A few days ago I stepped outside of my box. Not too far mind you though admittedly I should stretch myself more. What did I do?
I whitewashed a brick fireplace. I jest not.
OK, full disclosure: My sis did more of the work and it was her fireplace.
So, some days ago sis and I are sitting in her family room sipping on wine and discussing the events of the past couple of months. She’s stressed–rightly so–over her duties as trust administrator since our mother’s passing. It’s quite a job and not without headaches.
“….And I just hate my fireplace,” she said.
What? Did I miss something? I was tired and I’ll confess that all this lawyer talk had me zoning-out just a wee-bit. My confused expression was all that she needed.
“It’s me,” she sighed. “My head is just all over the place these days. Boy Scouts, soccer, carpool arrangements, what to cook for dinner, the schedule for next week….and so on…. and then all this lawyer business. Here I am stressing over ensuring all this stuff gets handled correctly and practically in mid-sentence I’m talking about my fireplace.” Sis went on to say she didn’t like the red bricks but re-facing would be costly (at least $4,000) and just not an option.
I looked at her fireplace with renewed interest.
“The whole look is so dated,” she said. “This room is terribly dark as it is.” We sat quietly for a few minutes, contemplating the fireplace. A lovely Ludovico Einaudi playlist on Pandora played in the background which inexplicably stirred what little creative juices I possess.
Hmm. Honestly, I didn’t like the red brick either. Maybe I’m a bit odd (well, of course I am) but I don’t even like red brick houses. The brick of the fireplace extended all the way up the wall to the cathedral ceiling. And sis was right, it did make the light deprived room even darker and almost oppressive. “Well, maybe you could paint it,” I suggested offhandedly.
“Paint the brick?”
“Yes, but gosh what a job that would be! I’d hire someone to do it,” I said as my eyes drifted up the entire length of the wall. It seemed like a mighty daunting task to me but then again sewing a button on a shirt isn’t easy for me either.
Moments later my nephew came bounding into the room sweaty from soccer practice and the rest of the evening was devoted to homework, dinner, the dishes and other nighttime rituals. I had put the fireplace talk completely out of my head but sis had not. The following morning over coffee sis started anew on the topic.
Is special paint required for brick? And what color would look right? Would it look cheap? Admittedly It was hard for both of us to visualize painting a fireplace.
“I’m sure there are some ideas on Pinterest,” I offered. And before you know it, we were scrolling through dozens and dozens of images on Pinterest. I’m a latecomer to Pinterest. Facebook can easily suck time from one’s day and I didn’t want to start down the Pinterest rabbit hole. My daughter is the one who pushed me down the Pinterest path since she is planning her wedding. And, truthfully, over the course of the last couple of months I’ve found value perusing Pinterest for ideas particularly since my own bucket of creative tricks is practically empty. Anyhow, after an hour on Pinterest we had a flood of questions which took us to How to Paint a Brick Fireplace on YouTube (another fun site that voraciously consumes time!)
“Wow. These Do-It-Yourself videos sure make it all look so easy,” I marveled.
“Yes, but it looks like you have to spend all this time cleaning the brick with special solutions like mixtures of ammonia and borax.” said sis. “Hmm….I don’t know,” she murmured as she read through a detailed article on painting a fireplace.
And then back on Pinterest we stumbled upon Whitewashing a Brick Fireplace.
“That’s exactly the look I’m going for!” sis exclaimed excitedly pointing to one of the images.
“Ooh wow, ” I said nodding in agreement. Looking at the before and after photos of the room it was amazing that the whitewashed look seemed to de-clutter the entire room without a single item being removed. “That does look fantastic!”
“The Pinner (is that even a word?) explained her approach to the project. “It appears you just need to brush clean the brick –no need to use a special cleaning solution–,” I said. “And, then she created a mixture containing 1/4 Benjamin Moore Pashmina, 1/4 Benjamin Moore Dove White and 1/2 water. “It was so easy,” commented the poster of the Pin.
Still, we needed more convincing. So we went back to YouTube and found a few DIY videos on whitewashing brick. We watched four or five videos before reaching the same conclusion. “Well it certainly looks easy and pretty straight-forward sis. You’ve got to do it!”
“Yes lets!” She cried.
And with that we were off to Home Depot. Paint…check. Drop cloth…check. Painter’s tape…check. Brushes….check. And so on. The total came to $120. Later, sis would take back items we hadn’t used so the total was closer to $80. If she would have hired a contractor the job would have been at least $800.
Back home an hour later we fortified ourselves with coffee before tackling light cleaning of the brick. We brought out the BIG ladder and struggled for a moment trying to get it fully extended. It didn’t happen. So yes…we decided to wait for the man-of-the-house to come home from work. My bro-in-law had it fully extended in two blinks of an eye. Sis and I swept dust and light grime off as much brick as we could reach using both a small brush and a vacuum cleaner. Then we began taping-off areas around the fireplace. Now folks, sis is all of 5’2″ and I am just a wee bit under 5’6″…and did I mention that sis is not too keen on heights. But I have to say she was a champ! The first few attempts halfway up the ladder were shaky but sis soon got the hang of it. Me? Well someone had to steady the BIG ladder! I wasn’t going to be responsible for sis falling off the ladder. I did make one attempt to climb higher on the BIG ladder than my sis but promptly bagged the idea.
“Sorry sis,” I’m not comfortable this high up. These knees just aren’t what they used to be.” Luckily, sis had a small step-ladder which I was able to put to good use.
Next we adjourned to the garage for paint mixing. Sis measured, I stirred. “Hmm. Does this look too white?” asked sis. I was surprised she even asked me. I say this because sis is THE artist in the family. My sage reply was: “Only one way to find out. Let’s try it out on an inconspicuous spot.”
“Yes, but first we need some music,” said sis. Using her phone, she scrolled through various Pandora playlists before deciding on Salsa. Her Bose unit was now filling the house with lively Latino music. With brushes and our smear rags in hand we started painting, starting first with the grout areas then quickly filling in the brick using the rags. Our hips swayed to the music as we went about our task. We laughed and joked…we talked about everything and nothing until our first break a couple of hours into the project.
“Let’s stop and survey,” said sis. We laid down brushes and paint and walked towards the kitchen carefully navigating around the drop cloths and the BIG ladder.
We practically squealed with happiness. Oh My God….it looks terrific!
We started the project at 9 a.m. and by 1 p.m. we had covered half the fireplace. I was amazed at how fast sis worked. Technique was everything and I was working at a turtle’s pace so as not to screw anything up. Eventually I got into a rhythm and went faster. Though I was mighty nervous at the start I relaxed into it. Truly, it was a lot of fun.
By the time the master-of-the-house came home we had most of the work done. There was just a small triangle of bricks that we could not comfortably reach on the ladder. Sis batted her blue eyes and said pretty-please asking for help in finishing the last section of bricks. I’m sure Bro-in-law would have preferred to collapse on the sofa with an ice-cold beer but after changing into his “let’s paint clothes” up the BIG ladder he went. Sis and I held our breaths as he stepped to the highest rung and began painting. I steadied the ladder while sis provided instructions to her hubby. He did a stellar job! Forty-five minutes later we all stood admiring the completed project.
It looks absolutely fabulous we gushed, practically in unison.
Later that evening after we had showered and were coiffed and properly attired for dinner, sis and I sat with glasses of wine in hand, again contemplating the fireplace. I took a deep breath, exhaling slowly as I admired the fruits of our labor. Sure, it was hard work, and totally outside of my box, but….What a wonderful day this has been.
Everything is absolutely perfect….well….almost perfect. A growing ache in muscles not accustomed to whitewashing fireplaces is real. An Aleve ought to sort that out.
And now, as I recall that day last week with my sis, I am once again awash with gratitude. It is another treasured memory and there is bliss in that.