There’s something quite special and innately charming about using a centuries-old building technique to create a modern home or extension – and there’s no doubt us Brits love the solidity and character of brick.
“One of the things I like the most about bricks is that they have an immediate human scale,” says architect Richard Gill of Paul Archer Design. “You can see that the building has been put together by hand.”
So, what do you need to consider to ensure you specify the right material and design for your scheme?
There are two basic varieties of brick: machine-made (either moulded sticks or extruded and wirecut); and handmade (thrown by hand in individual moulds). Both come in a wide selection of colours, textures and effects and are subject to the same testing and certifications. You can even source some machine-made bricks thrown into the mould to replicate the texture of handmade versions.
If you’re working on a barn conversion, traditional renovation or period-style self build, handmade bricks will offer authentic charm. But if you desire a cleaner, smarter, smoother finish, machine-produced extruded or wire-cut units will suit as they’re more uniform in shape.
For a unique finish, switch to an unconventional product. Linear bricks are becoming more popular and are available in a variety of widths, for example. Ranges such as York Handmade’s Maxima help create clean and contemporary lines – ideal for modern self builds and extensions.
There are thousands of styles to choose from, in pretty much any hue, texture and blend you can imagine. To appease the planners and ensure your house fits with its setting, it’s important to consider the local vernacular when selecting bricks – although this doesn’t mean you have to stick to a traditional design (check out patterns and trends, below, for some contemporary ideas).
Regionally speaking, yellow bricks are common in London and the south east, whereas deeper reds are popular in the north of England. A more orange tone prevails in the Midlands.
It’s quite common for local authorities to put conditions on a planning consent relating to external materials, especially if a project is in anyway sensitive.
So find out what colour, size and style they’ll accept and, once you’ve made your selection, arrange for a sample of your chosen brick and mortar to be sent to the planners for approval.
Selecting the bedding mortar is just as important as picking the bricks themselves, and the hue you choose can completely transform the look and feel you’re trying to create – so it’s always best to try out some options.
“To see what will be most effective for your project, build sample panels to test mortar mixes and colours, and flush versus raked mortar,” says Will Burges of 31/44 Architects.
For most projects, bagged ready-mix mortar is the standard choice – but if you’re going for a colour in the bedding, it’s worth looking at dry silo products, which offer better consistency.
On heritage schemes, especially those involving original brickwork, lime-based mortars are ideal as they will support the building’s ability to breathe (absorb and release moisture as they were designed to do).
The finished look of your home depends on what pattern you lay the bricks in – known as the bond. Three traditional popular bonds are used in the UK: stretcher, English and Flemish (see the box, top right, for details).
However, there has been an increase in the number of self builders moving away from traditional patterns in favour of something more modern. “Brick is on the up again,” says architect Richard Gill. “It is a solid, durable and very practical material choice, as well as being beautiful. I think more contemporary uses of brick are being built because they work so well with our existing UK housing stock, which tends to be predominantly masonry.”
Architect Will Burges agrees: “We’ve noticed increased interest in using brick to create texture – particularly with open bonds which have a level of perforation.”
Going for something a little different will bring interest and individuality to a home’s exterior. Protruding units can look eye-catching, for instance, while flush finishes in herringbone or similar patterns can help achieve a subtle yet effective look. Other options include using angled brickwork designs to create an usual 3D effect.
Standard modern bricks measure 215mm (W) x 102.5mm (D) x 65mm (H) – but when determining how many units you need, you’ll need to factor in elements such as the bonding pattern and depth of the mortar joint. A good place to start is the Brick Development Association’s calculator.
“Be aware that the quantities vary per square metre (m2) depending on the bond. For example, you’ll need an average of 60 bricks per m2 when using stretcher bond and 90 per m2 if using English bond, based on standard 65mm (H) units,” advises Dan Mutti at D&M Homes.
Don’t forget to allow approximately 5% for wastage during construction. And consider purchasing enough bricks to account for any additional work you might undertake, such as boundary walls, garages or driveways, as a bulk order may save you money on haulage.
The costs of bricks can vary significantly, with prices starting from around £350 per 1,000 for machine-made versions and can easily rise to £1,000 or more per 1,000 for top-end handmade units.
If you’re keen to install a contemporary brick finish on your home, Dan Mutti advises that you ensure your local bricklayers are able to meet your requirements; and that you can expect to pay a premium.
If you’re undertaking a self build with a package company such as D&M Homes, then you’ll be able to rely on their professional advice to help you get the right materials at the right price.
On other types of scheme, it’s well worth visiting your local builder’s merchant to discuss your requirements. They should be able to guide you on the best brick manufacturer and product options for your project.
For renovation schemes, consider sourcing salvaged bricks for a more authentic look – check out your local reclamation yard to see what is available. The difficulty with this can be sourcing enough good-quality units for your project; hence many people opt to buy new products from manufacturers’ authentic-looking heritage ranges.
Always order all the bricks for your project at the same time to ensure they all come from the same batch and help guarantee a good colour match between each unit. With some suppliers, the products will arrive pre-blended; but in most cases your brickie will need to do this on site.
And remember, whatever blend you choose, the finished effect will only be as good as the skill that goes into building it – so be sure to properly research trades and base your appointment on the person who you feel is going to do the best job; not just on the cheapest quote.