What to do with exposed brick, pre-war molding, and tin ceilings

Posted on Mon, 26 Oct 2009 by KiM

We received an email from Stephanie the other day and thought I’d share it here to see if our reader’s had some ideas for her.

I am in the process of closing on a new apartment in Brooklyn! The apartment is completely white now, and I want to do something fun with it. The layout is very open, which isn’t totally obvious from the photos, so maybe the color change from room to room shouldn’t be too drastic? The middle room (with the huge closet) has no windows, so that might be important to consider. Questions: What is worse, leaving ratty-looking brick exposed, or covering it up with paint (in the kitchen)? How should I deal with the panel molding that covers the entire lower half of the living room (with the blue sofa)? It’s the smallest room so I don’t want it to feel too disjointed. Warning: the rooms all feel smaller than they look in the photos (damn that fish-eye lens!). Any help would be great!

P.S. The furniture in the pictures is the previous owner’s, so no need to match any of that (the photos are from the original listing and taken by a company called VHT, for credit’s sake).

I’m sure a lot of good ideas will come from this. That kitchen brick is really in shoddy shape in real life and I think I should paint it, but since it’s irreversible I’m nervous. Anyway, the apartment is truly “cozier” than it looks through a fish eye!”

What a fantastic apartment – love the tin ceiling (!!!), the brick fireplace in the bedroom, the open floor plan. Here’s my 2 cents. Leave everything white and paint out a wall in each room in an accent colour. That way the white keeps the open spaces unified and flowing into each other, but you get some colour in each space to define them (ie. the wall the bed is on). Judging by the poor condition of the brick in the photo, you should go for it and paint it out. And I’d go bold with that wall. Stephanie had sent a link to this post from Apartment Therapy, which included this photo:

That colour would be AMAZING over the brick. I’d keep the rest of the kitchen white and punch it up with accents in that colour and a bit of red. (Or do the opposite – paint the brick white and the walls/backsplash the yellow). And use a bench like the former owners did – great space saver and emphasizes the brick wall. I was going to say that you could paint the panel molding in the living room but it’s right next to the brick wall in the kitchen…so painting that would depend on what you do with the kitchen. I’d maybe leave it white and paint the upper part of the walls (something coordinating with the kitchen colour…a grey maybe). Anyway, I’d love to know what our readers think so comment away everyone!


Something creative and personal you can do with empty wall space is print some of your favourite photos large-scale. Parrot Print Canvas offers such services. I am looking to do this in my living room over my sofa. Fun!

Sander says:

I second painting the wall behind the bed in a color and leaving the rest white. I'm thinking in the direction of a medium green (pistache?), because I see trees outside. Green is also a color that relaxes you.
If you want to paint the wall in the kitchen, I'd go with a darker color maybe. Something like a medium to dark warm gray. If you're more a color person, you might want to go with orange: said to be associated with food and ingestion. Then put a white bench in front of it, together with an old wooden table. I don't know if you're replacing the kitchen, but I think it needs some color/warmth besides white, probably because of the light colored floor… Maybe a different countertop (wood?)
In the middle room you could hang a large piece of art or a large photo on canvas on the wall with the sofa. Should be a lot larger than that painting in the photo though.
About the panel molding: you can remove it, but that would probably mean that you'll have to fix up the walls. Another option would be to put some plain board over it, so it becomes more even like the wall above. I think you should keep it the same color as the walls.
I also second the advice above to keep it all white, with one wall in each room in a color (or some nice wallpaper). You can add some extra warmth by using furniture and accessories in natural wood.
In my own house (from 1897) I painted the walls "tender greige" (a bit like natural, unbleached linen, very light though) and the ceiling and doors/windows/sills a very bright white (think dentist), because I still wanted them to pop somewhat. This might be an option here as well. (my floors are a smoked, white oiled oak btw).
To get an idea:
Photo 1
Photo 2
What kind of person are you? Do you like bright colors? Do you like earthy tones? All white? Minimal interior, or filled with all kinds of accessories? What furniture do you already have?
When deciding on colors, have a look at "color psychology"…
Good luck,

Sander says:

Oops… mistake in the photo links, these are the correct ones:
Photo 1
Photo 2

I LOVE that chartreuse color!!! My kitchen/dining is white, but I painted the door and a couple of accents that EXACT color (matched a Russel Wright pitcher). I absolutely LOVE it!! It's SO bright and fun! It's a very retro-esque look, but quite modern!

I love the brick walls. It brings such texture and warmth to the room.

I would go with a warm white, with just a hint of yellow and very, very little black – everywhere. Let your art, decorative items, furniture or soft furnishings add the warmth and colour, while giving the walls a chance to make it seem as light and spacious as possible. Also, be clever with diverse, soft lighting to create space. I confess I am Scandinavian, and living far up north with short winter days we all appreciate the light.

The brick doesn't look too nice in its current state, so I would paint it in the same colour as all the other walls to create the maximum amount of light and space. If the brick walls feel cool when painted white, hang a great decorative textile or a warm painting.

The panel could stay – maybe use lighting, furniture and plants to create other focal points and divert attention – , but if it bugs you too much, tear it down and put up very thin plaster boards or plaster the wall (maybe best left to a professional).

Good luck and congratulations on your purchase! Those big windows and the greenery outside are great assets.

I like the color advice you've gotten. I'm just putting in my two cents about the brick wall: what if you varnished or lacquered it?

I don't see in what way the brick is in bad condition, but maybe I just like brick so much, I'm overlooking it.

Best to you!

Tasha says:

Don't paint the brick! It looks beautiful as it is.

I think you should paint the walls a pale butter yellow, with an accent area or two saffron. That'll bring out the warmth in the wood floors and the brick.

Good luck.

Anonymous says:

Since youve asked for comments, here's my 2 cents!

Personally I'm not keen on painting brick, it always seems like you're trying to hide it but cant afford to replace it (ok I think it looks cheap!) My inclination would to be paint the mortar. A bit of a fiddly job but it may be the punchy effect to say wow, it aint chipboard!! also painting in the lines of the panneling on your walls may be effective, though only a 1/2 shade lighter or darker.

Check out your art work to see what colours to use.

But hold off painting the brick, as you say its forever!!!!

Cheers from downunder, Bluey

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