Outside the Brick Box Outside the Brick Box

New Products Take an Ancient Material Beyond the Expected

To some, the word "brick" brings to mind a classic, elegant building material that stands the test of time. For others, brick is synonymous with the ivy-covered, traditional architecture on which our country was built. Brick is all these things, but today, it is also so much more. While brick has played an age-old role as a choice building material, the brick of the past has taken on some new looks. In fact, new brick homes may bear absolutely no resemblance to one another in style, color or architectural detailing. Unlike most exterior sidings, brick has no "prepackaged" look. Its application is an art, not a science, resulting in an endless variety of brick appearances achieved at the talented hands of masons and creative architects. So what's really hot in the brick world?and how has a building material that's been around for thousands of years managed to retain its popularity?

What do people want?

Focus groups conducted by the SouthWestern Brick Institute among builders during the past year shed some light on what it is that builders and consumers look for when it comes to exterior finishes. The builders, as a whole, saw themselves as implementers, rather than instigators, of building trends. Although they cited benefits of brick including extended warranties (100+ years), ease of maintenance and faster turn-around on spec homes, they clearly saw consumers as independent decision-makers when it came to choosing the exterior finishes of the homes they build.

While the very traditional looking dark red brick received the highest sales compared to other brick colors in the 1990s, builders sound more than happy to see more diversity in the market as we embark upon the new millennium. Builders cite shades of soft pastels and muted earth tones as emerging favorites. Several members of the focus groups even identified a move toward combining exterior materials - for instance, brick with stone or brick with stucco - to achieve new looks; however, all predicted brick would continue to be the primary exterior finish material in mid-to higher-end homes.

New Products

With over 10,000 different styles and colors of brick available, home design possibilities seem infinite. New brick and brick-related products offer consumers more aesthetic variation than ever before possible with the world's most enduring building material. Architects and builders find past creative limits lifted as they embrace the artistic potential these new brick products offer. Let's begin with a question. When you think of mortar, what color do you see in your mind's eye? Perhaps, like many people, you picture mortar in shades of gray. Now try picturing colored mortar.

Colored Mortar

Mortar, which comprises approximately 20 percent of a brick wall's surface, no longer limits itself to tones of gray or white. Color choices currently ranging from buff to red, charcoal to chocolate, allow architects and builders to formulate combinations that create personal statements targeted toward homeowners' desires. New brick and mortar combinations present a plethora of creative and artistic possibilities when it comes to the appearance of new homes. Suddenly, the traditional is transformed into the extraordinary. Whether the mortar color choice is subtle or extreme, it can make a dramatic impact on the appearance of the house. Some consumers may find that striking contrasts in the color of brick and mortar heighten and accentuate architectural details of the house that might otherwise go unnoticed. Still other consumers gravitate toward less contrast and a softer look in brick that can be achieved by combining muted mortar colors and new paler shades of brick.

Monolithic Look

Responding to the move toward a softer look in brick, several manufacturers have developed new matching brick and mortar combinations to produce a muted, monolithic look typically associated with stucco and Mediterranean architecture. Lighter-hued brick, like Acme Brick's Country French paired with a light gray mortar, currently rank as best sellers for both traditional and contemporary architecture. Manufacturers across the country are introducing lines featuring pastel hues ranging from white to peach, some of which are coated with a frosty finish. Boral Bricks takes the monolithic look a few steps further with PastelCoteä, its new pastel coating system featuring a variety of colors applied in a paint-like finish directly over clay brick and mortar. This new process evokes images of masonry or stucco while still allowing the brick's texture to come through. Homeowners can further customize the appearance of their houses through the selection of different brick, color and texture combinations. The process is permanent, assuring homeowners that treated brick, like the traditional variety, will only grow more beautiful with age.

Antique Charm

In the brick industry these days, everything old really is new again. Perhaps the most astounding brick-making innovation in recent years is the introduction of a modern manufacturing process which produces brick that mimics the look of the hand-made brick associated with Colonial American architecture. Numerous manufacturers now offer consumers different brick looks reminiscent of traditional antique brick homes and featuring soft edges, a velvety texture and various imperfections that make each brick truly one-of-a-kind. Diehard traditionalists can get the real thing from a handful of manufacturers like Redland Brick whose Cushwa plant has been manufacturing brick the old-fashioned way, by hand, since 1872. They still follow the time-honored tradition of pressing clay into sand-coated wooden moulds one at a time to give brick rich antique texture, soft contours and classic appeal. Other companies offer tumbled brick suggestive of handmade, for that slightly rugged, imperfect appearance of the old days. For example, Robinson Brick Company's New Traditions line features an extensive selection of tumbled, antique-looking brick including newly released Staintcloudä which combines the subtle tones of white and gray to capture the authentic look of old brick with colors and textures found in nature. Robinson Brick's line includes color combinations reminiscent of beautiful old buildings as evidenced by product names like Schoolhouseä, Trainstationä and English pubä and is available as full size brick or Thinbrickä. Tumbled brick, made by numerous companies, can be found in shades ranging from buff to dark gray and from red to sage. On the lighter side of traditional architecture, manufacturers like Durham, North Carolina's Triangle Brick Co. offer a white-washed tumbled brick perfect for recreating the genteel elegance of historic Southern homes. The illusion of white-washed brick, soft and light with just a hint of color showing through, opens up new possibilities for traditional looks.

Rustic Nature

Naturalists will continue to find brick's back-to-the-basics ingredients of clay, fire and water appealing and will find bricks produced in their region of the country particularly reflective of the land from which it was produced. With production in 39 states, there is a good chance that prospective homeowners can find brick made from earth very similar to that on which they plan to build their dream home.

Environmental purists will appreciate the brick in Richtex's Southern Classic line. Created from some of the purest red clay deposits found in the foothills of the Appalachians, this brick brings true harmony between a building and its site. Several other companies around the country produce brick from particularly pure regional clay deposits, as well, bringing brick in line with the poplular home environment concept of Feng Shui.

Multi-colored bricks might be another way for homeowners seeking a look attune with the outdoors. Brick with blurred colors or flecks of color in earthy tones of red, brown, black and buff appear completely at home in a rustic setting.

Companies like Cherokee Brick offer accent bricks in shapes normally associated with stone which can be used for joining design applications such as arches or for use in random patterns. Just last year, US Brick introduced its Rock Series featuring brick-shaped limestone providing homebuyers with the beauty of stone and the ease installation of brick at a fraction of the cost of stone. To achieve the popular combination finish, homeowners can combine traditional brick with the Rock Series to create a look uniquely their own.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The creative possibilities stemming from brick product lines seem almost endless. Whether you decide to go with handmade brick, colored mortar and brick combinations, paintable brick that is rough in texture for good paint adherence, or rock-shaped brick, you will know that you're getting a very solid enduring building material that will last a lifetime.

The products mentioned in this article only highlight the myriad of brick choices available. The possibilities are endless when it comes to looks achieved through the use of brick as an exterior finish material in the twenty-first century. For more information on brick or to find a showroom near you, visit the Brick Industry Association at www.brickinfo.org or contact one of the regional associations listed below.

Regional Brick Resources

Great Lakes Brick Council (330) 492-0303
Illinois Masonry Advisory Council www.maconline.org
Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute (303) 893-3838
Southern Brick Institute www.gobrick.com
SouthWestern Brick Institute www.swbrick.com

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