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Brick Flooring 101: How To Lay It And Take Care Of It From Someone Who Has Done It Herself

Brick floors have always been my jam. I used to work for a designer in Los Angeles who had a ton of clients with Spanish cottage-style homes in Montecito. We practically drove up there twice a week for onsites, and after checking in on these projects, we’d have lunch at the cutest little spots in town on our way back to Los Angeles. I loved these onsites most. Even though these homes were large in size, I always loved how the architectural details made them feel so quaint. One of those details being their brick floors. To be honest, back then, I was always given the task of choosing the pattern in which the brick would be laid and leaned more into the aesthetics side of the flooring. It wasn’t until my second design position at an architectural firm in Santa Monica, where I would truly learn the importance of specifying materials for their durability and sustainability. I would have never guessed it would take seven years until I’d fully understand the install side of brick flooring and the maintenance that comes with it (experiencing and having the flooring in my own home). 

We know that brick is typically used to build walls, and for outside areas like gardens, driveways, roads, and walkways, but in recent years I’ve seen brick floors reemerge in the interiors of homes. This has been made possible by companies creating brick materials specifically to be installed inside of homes. These come in the form of brick sheets that are designed to make the installation of interior brick floors as easy as it can possibly be. They even come in the form of a herringbone pattern, so that the labor to install them doesn’t have to be so intense/expensive. 

All that to say, here I am, three months later, after having our kitchen remodeled and I can finally give you an update on how our brick floors have been holding up, but first, let’s talk install. 

INSTALLATION

Needed Brick Flooring Materials: Cement board (sometimes), Mortar, Grout, and Tile/Stone Sealer 

A client of mine was kind enough to give me the leftover brick from a mudroom I worked on a while ago, and this was a big reason as to why I decided on the brick flooring for my kitchen. I had a large amount of the brick tiles already and knew I’d be saving a lot on flooring by purchasing the remaining amount (on top of applying my trade discount). Another big reason I chose to go with the brick was because of all of the water damage we found in the previous flooring. There was water underneath the wood laminate and it was a tad bit moldy. After removing the laminate, we realized there was tile underneath it and still had some small puddles of water sitting on top of it (in between the laminate and tile). Then when pulling up the tiled flooring, we found concrete. 

HOT TIP: I’ve done my share of research on brick flooring and found that cement board is for waterproofing over wood. Since concrete was already on the subfloor in my home, waterproofing was not needed here – we were able to do without the cement board. 

Let’s talk grout! I think the key is to have a brick mason and a tile installer when installing brick floors. My contractors had both come in to do our kitchen floor. Both presented me with a few application options as to how I’d like the floors grouted. The application I loved most was that of a German Schmear. A German Schmear is when a mixture of wet mortar is troweled or painted onto the surface of the brick. Afterward, before the mortar is completely dry, some of it is wiped off to expose parts of the brick. Think of it like spreading peanut butter onto a piece of toast, then realizing you’ve added a bit too much, and wiping some off…just enough until it is to your liking. Maybe that’s a bad analogy, but it makes sense at this moment (as I’m eating a piece of peanut butter toast). Moving on, I chose this grout application for a few different reasons; one being that during the transport of the brick tiles, a few arrived with some cracks in them (thanks to my hubby haha). 

I didn’t want to throw away the cracked pieces and figured filling them with grout would do the trick. Plus, I don’t mind the character the cracks bring. Secondly, I chose this application because I didn’t want dirt and food to collect in between the grout. The third reason I chose this application, is because I wanted the floors to feel more leveled and smooth when people walked on them, and lastly, I wanted the floors to look like they had been there for ages. I love it when architectural details have a bit of rustic character. As for the actual grout, I decided to go with this Ultracolor Plus FA #93 Warm Gray Grout

Congruent with the grout, I needed to decide how I wanted the brick tiles to lay. I played around with so many combinations but ultimately decided I wanted a border around the entire floor and the herringbone-patterned tile to fill it in. I was able to use the OldMill Castle Gate Herringbone Thin Brick Panels for the inside floor design and the Castle Gate Thin Brick Panels for the outside border design. The last decision I had to make was regarding the tile sealer. I wanted to make sure this brick was sealed and prepared for all of the spills I knew my one-year-old (and hubby) would be presenting it with. I ended up having it sealed with two coatings. It really only needed one, but there will be a renter here soon, as we are moving back to Los Angeles this year. I really wanted to make sure I did my due diligence with sealing off these brick pores. That leads me to my next topic, durability. 

DURABILITY 

Fun Fact: Fired clay bricks are one of the most durable and strongest construction materials known to man, with some examples dating all the way back to 5000 BC. How intriguing is that?! This is definitely a floor that can stand the test of time. Such a durable material, along with the grout chosen, the application, and the layers of sealer, all make for a great pairing.

We’ve already spilled wine and black paint on the floor and wiped it up like magic (only using soap and water). I should also mention the first dishwasher we received was drug throughout the kitchen when it arrived (wasn’t happy about it) – let’s just say the floors won and the dishwasher lost. Fire clay bricks can also withstand extreme heat and is more resistant to damage from fire than other types of flooring. This was a huge plus in our case, as the previous floors suffered from burn marks – not quite sure what the previous owner was up to in the kitchen. 

SUSTAINABILITY 

I’m doing my best moving forward to consider each material’s sustainability. The more I become educated about our environment, the more I want to make sure I do my part. In the past, I’ve made plenty of design decisions that resulted in meeting my own needs, yet compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. When I was going to school for interior and architectural design, I learned about LEED and how I could responsibly design. I still would like to be LEED-certified at some point, but in the meantime, I’m trying to make better decisions when it comes to design projects and selecting materials. I really do want my baby boy and all of the other people inheriting our world after me to inherit something good. That said, clay and shale are naturally occurring materials that are available abundantly. Though it takes much energy to fire brick, their extreme durability and longevity means that no extra energy is required to replace them in the long run. Bricks are also recyclable. 

MAINTENANCE 

How I maintain my brick floor has been the talk of the town! Well, via my social media it has lol. I’ve been sharing tidbits of me doing so, but now I’ll get to the nitty-gritty with how I keep them up. To be honest, after hearing lots of folks’ experiences with their brick floors, I was a little anxious of what was to come with mine, but after three months, I truly do not have any woes or regrets. It’s been much easier than I thought it would be and I’d credit this to how it was installed and what materials I chose during that process. In addition, here’s how I keep a clean brick floor: 

Vacuum Regularly 

I use a robot vacuum every morning (you heard me right). Every morning, I put up the baby gate, and I let the vacuum do its thing. It’s easy to capture crumbs because there are no cracks for them to get into (this was in large part due to the application process and the grout I chose). The grout is wonderful because it reduces surface absorption to help repel water, dirt, and grime before penetrating grout joints. To reiterate, the grout is basically the same level as the brick and all of the cracks in the brick have been filled with grout as well (German Schmear) therefore, crumbs and dirt do not accumulate. This makes for a smoother surface as well, while still keeping a bit of its texture.

Mop Weekly 

My husband and I make sure to mop our kitchen floor every Sunday morning. This means I mop it once every two weeks and he mops it once every two weeks. It doesn’t feel like a lot of work to us. We just put on a good podcast, pull out a mop and a natural mix, then get to work. 

HOT TIP: Here are a few natural cleaning solutions I found via The Spruce: 1 part vinegar mixed with 10 to 15 parts of water, or 2 tablespoons Borax mixed with 1 gallon of water, or 1 to 2 tablespoons baking soda mixed with 1 gallon of water. Soap and water are a hit too!

I’ve experimented with all the above and I like using the soap and water mix the most… just happens to be my preference. My husband likes using the vinegar mix. 

Clean Spills Immediately With A Cloth 

This one just requires me quickly grabbing a cloth and using soap and water to clean the spot that has been spilled on. Most of the daily spills are coffee, oat milk, and water. 

We Do Not Wear Shoes In The House (Unless They Are Brand New Or House Slippers)

I have a little one who likes to eat off of the floors and basically just lay his face on the floor whenever he feels like it. I’ve also seen way too many documentaries about all of the germs that live on the bottom of our shoes. That said, in my home, we don’t wear our outside shoes inside. This also contributes to why our floors do not get very dirty.  

 Now let’s get to the thing everyone has been waiting for – are the floors even comfy? 

COMFORT

We really got a good level on our brick, and the grout being almost as level as the actual brick tile makes the floor feel much smoother. We get just enough texture that per my momma, “it feels like a bit of a massage when walking on the floor.” It really meant a lot for my mom to have a positive experience with walking on the floor, as she has feet and knee issues. Trust, my mom is a straight-shooter, and would gladly let me know if she found the floors uncomfortable. She mentioned that she’d take her slippers off each time before entering the kitchen, looking forward to walking on it.

My father also enjoyed walking on the floor, and with a recent hip surgery. There’s also the opinions of those outside of my family, all sorts of contractors (plumbers, wall-patchers, electricians, HVAC servicers, etc.) who have no skin in the game, yet all brought to my attention how surprised they were at the comfort of walking on the floor (I don’t allow shoes in our house, so they were able to feel the floors this way). In addition, in terms of comfort, brick is inherently warmer than other tiles with retaining heat properties. My husband, one-year-old, and I also love walking on the floor. I guess you can officially deem us “brick people”. 

At the end of the day, it’s all about how dedicated you are to the material. Will you spend the time putting together the perfect combination of materials and recipe for install? Are you okay with vacuuming your kitchen floor every day, deep cleaning once a week, and refraining from wearing your outside shoes inside? Would you want to walk on textured floors every day? How do you feel about adding texture and warmth to make your space feel more quaint and cozy – which can also take on a sleek modern look when combined with the right materials. Ask yourself these questions, and many more before you decide on a brick floor. In my experience, hearing from those who’ve opted for brick flooring in their home, they either hate it or love it. I’m a lover of brick. It brings an interesting, rustic aspect to any genre of design, it’s quite unique and I especially love it in a kitchen. I’ll more than likely be using it again in our next home.

*Design and Photo by Ajai Guyot

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bh
1 month ago

Hi,
I must be a safety nerd but my heart skipped a beat, reading that your plumbers, electricians etc need to take their shoes off in your house. Adequate shoes are designed to protect workers, if only against electrocution. It would be illegal for construction workers to work barefoot in France and I can’t imagine that it would be any different in the US. And I say this as someone who takes her own shoes off inside all the time§

Kj
1 month ago
Reply to  bh

Very thoughtful of you to point this out. For safety, “shoes off” households should provide shoe covers to workers instead of requiring them to remove their shoes.

1 month ago
Reply to  bh

All major work was done beforehand (before we lived in the house). They could wear their shoes then. For inspections with the city – shoes off! Also would like to mention, these were my contractors who I built a relationship with, who also have young children, and respected my situation. 🙂

bh
1 month ago
Reply to  Ajai Guyot

Hi Ajai, thanks for your reply. I’m afraid safety hazards occur on small jobs too, just like you can have a car incident on a 5-min ride , and not just on a cross-country road trip. I would also argue that having young children and/or having a good relationship with your client are not protection againts workplace accidents – and that having built a relationship with your contractor will not prevent you from legal liability (in France) and moral responsibility.

1 month ago
Reply to  bh

Totally understand, however in this state, an inspection is less than 10 minutes and consists of the city and technician meeting up to LOOK AT the work that was done. No need for shoes for this… lots of pointing, walking around , and talking during the inspection. I mentioned my contractors and my relationship because they actually know me and my situation.

The first technician that entered my home WITH shoes and shoe covers, tracked dog-poop throughout the entire house (on the same floors my 1-yr-old son eats off of). If there is major work to be done outside of inspections, my contractors have and will take all safety precautions when completing work (if this consists of wearing shoes – like they did when the work was done – I’ll more than likely have to go through and mop all floors afterwards).

I think I should have given more details regarding all of the safety precautions taken during install for this blog, but I will absolutely dedicate more time to this in my next install blog post.

Thank you for reading the post! 🙂

Blandine
1 month ago
Reply to  Ajai Guyot

Of course inspections and any situation when no work is done are totally different! Thanks for clarifying.

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  bh

I’m a shoes-off as much as possible, but make an exception for safety boots. As if any tradies (Aussie-speak) worth their salt would take them off anyway.

Amanda
1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Most contractors I have worked with bring their own boot covers. Seems like an obvious business expense they can just include in my fee

1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Yes, same here Rusty. I actually have a pack of 200 shoe covers and ask all technicians doing any kind of work that requires tools or machinery to wear the shoe covers their company provides or the ones we have.

I only offer the option of walking throughout our home without shoes for estimates/quotes and inspections, and photos (images they want to take for their own portfolio).

I learned from and worked with some of the largest interior and architectural firms in Los Angeles and know not to ever put anyone at risk during these projects. I should have been more clear on this and now know for the next blog I write regarding a similar topic, I should clarify.

Jay
1 month ago
Reply to  bh

I would not rush to assume there’s a power imbalance here in which Ajai is using her position to make contractors take off their shoes at risk of their safety. Never have I had a contractor be fearful to tell me what they are thinking. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to ask contractors wear a mask during the height of the pandemic to enter my house with vulnerable toddlers and elders – and being told no. When it’s not a safety issue, sometimes it’s just about treating each other with respect. I’m glad more folks are adopting a no shows policy as an indoor air quality and health issue. This has been common practice in many East Asian cultures for….well, I suspect longer than our reference to European practices.

Reanna
1 month ago

Really appreciate the update now that you’ve been living with (and cleaning) it for months! It’s beautiful!

1 month ago
Reply to  Reanna

Thank you so much! It’s my pleasure! So happy to share! 🙂

LJ
1 month ago

As one who made the same mistake recently, a building is LEED Certified, a person is LEED accredited. 🙂
Also, I find the principals of LEED to be important learning tools in how to design a building to be better for our environment – and a program that exposes the general public to these principals of design is vastly important – BUT the actual Certifying process is an expensive money grab by the Green Building Council that runs the program – you have to recertify a building every 3 years to maintain your building’s LEED status. I get that tech changes and a LEED Silver building from 10 years ago likely wouldn’t meet the requirements for LEED Silver today- but every 3 years? You can have a building that meets the design requirements of LEED but opt to not Certify the building – its just a huge marketing ploy, IMO.

mf
1 month ago
Reply to  LJ

(You don’t have to recertify a LEED Design and Construction building. That certification stands on it’s own and doesn’t expire. Recertifying is for buildings to measure annual performance – like water, energy use, air quality etc.)

1 month ago
Reply to  LJ

Noted! Thank you for this information! 🙂

KD
1 month ago

thanks for the update! As a native Las Vegan (who now lives in NY), I love that you went with brick — something you never see in LV homes!

1 month ago
Reply to  KD

My pleasure! Thank you! I’ve seen so many tiles used in LV homes! I was happy to try something different out! 🙂

Molly
1 month ago

Come for the design inspiration; stay for the baby toes!

1 month ago
Reply to  Molly

Love baby toes haha! Glad you enjoyed the blog. 🙂

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Molly

Aaaaahhhh…..I agree!!
#he’s.so.big!!!

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago

“…not quite sure what the previous owner was up to in the kitchen.”🤣🤣
Love, love, love those bricks!!!🥰

This is really well written Ajai!!
You explained every single facet so clearly.

I love the German Schmear…since Emily’s Mountain House fireplace.  💓
Having the grout line as level to the brick makes sooo much sense and the sealing is critical too, I see.

Question: are the bricks thinner than normal bricks? Kinda like ‘brick tiles’?? I’d imagine they’d have to be, or only people with concrete floors could use them. Yes?

Thank you for pointing out the sustainability choices you’re making,
Each and every time we read these doable choices by designers, it helps us remember that e ery move we make has an impact of varying degrees. Kudos.🤗xx

Amber
1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Yes, brick tiles are thinner. You can even get reclaimed ‘thin bricks’ which are recycled bricks that are sliced into pieces. Worth noting that if you install bricks outdoors, you need to use ‘pavers’ which are harder than bricks used for walls.

1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Hi Rusty! Thank you so much!
Turns out the last owner had never physically been inside of the condo (they purchased it, and then moved a renter right in). Yes, the bricks are thinner – they come in the form of a thin brick tile. 🙂

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  🥰 Rusty

Thanx Amber.🙂

Kristi
1 month ago

Ajai,
It’s been awhile since we heard from you here. I was excited to see a post from you today! Thanks. Very helpful.

jamie
1 month ago

Your kitchen is beautiful. I really appreciate the step by step information here. And those baby toes!! Adorable.

emily jane
1 month ago

PERFECT -both the brick + German Schmeared floor aaand your install tips + review of said floor. The addition of this rustic-leaning detail to the understated elegance achieved by the other design elements you chose is what makes this kitchen sing. Lovely -well done : )

Roberta Davis
1 month ago

I had a brick floor in my old house for 12 years, and I never hated a floor so much. It never felt clean.

Emily N
1 month ago
Reply to  Roberta Davis

Can you tell us anything about the grout/sealer that was used on your brick floor?

Andrea
1 month ago

Ajai, this kitchen is delightful, with a great choice of flooring material and pattern….and I love the precious toddler toes!

Michelle
1 month ago

I wasn’t even considering brick before but now I am. Great post! Thanks!

J.
1 month ago

I love this look and the sustainability. We know when we buy our retirement home we will need to do upgrades to suit ourselves and I’m sure, from looking at affordable (for us) houses in our area, the flooring, especially in the kitchen/dining area, will have to be changed. For non-designers, about how much per square foot for brick? I know that it varies, but just on average…thanks!

Cortney
1 month ago

I know you had so many intentional choices around aesthetics and structure, but did the fun of saying “Schmear” repeatedly also factor into your flooring choice? 😉 Looks beautiful, and I so appreciate all the facets of thinking you brought to your choice!

Deb
1 month ago

I love this floor and the fact you gave so many details.
I have wanted to use the German schmear on my brick fireplace since I moved in 4 years ago but don’t really know what to ask a contractor so I know they know what they are doing when it comes to this application.
Thanks for explaining all of the process and showing us it’s beauty. Looking for future projects you share with us.

1 month ago

We just got our delivery of reclaimed New England brick from stone farm living (who were fabulous to work with!). They will go in our small utility room and our back entry area in our restored 1872 farmhouse. Thanks so much for the German Schmear feedback! Dumb question, but is that always white? I’d like a more gray grout to hide dirt but haven’t ever seen it in anything other than white.

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Kj
1 month ago
Reply to  Molly

The mountain house fireplace used gray, I think. This was after the first pass: https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/stone-fireplace-makeover-mountain-house

🥰 Rusty
1 month ago
Reply to  Kj

Kj….man! You’re good!!! Kudos!

1 month ago
Reply to  Kj

Seriously. EHD needs to hire you! Thanks.

emily jane
1 month ago
Reply to  Molly

Looking good Molly! I’d love to see your finished reveal here (maybe in a ‘reader’s projects’ post here on the blog..?).

Lauren
1 month ago

This is so interesting! Do you feel like it has to be vacuumed more often than tile? If so, why?

Christina
1 month ago

Love the brick, design, schmear and confidence you are giving me that this could be a fabulous option. I most enjoyed your no-shoes/eating off-the-floor ditties. Memories! I was the girl who bleached her toothbrush (father=dentist) every month and after every cold, disposing of every 4-6 months, the daughter of the mom whose best friends were bleach and Lysol, and who ran (me, now) quite the stalking system of noticing a cough in the dorm and that night lysoling every door handle/bathroom faucet. My kids were nearly sterilized until I had so many I couldn’t keep up and then I noticed that my younger ones were healthier than my older ones. My two adopted sons licked the hand ‘rails’ of the moving escalator-type floors in JFK airport upon entry into the U.S. and ate already-chewed gum from under every seat there. As I gagged uncontrollably (I am gagging again now.) and watched teary-eyed from being exhausted and overwhelmed, my husband told me to shut my eyes and he was on duty. It took years to break them of the oral stage, but 12 years later, one has thrown up one time, the other not at all, and both have had two… Read more »

Lisa
1 month ago

Beautiful, beautiful floors! Thanks for the update Ajai and I totally agree it looks so cozy!! Also tips for other fellow no-shoes-at-home-folks: I grew up in a no-shoes household because a) I grew up in a European country where this was pretty much the norm and b) because we had carpet throughout the entire home and getting dirt out of it was HORRENDOUS, so my mum always had a couple of old but clean bedsheets on hand that she put down when plumbers, electritians etc came over, so that they wouldn’t track dirt onto the carpet – worked like a charm!

Lauren
1 month ago

Love your floors and this inspiring post! We are a no-shoes inside family too; with toddlers it seems necessary to me. We’ve had all kinds of service personnel in our house (especially after all the flooding last summer) and they all wore shoe booties and never complained once. They wore their shoes in our unfinished basement but also put down paper flooring everywhere. Win win. I don’t really follow the safety concerns. Great post!

kiki
1 month ago

LOVE this! I’ve never understood why more people don’t use brick floors in their kitchen! Such a great classic alternative to wood. We currently have brick floors in our sun room and our old kitchen we did Saltillo tiles in a brick herringbone pattern. Fit perfect in our 30’s Spanish bungalow! and they were SO easy to maintain!

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