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I can’t watch the HGTV show, Fixer Upper, without getting inspired by something. It was on one episode last year that inspiration hit me big time.
Chip and Joanna were updating the exterior of a brick ranch home. Instead of painting it, they applied mortar using a “schmearing” technique. I fell in love! It was exactly the type of farmhouse/French cottage look I needed in my home. The only problem was, I was living in a traditional, cookie-cutter style home at the time.
There wasn’t a single thing in that home that I could “schmear” (except my bagels).
Imagine how excited I was when we walked around the Dogwood house for the first time. Not only was the outside brick, but there were 2 brick fireplaces inside. Finally! I had something to schmear.
The fireplace was in great shape, but it was a little outdated. The dark red bricks (along with the wood paneling) made the room feel dark and small. It’s a smaller room to begin with, so we knew we needed to lighten up that space somehow.
In our first house, we painted the brick fireplace. There wasn’t anything wrong with that, but I wanted a more rustic, antique look. That’s what makes the German Schmear technique perfect for this project.
Before you get started, there is one thing you should know. The mortar we use will not adhere to painted brick. If you have a painted fireplace, this technique (and the mortar used) may not work.
What You’ll Need:
- A large sponge…the kind that’s used for tile work
- Bristled brush for cleaning the brick
- Warm water
- Bowl or small bucket
- Simple Set Pre-mixed Mortar in white (I found this at Ace Hardware. If you don’t have an Ace near you, you can order it from Amazon here). We used 2 buckets for our fireplace.
- Mortar mixing pan (or disposable baking pan)
- Plastic drop cloths or something to protect your floor
Prep Your Area
We aren’t changing our floors anytime soon, so we wanted to make sure that we didn’t damage them during this project. We put down plastic paint cloth on the floor around the bottom of the fireplace. We also removed the mantel to make the application process a little easier.
How To German Schmear Your Fireplace
The first thing you’ll want to do is wash the fireplace. Ours was filthy after years of smoke and soot build up. I filled a large bowl with warm water, grabbed my sponge and started cleaning.
I had to dump the water often while cleaning because of all the brick dust. This can be a messy process. Try to keep your sponge damp, but not dripping wet. Start at the top of the fireplace as you clean so the dirty water won’t run down into areas that are clean. You can also place towels down to catch the dripping water.
I found out later that I didn’t get it as clean as I wanted. Once the mortar dried, certain areas have a yellowish look to them. It actually matches the antique look I was going for, and I barely notice the yellow now. But, if you want a vibrant white, make sure you clean the fireplace entirely before you apply any mortar.
Once the fireplace is completely dry, it’s time to move on to the schmearing!
I’ve read some tutorials that suggest buying bags of mortar and mixing them yourself. The majority of our tools were boxed up when we decided to tackle this project. So, I decided to make it easy and buy pre-mixed mortar.
The kind of pre-mixed mortar we used is very thick. You’ll want to thin it down some (like I did). Scoop out a big glob into your disposable pan, add a little water, and mix it together. You’ll want to keep it the consistency of sour cream.
I was new to the German Schmearing technique and was a little worried about messing something up. I decided to start my application on the right side of the fireplace. That way if I did screw up, no one would see it!
Starting at the top, spread a big glob of the mortar mix across your bricks with the putty knife. To make this process a little easier, start by applying the mortar into the mortar line first. Then, wipe your putty knife down, up, and sideways to spread the mortar over as much area as possible. Make sure you leave some exposed areas on the brick. This gives it that antique look.
Work your way around the entire top of the fireplace, and then start working your way downward.
The first layer I applied was very thin. I also left more brick showing than I wanted. Like I said, I was nervous. The fireplace resembled a red-spotted Dalmation, which wasn’t exactly the look I was going for.
Once it dried, I decided to go back over the fireplace with more mortar. This time, I used it straight from the container instead of watering it down. I started at the top again and spread it around in places that had too much red poking through.
The entire process took several hours (spread out over 3 days) to complete. I took my time with it because I knew there wouldn’t be an easy way to remove the mortar once it was dry. The color didn’t turn out as white as I had wanted, but I actually really love the rustic look it has.
Once everything was dry, we replaced the mantel and started our clean up. I did find a few places on the floor with dried mortar. I was able to scrape it off with my fingernail without any problems.
Care and Maintenance
To clean the fireplace, I use my broom to sweep dust and dirt away. We haven’t had any spills on it yet, so I can’t say how it will hold up to liquids.
If you have a fireplace that needs an update, I suggest giving the German Schmear technique a try! This entire project cost us around $55.
If you do give it a try, come back and tell us how it went.