Bring On The Brick

Hey stranger. It's been a bit since I've been around, because... well, life. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday spent with loved ones and a great start to the new year. We spent our winter break in Massachusetts visiting our family. And as much as we love to visit, it's so good to be back home at the farm. Just after Thanksgiving, we got started on our first real project inside the house, and I've been itching to get back to it.

We began the process of restoring our entryway to reflect the characteristics of a 1940's farmhouse. The first order of business was taking out this coat closet. Although the closet is in our entryway where guests would come in, we've never actually used it for coats. It became more of a catch-all for small appliances, extra egg cartons and things that I had every intention of posting for sale on Facebook. Those things were re-homed to a closet in the basement to make way for brick paver flooring and white planked walls. Not only do I want this entryway to look its age, I want it to function better for when we do host guests, which is all the time. Taking out the closet frees up a whole lot of space to have a bench where moms can do the shoe shuffle with their littles. An old coat tree I found at an antique shop will hold all the coats, and a side table will catch keys and purses.

With the closet empty, we removed the trim around the doors and windows and hammered away at the closet walls. They came down pretty easily. We scored the corners and the seams at the ceiling with a utility knife, so the sheetrock came off with a relatively clean edge. However, we were left with some patching where the walls met.

Next, we pulled up the laminate flooring, followed by quarter inch plywood, green and white checkered linoleum, and original hardwood planks, to finally reveal the subfloor. Originally, the stairs to the basement were here in the entryway. When the house was renovated sometime around 2006, a whole new addition was built on the back of the house, and the stair case was moved there. We knew this before we started demo, so we didn't intend to salvage the hardwoods and we weren't surprised to find this patching in the subfloor. The trouble was, where the floor joists sat only allowed for quarter inch plywood to be laid to meet the existing subfloor. So, we had to remove the joists and drop them down another half inch to accommodate a 3/4 inch sheet of plywood. We wanted to make sure that the brick we were about to lay had a sturdy base beneath it. After we patched the subfloor, we laid quarter inch cement board over a layer of pre-mixed mortar and then screwed it into the floor. We used mesh tape to join the seams and ran a thin coat of mortar over the tape.

To give you some frame of reference, this area is about 75 square feet and took us two weekends to get to this point in the project. The next phase was to sort and cut the truckload of old Chicago bricks we got from Facebook Marketplace for FREE! A quick search of YouTube and Pinterest told me I could swap out the blade on my chop saw for a diamond toothed blade and slice the bricks into tiles. Which is exactly what I did. Make no mistake. It was a miserable mess and what I thought would take two days at most, took four days and then some. My carpal tunnel came roaring back and I'd wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about cutting brick. All misery aside, I am thrilled to pieces with the end result.

To cut the brick, I clamped a stop block to the fence of my saw so that the brick was sliced into a 1/2 inch thick tile. I flipped the brick over, and if I was lucky, the other side would be in usable condition to cut a second tile from the same brick. Because I wasn't using a wet saw, the amount of dust that went flying was just obnoxious. I made sure to run my shop vac, which was attached to the back of the saw, and I also wore a dust mask and safety goggles. The dust was so bad, it would clog up the slides for the saw to move back and forth. I constantly had to wipe the slides clean and grease them with oil. Four days later, I had just about enough brick to cover the floor, and I chose to lay it in the herringbone pattern. It was a whole lot more work than laying straight brick, but in my opinion, the character it adds was worth the extra effort. Because of the way the herringbone pattern builds off of itself, every brick had to be laid square to the one next to it, or the pattern would start to drift out of line. Mama can't have that. So every brick was squared up before being squished into the mortar. I didn't use tile spacers because every brick was so different from the next, that it would have made no difference if I did. I just eyeballed the space between each brick and figured any differences would add to the character of it all. I should add that I laid the pattern dry before laying mortar to the cement board, so when it came time for the real deal, I had to stack the tiles on top of each other to smear the mortar onto the floor. I worked in about two foot sections, laying mortar and then laying the brick. This made sure I had enough time to get my pattern right before anything started to set.

It took me 3 days of laying brick before the whole area was done. Two days of drying time and then I could grout the gaps with pre-mixed grout in the color Alabaster. I used a piping bag made specifically for grouting joints. It literally looks like an oversized piping bag that you'd use to frost a cupcake. Again, working in two foot sections, I would pipe the grout into every joint and then run my finger over the grout to smooth it out. Then I would rub my whole hand over all the bricks to smear a little grout over the brick for a slightly worn look. These bricks already looked worn because they were used, so it didn't take much effort to get the look I wanted. Rubber dish gloves did the trick to protect my hands from the grout. I also kept a bucket of water with a large sponge handy so I could wipe up any excess grout. I let this dry for a day before walking on it.

And then we left for winter break. Now that we're home and our lives are returning to normal, I wanted to share the progress with you. There's a master list of all the things left to complete this room, the next thing being to seal the floor before snowy, muddy boots stain the brick. I'll let you know how that goes. Until then, I'll leave you with this snapshot of the floor I can't stop staring at.



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