneath are plaster, so I thought it best to leave the bricks intact. One could, I suppose, drywall over a similar wall, but the wall would have to be strapped, and the end result would have brought the walls in closer in an already narrow room. Also, the electrical would have to be moved and the trim on the doorway reworked.

So, in the end, I chose to paint the bricks with a flat ceiling paint. I let some of the brick colour show through and left the grout lines, as they were so that it looks like an old, brick wall from a warehouse. I like that aged look. It's much brighter in the kitchen now and the room feels much larger. I pared down all of the accessories that were hung previously and opted for a simple display in the recessed niche.

I'm happy with the way the kitchen looks overall. It's fresh, bright, less cluttered and feels much larger.



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