Designing with Brick

Designers and builders face the never-ending challenge of finding the right building product for the job, and brick is a product that offers the ultimate in versatility. Brick comes in a broad palette of colors, fits in with an array of different architectural styles for broad regional acceptance, and can be applied in different ways to create unique patterns. And as a bonus, it offers green benefits.

According to a research study by Ducker Worldwide and the Brick Industry Association, 53 percent of all homeowners believe it is important to have brick on some part of their home, and 54 percent of respondents consider brick as their ideal/preferred material for exterior cladding. In addition, almost 90 percent of homeowners will consider brick when building or purchasing their next home. With a sturdy reputation, brick minimizes the need for designers and builders to educate clients about its features and appearance.

Re-creating history

In his pursuit of authenticity, Joe Ahmann, CPBD, president, Hiawatha, Iowa-based Ahmann Design, had custom brick shapes made. “We designed [the brick shapes] and had the brick manufacturer make them. We had three different shapes made,” he adds.

A unique characteristic of the home is the Purrington pavers incorporated throughout. “The property had old streets that passed through it and at some point they weren’t used any longer. [The homeowner] dug up enough of the pavers that he had them separated by full brick and part brick,” Ahmann says. “The [pavers] are found in the lower level, in the floor, along the walls, throughout the home and in the outside patios.”

One of the requests from the homeowner was the turret located at the corner of the home. It is four stories tall and encompasses part of the master bedroom, guest bedroom, art studio and an observation tower with a walkway around it. The masonry gazebo in the back of the property is a miniature version of the turret.

The most creative use of brick on this house is in the chimneys. “The brick on the top third of the chimney is laid in a twisted pattern to look like they spiral upward. The mason didn’t think it could be done, but the homeowner stacked the brick on the ground to show that it was possible,” Ahmann says.

Ahmann’s decision to use brick is based on his clients’ willingness to use it. “The impression out there is that it’s expensive. The first thing people think of is they need to get it within a budget and I disagree. You need to look at what your materials are, and design around what you want to use,” he adds.

Other reasons he uses brick are its maintenance-free aspects, and the design opportunities it presents. “With the same product there are so many design features which create shadow lines, which create interest,” he says.

Bonding past with present

The use of a material and pattern indicative of a specific time period is how this home accurately represents true Georgian architecture. Two brick patterns used in the Georgian style include Running and Flemish bonds; Flemish was the pattern of choice for this house in Jacksonville, Fla. (See pattern examples on the right.)

The homeowners’ request for a Georgian house simplified material selection for Stephen Reinel, AIA, principal of Jaycox Reinel Architects, also in Jacksonville. “We typically design traditional houses so if a particular style of home was traditionally made of brick, then that would dictate the use of brick,” he says.

Reinel used brick in many areas of the house to enhance its style. “We used brick as the coping around the pool and for the structure near the pool that houses the pool equipment. All the porch floors are brick pavers and all the steps to the porches are made of brick. The water table, which is the band around the base of the house, is all made of brick,” Reinel says.

One challenge of using brick on this house was the support required for the large gables. “The gable end of the second floor to the left of the chimney is above the kitchen and family room which is largely open space. In order to support the brick veneer on this wall, there are steel lintels supported by the wood-frame structure of the house and in some cases, there are small steel columns to support the lintels. We also have brick control joints at each end of these gable walls to allow for differential movement between the steel and wood structures,” Reinel says.

The green benefits of brick have not influenced Reinel’s decisions to use brick in the past; however, they are beginning to. “We have more clients asking for green building products to make their homes more environmentally friendly,” he says.
Reinel adds that designers and builders should use brick because it’s a traditional material that has been around for a long time. “Everyone knows of its durability and beauty. That’s reason enough,” he says.

Accurately representing the past

In North Carolina, the prevalence of Georgian and English Tudor houses is what makes building with brick a popular trend. This home is a replication of early Georgian architecture, and the accurate representation of this style relies on the correct choice of brick and mortar.

A white mortar on a red brick is right for this type of house. “Color is extremely important. There are a certain number of bricks that replicate what we are trying to follow. If you used an ivory brick, it would look totally out of place. Other bricks can look horrid and the color isn’t historically correct,” says Christopher Phelps, owner, Christopher Phelps and Associates based in Charlotte, N.C., who designed the home.

The pattern of this house features a basic Running bond although a Flemish bond could have been used to create the same accurate representation. “We didn’t do a Flemish bond because it’s too expensive to do. In the past, they didn’t build wood-framed houses with brick veneer. The outside wall of the house was built as a masonry wall, and the Flemish bond ties the different layers of walls together. We weren’t able to replicate that,” Phelps says.

In keeping with accuracy, brick steps, pavers, patios and verandas were included in the house. A good Georgian brick two-story home should have these features as well as two opposing chimneys, he adds.

The green building trend isn’t driving Phelps’ decision to build with brick as much as house styles and client expectations. “Typically our clients tell us they want a brick home. There are certain styles that absolutely belong in brick such as Georgian and English Tudor homes,” Phelps says.

Phelps encourages builders and designers to use brick because of its strong reputation among homeowners, real estate agents and lending institutions. “It’s recognized as an acceptable building material that seems to easily convince everyone that this home has longevity and substance to it,” he adds.

In honor of brick

The architect and homeowners for this project in Short Hills, N.J., were on a mission to build a house that celebrated brick. The homeowners liked brick and wanted to have an all-brick house without feeling overwhelming. After researching many styles, they chose English Arts and Crafts.

“We found that the English Arts and Crafts offered the beauty of brick without it being heavy. It became apparent to us as we started to design this house that it was all about the brick,” says Carmen Iuso, AIA, LEED, director of residential design, Wesketch Architecture, Millington, N.J.

To highlight the brick, it was used in many areas of the house. “A walkway and car turnoff is all brick. A few retaining walls were integrated into the landscape design on the side and front yards that use the same brick. In addition, the chimneys utilize the same brick. We wanted to show how versatile brick can be,” Iuso says.

The brick used in this house is hand-made, and imperfect in color and shape. After looking at many colors, the designers and homeowners chose the brick color that offered the most warmth in their opinion — somewhere between orange and dark maroon. “The hand-made brick was used to give the house an Old World, hand-made quality,” Iuso adds.

Iuso thinks the most interesting parts of this house are the chimneys and gables. “Each of the three chimneys has a different shape and different profile brick,” he says. “[The house] has a series of steeply pitched gables on the front, side and rear of the house. The main facade of the house is the big, tall gables.”

Brick’s versatility and durability are two reasons Iuso uses the product. “It’s been around for a long time, will last a long time, and is recyclable yet permanent. That house is maintenance-free and it will last for hundreds of years,” he says.