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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