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Was my 50s fireplace originally painted – or unpainted? Spokane Chris ponders.

Hi Pam,

I love your website.  It is truly one of the most valuable resources for a mid-century home owner…keep up the amazing work!

Anyway, I’m writing to ask you a strange question, and any answer you may have will assist me in making some decisions with regard to a future restoration project in my 1958 living room.  I am wondering if you have any ideas about how often (if ever) roman brick fireplaces were painted in the 1950s.  Was it a fairly common practice to paint over the bricks as soon as they were installed?

Normally, I would just assume that a previous owner painted over the brick years later to change the look.  However, over the last several months, I have noticed that every roman brick fireplace I’ve seen in homes throughout my neighborhood is painted.  Same color, same texture, everything exactly like mine.  Could this paint be original to the homes’ design, or did painting one’s fireplace become such a big trend later on, that everyone was doing it.

I live in Spokane, Washington.  The fireplace photo I’ve attached was taken quite awhile ago, but should give you a pretty good view of what I’m talking about.  The other two attachments are pictures of “roman bricks” (actually, I snagged one photo from 1951 Ranch Redo’s site).  Apparently, they were a fairly popular brick choice in the 1950s, although this popularity may have been pretty specific to the Pacific Northwest, I’m not sure.  Every fireplace/chimney in my neighborhood (a housing development containing homes built exclusively between 1955 and 1963) is constructed of these bricks, and every one that I’ve seen is painted white, exactly like mine.

Strange question, I know, but thought you may have some info.  Thanks so much, I’m excited to see what you may be able to find out.  Take care.

Chris

It’s nice to hear from you, Chris, with this interesting question. Hmmm. I am not sure of the answer. I will keep an eye out when looking at periodicals from the period. Meanwhile, initial thoughts:

  • My first inclination at a response is: No, they were not originally painted. I would normally guess this because (1) there definitely was a trend to ‘bring the outside in’ in the postwar period…(2) they liked mixing textures…(3) I think I’ve seen many more examples of un-painted fireplaces from the period rather than painted ones, and… (4) people were penny-wise…
  • All that said, I agree that it seems more than a coincidence that all your neighbors have the exact same paint-job down to the look and texture. So it could well be a local design preference, or a quirk of the builder.
  • More: Also, I can’t say that the photo of the exterior bricks you sent makes the bricks look all that attractive for an interior installation. Standing back and looking at the brick on the exterior of your house, would you say that it would look good, unpainted, inside? Maybe this is a key to the puzzle. To be sure, people in the 50s greatly preferred brick homes. It was a big selling point. So maybe these bricks were less expensive…but still could help increase the home’s value…but inside, they had to paint them.
  • As for the possibility that the painting came later – I don’t know enough about what trends swept through the country post-1965. Again, even so, it would seem strange that every house latched on, and with the identical paint job.
  • Finally – it sure is nice looking! Why haven’t you sent me more pics of your house? Tell us more!

Sorry I could not be more definitive in my help. As I try to say often, I am not an academic expert, just an enthusiastic blogger.

As usual – I welcome all readers’ thoughts on this!

  1. John says:

    If you can scrape paint off of an inconspicuous area, you will probably discover that the fireplace brick is actually concrete blocks formed into a brick shape. Many of the homes in my neighborhood, including mine (Milwaukee 1950-1955) are this way. So yes, they would have been painted when new.

  2. Yes, our 1962 track ranch’s fireplace bricks are sadly grey concrete made to look like bricks and painted white. There is a piece of slate or granite as a lip like yours sticking out that is painted black. There was a insert with a door on the fireplace that I removed and noticed that the black paint on the lip was missing along the outline of the insert. The insert was not original to the house so I am wondering if I should try to remove the black paint and go back to the original grey of the stone lip or just finish the paint job and make it all black? Ah, so many restorative questions…

  3. Raymond says:

    Hello, I’m renovating a 1965 MCM home in Shreveport, LA, and am in need of Roman brick to match the original (three shades of Buff/Coral–similar to the photo above–but with a “rock” face).

    I’ve located a couple of brick manufacturers who still make Roman bricks (Belden in NC and Cloud Ceramics in KS) but neither has a product that’s an exact match.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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