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Full disclosure, an old brick home painted white is an attractive look for a house. A fresh coat of white paint can immediately impact a house lacking any real character. There is a reason so many of us subscribe to this transformative practice. "White is a classic and safe color," admits the Charleston-based designer Jill Howard. "It makes perfect sense that people would gravitate toward this idea. People have been painting outdated brick houses white for years." 

Since this is a practical and transformative update, many homeowners opt to play it safe. While it's an effective way to refresh tired brick, it's not the only means of updating a home showing its age. Here are some of the best ideas for more ways to brighten your brick without defaulting to white paint.

Red brick home exterior in Richmond, VA
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn

Refresh What's Already There

Give it a Good Scrub

Before making any permanent changes, try a pressure washer to shower your brick to see if it looks good as new. Brick is porous, and with time and constant exposure to the elements, even beautiful brick can turn a dingy muted color that looks both dirty and drab. Pressure washing uses high pressure to remove dirt, grime, algae, mold, and more. Once thoroughly cleaned, you might decide you like the look of the original brick.

Fix the Broken Bricks

For some minor repairs, consider using concrete caulking to fill in the chips and scraps your bricks have experienced throughout the years. After scrubbing your house down with a power washer, these marks might be more visible. Fixing these cracks might be enough for you to put off a total refacing for a few years.

Cape Cod Cottage: After
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn

Be Brave. Opt for Color.

Paint the Bricks

Color doesn't have to be intimidating. Just remember to consider your environment and look to your neighborhood, surrounding landscape, and regional architecture for context. "I live in Charleston, and we can get away with some pretty fun and bright colors," Howard says. "Those colors may not work so well in, say, D.C. With that said, I also love dark, moody colors like Farrow & Ball's Hague Blue (No. 30) or Smoke Green (No. 47)." Howard recommends a soft sage green if you don't have the courage for dark colors, or they just don't appeal. "It's unexpected but still classic," she says.

Paint the Grout

Consider painting the grout a new color to give your house a new look. Transforming existing grout to a darker or lighter color will alter the overall perception of the brick and home. This delicate task can be more time-consuming, so smaller areas might benefit most from this update.

Deep Plum Front Door
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn

Remember Less is More

Painting your whole house can be a budget-busting project. Plus, the upkeep is often brutal. So if your brick is in decent shape, why not consider a minor job and boost the exterior brick by painting your shutters and trim or adding a pop of color to your front door. "For the shutters or your door, I'd look for a complementary color that will help freshen up the appearance of your home," Howard says. "That would mean something in the blue or even blue/green family." She suggests brightening your trim and painting it a pure white as another low-maintenance solution. 

Split-level brick home with limewash treatment
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn; Styling: Shannon Gini

Try Out a New Technique

Try a German Smear

On the right home, applying a German smear (a technique similar to whitewashing but using a mortar wash instead of diluted paint) to your current brick can add instant old-world character and disguise imperfections. But be warned: Because you're using mortar, it does not refinish as easily as paint.

Try a Limewash

Another refacing solution is classic limewash, which Howard prefers. Crushed limestone burned and mixed with water creates a lime putty or "limewash." The technique penetrates brick rather than sitting on top of the surface. "It's especially good for homes in the South because it's naturally mildew resistant," she says. "And it creates a finish with a beautiful, subtle variation in color compared to the flatter look of paint." Bonus points, the technique is also eco-friendly.

Put Your Green Thumb to Work

Always remember that there's nothing like a little fresh, well-planned landscaping to overhaul your home's whole vibe (brick or not)—a few hydrangeas, a bank of azaleas, a cheerful pink dogwood tree, or white crepe myrtle. It's curb appeal 101.