Friday, May 30, 2014

The Painted Fireplace

From roughly the moment we closed on our house, I knew I wanted to paint the brick fireplace in the front room. And when that room was re-dubbed The ModLodge because I had a vision that launched an insatiable decorating initiative, I knew I really had to follow through. But then began a prolonged period of stalling and second guessing.

At first, the permanence of it all was to blame. One cannot unpaint brick, so what if I don't like the results? At least with walls, repainting is technically doable although my usual course of action with a failed wall paint color is just to suffer through it and mention it to every house guest. "The bathroom is off the kitchen I hate the paint color."

Additionally, I didn't really have Devin on board for the project. He wanted the brick to look like brick. Eventually, he relented, I think because he just wanted us to pick a project already (we have something of a DIY logjam). But when I'd say, "So, you're good if we paint the fireplace?" he'd say "Well, I like it how it is but you know what's best." THE PRESSURE. And even as I pried open the paint can he offered a helpful, "These bricks look really old. Like they were maybe taken from a different building." Now excuse me while I just go ahead and paint right over history.

But anyway, with Memorial Day Weekend came one bonus day off which felt like 10 days, and so I finally committed.

Step one was of course buying the paints and supplies. I'd normally never bother mentioning this detail in the story except that it went so differently from how I expected. Since painting brick was new to me I thought I'd go the extra mile by making a trip to the actual paint store, as opposed to The Home Depot, so they could set me up for success. There's one near my office that is the go-to for a lot of set designers, so I knew they'd be experts in painting a variety of surfaces. When I walked in, I was met by a guy who had to have been at least 50, and in my mind had devoted his life to the world of paints.

Me: I'm painting a brick fireplace. What's the best paint to use?
Him: Wall paint should be fine.
Me: Wall paint. You mean, just paint?
Him: Right.

But. But. Any of those pierced face kids at Home Depot could've told me that. Refusing to give up until I got some special trick of the trade, I pressed on.

Me: But what about brushes?
Him: I'd use a roller. And a brush.

God damn it. So I skulked off to the back of the store to pick a paint color. That's not the last of the ways in which the special paint store let me down. More on that later.

For now, let's get to work.

I know better than to skip the prep, so I dedicated time to dusting and cleaning the fireplace. It was probably the first time I wished I had a feather duster because the Swiffer duster kept snagging on the brick.

Next, for a brief moment, I turned my attention to the cabinets at the base of the fireplace.

They open up to a massive cavern that I will never ever use for storage because it's dark and scary and full of spiders (probably). When we bought the house, we discovered a locked briefcase inside the cavern. Though we've never gotten it open, I shook it to make sure it was empty, and was slightly disappointed to ascertain that it was. Anyway the case is still in there now.

But my main issue is with the grotty old handles.

I removed them quite easily, unveiling spade-shaped markings in the lacquer, which made me really glad I was about to make it all go away with my fabulous new paint job.

The whole family hated the old cabinets
Then, before I got to dealing with the actual brick, it was time to get rid of the tacky brass on the doors. I meticulously taped and covered the glass.

And then it was time to open up a can of whoop-ass aka spray paint. Specifically, one that could tolerate the heat when we next enjoy a crackling fire.

I learned from the bathroom re-do that spray painting is quite possibly one of life's greatest thrills. This time, I decided to let Devin do the honors while I watched from the kitchen so we didn't both get super high.

About 5 seconds in, I realized I needed to caution him about something I'd learned the last time, which is to resist the urge to overdo it and only spray in light coats to avoid glops. Unfortunately, by the time I shouted out my warning, he was already under its spell, merrily going overboard and then swearing about it. Whoops.

A few light coats later, and the doors were now a uniform black, with a few bad spots you could only see from up close. I'm glad we decided to spray the whole thing and not just the brass, because it made it look sleek and clean.

Later, when the paint was dry, I taped and covered it all and finally began painting the brick. First, by rolling on some primer.

I actually liked this look and wondered for a second if I should leave it at that.

Instead I continued on with the primer, which I ran out of when I was just slightly more than halfway done. And do you know why that is? Because I only bought a half gallon. And do you know who told me a half gallon would be more than ample? The freaking paint store expert. What the hell, man, I trusted you!

I hoped that because paint is thinner than primer, it would stretch further, since I only bought a half gallon of that too. But I'm guessing you can see where this is going.

Rolling paint over the bricks takes seconds. What gets you is the mortar. Using a (sigh) plain old paintbrush, this took me HOURS. Over time, I developed a technique, which was to completely overload the brush with paint, then slop it all over the place to cover as much mortar as I could (which would be seriously only 2 bricks worth) and then go back and smooth out all the globs it left on the face of the bricks.
This worked, except for all the nooks at crannies. I think I underestimated just how uneven and weathered these bricks were because trying to fill in all the little holes took a massive amount of dab dab dabbing. Even after hours of meticulous work, there were STILL a number of pin prick holes to deal with.

At this stage I came up with another new idea to use a black foam brush. This way I could soak up paint, then squish it over the little hole until it filled up and went away. It was another pain in the butt step, but worth it for making sure it looked finished.

Needless to say, this takes a lot of paint. I think if you removed one of the bricks and did a cross-section it would be filled 2/3 of the way with paint. Long before I was done with the the first coat, I was out of my half gallon and off to the store for reinforcements. Not wanting to drive to that paint store again, I went to Orchard Supply Hardware instead. Screw you, paint expert.

Sufficiently tired and fighting off one mean arm cramp, I waited until the next day to start the second coat. A lot of dabbing and a whole lot of paint later, the second coat was done. My final step was to take the roller and go back over the front once again just to make sure it was even and not revealing my chaotic brush strokes.

Once the paint dried, I peeled off the blue tape surrounding the doors and, of course, chunks of the black paint came off with it.
And, also of course, some white paint leaked through the tape. I thought I'd sealed this perfectly, but when you're inundating the borders with paint, it eventually gives.
In fixing it, I was faced with a tricky choice. Do I now cover the brick and risk a spray paint mishap ruining my hard work? Or do I go get a can of brush on Rust-oleum and risk mismatching brush strokes with the smooth spray painted surface? I opted for the second choice, which worked out fine for covering the mistakes, but unfortunately did leave obvious brush strokes like I feared. So I would advise anyone trying this not to mix and match. I may, someday, go back and do another coat of spray to even it out once again. But for now, I just need to stop.

The final touch was switching out the handles on the cabinets.

These oil rubbed bronze ones give a more modern look and better match the new matte black doors.

And speaking of the doors, here's another look at those beauties.

I really like how the handles turned out, for some reason. They remind me of nice shiny chess pieces.

Now that we've seen the details, I present the finished product!

Naturally, I'm having second thoughts about the paint color. I went with Snowfall White because, besides being a sucker for a good paint color name, I thought it really looked the cleanest next to all the off whites. But now I'm not so sure about it. It's so gleaming white it's making the rest of the room look like hell. Though I guess that's as good a motivation as any for accelerating the ModLodge Proj.

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