What is this material on my house, and can I paint it?
June 18, 2017 6:19 AM   Subscribe

I bought a house! Built in 1911, Chicago, and there's some sort of brick or stone serving as the front wall. I'd like to give the exterior a refresh, but I'm not sure how to treat this material. Can I paint it? (Pics inside.)

My current plan, if possible, is to keep the trim white, paint the rest of the house some shade of blue, and to remove the metal awning and railing in favor of a white wooden portico with square pillars. Other suggestions also welcome!

posted by ohsnapdragon to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How much do you enjoy painting? Because right now, that is an almost zero-upkeep exterior. Once you paint, you will have to regularly repaint every few years.

(My guess is yes, you can do it, but it will take a lot more paint than you expect to get coverage of such a textured surface (and if brick, it will also soak in some) and you will probably regret it later.)
posted by lollusc at 6:32 AM on June 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

You could paint it, but you shouldn't really. You'll have to repaint ($$$) every 10-ish years and now you don't have to do jack- why create work and expense for yourself? What about shutters and a window box to brighten it up?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:07 AM on June 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Scratch that- no shutters. Window box and nice plantings, permanent shingled awning and new railing. No paint.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:08 AM on June 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

If you're going to go with paint, do your research, there are paints that are designed to adhere specifically to brick. I don't know what the lifespan is on that compared to how long you want to live in this house, but as others mentioned, you may want to look into it, right now you have zero maintenance. Also, painted brick could affect resale value too - potential owners won't want to deal with the hassle either.

Even if you're going to paint, you're going to have to powerwash it clean first, so I'd do that much, you may be surprised to see how much nicer it looks. Then freshen up the trim with paint and you're on your way to better curb appeal.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:15 AM on June 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Be really careful about power washing brick. As brick ages it gets a crust of sorts and you do not want to damage that crust or it will start to crumble. Make sure whoever you hire knows what they are doing.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 7:45 AM on June 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Take a walk in the neighborhood with an eye to what others have done--if there are painted brick houses you will get an idea of how it would look as it ages. You can talk to the owners on paint vs no paint, too. If you just moved in, you might want to wait & see how you feel later. Do the cosmetic updates--powerwash, paint trim, flowers, etc. first. Painting a brick house is a big job. It is a cute house already.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 7:45 AM on June 18, 2017

I've always heard that painting brick is bad for the house. In the first 2 months of acquiring a new house, we tend to rush to change it- if you wait a couple months you may find the existing colour will grow on you and if you decide not to paint it, you won't mind as much. Congrats on the house!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:48 AM on June 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Quick note: I think it might be a type of rough hewn sandstone brick. Also, it is only the front wall that has it - other three sides of the house are siding.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 8:06 AM on June 18, 2017

If you are insistent on painting it, go to a non-big-box paint store (like Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore)- they will be able to recommend the proper type of paint, and it will be a good quality paint that will last. It's not going to be cheap, but in this case, you'll want your paint job to last as long as possible before you have to reprint.
posted by sarajane at 8:09 AM on June 18, 2017

Best answer: Rather than real stone or brick, is it possibly Formstone (a fake-stone facade applied by putting up a wire mesh, layering plaster/stucco on that, then sculpting the fake bricks)?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm joining the Don't Paint chorus. Instead, I'd put the money and effort into much nicer landscaping in the front yard. Rhododendron, lilac, or hydrangea get big and bloom beautifully. Move the roses to the fenceline. Mowing is a drag; you want landscaping that will reduce it. Just don't block the window.

You can get your punch of color with that wood trellis, porch, steps, and the front door. I'd use a color similar to the stone, and add blue for a subtle addition of extra color. Another color for the porch floor and steps, and maybe a more intense color for the door. All the paint companies have tools you can use to test paint schemes. I googled color tool paint house.

posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on June 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you really want a change of colour, you'd be better off siding the front of house. There is not a chance I'd paint that it as it stands. All the work, with no guarantee of a good result.
posted by Ftsqg at 10:30 AM on June 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your house is really cute!

I would definitely not paint that. I would paint all the trim, railings and other random wood and metal extras. That will totally refresh the look, will protect those materials (wood and metal need the protection, the stone stuff looks just fine as is) and won't be something you regret.
posted by kitten magic at 7:22 PM on June 18, 2017

I'd agree with the landscaping first. It will completely change the ambiance. Then I'd work on integrating the awning into the style and period of the building, above all, by using something other than ... I think I'm looking at ... metal. Then maybe replace the metal screen door with wood. This will radically change the feel of the front of your house. Different colored plants and shrubs can change the feel of the hue of the stone. A differently-textured awning and door will similarly affect how upgraded the stone feels. Like everyone said, painting stone is more hassle than it's worth. If you really hate it, remove it. But give it a year or two and make some other smaller changes first, then see what you think.
posted by Violet Blue at 7:52 PM on June 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, a different door and upgraded porch/awning will make this so much more enjoyable for you, and be less work. You could brighten up the house a lot simply by painting the wood portions of the porch a lighter color (white? cream?) and replacing the metal railings with wooden railings, the metal door with an attractive wood front door. There's a lot of metal on your house, which lends it a sort of "temporary" feel. That's easy to change.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 11:10 PM on June 18, 2017

Chickenman stone! Preserve it exactly as it is forever at all costs.

Four years ago I bought a house in a neighborhood that, of all the town, bought the most fake siding from a charming man who sold it on TV while dressed as a chicken flanked by beautiful chorus girls. He sang a jingle that went: Chickenman: "Throw away that paint can! Throw away that brush!" Beautiful chorus girls: "Throw them in the toilet and a-flush, flush, flush!" Chickenman: "Leave me come over to your house today!" Beautiful chorus girls: "No money down and just a phone call away!" Then it went on for many more verses during which we learned that the stuff was indestructible and we could get wood, brick, or stone, according to our taste, and that it was waterproof and everything-else-proof including peanutbutter-proof, all of which he demonstrated by throwing buckets of the various substances against samples of siding. I watched this man every day after school in the commercial breaks during Space Giants. I loved this man.

My house is sedate brick, chert, and stucco with not a trace of chickenman stone. All around me I look on his works and despair that I have no siding myself to remind me of the beautiful era of the chickenman. I never learned his name, and it seems nobody ever thought to tape the commercials, or maybe Space Giants was before everybody had VCRs, so every time I search, they aren't on youtube. They live only in cherished memory, and in the wonders of his chickenman hand, the fauxlithic legacy slathered all over block upon block of modest single-family houses.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:12 AM on June 19, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your input, especially to LobsterMitten who solved the mystery of this material. I had never heard of Formstone, but I drove around this weekend and saw tons of it all over Chicago with my freshly knowledgable eyes.

I came up with a design plan to implement, which would look like this. If I still hate it in a year, I can then go ahead and paint/stain the Formstone to look like this. I'm very excited now!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 1:42 PM on June 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older Import all photos from your DSLR? Or only the good...   |   Help me BBQ! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.