Like many of you, I absolutely fell in love with the Fixer Upper German schmear technique Chip & Joanna Gaines illustrated on several episodes. When I saw them using the technique on a fireplace I knew this is what I wanted to do with my boring red brick fireplace surround. I recently completed a $100 Shiplap Dining Room Makeover and after completion it was painfully obvious that my adjoining living room was seriously lacking in farmhouse charm.
Here is a picture of what our fireplace looked like when we purchased our home:
I was SO inspired after reading a fantastic German Schmear Mortar Wash DIY article from Lora over at Craftivity Designs. Her results were amazing but also very permanent. When it comes to home decorating I’m always hesitant to do anything that isn’t easily undone. I mean, I love it today but will I love it in 5 years?
I thought there had to be a less permanent way to get the looks without using mortar. Initially, I thought that I could do some sort of do a faux brick painting technique which I did try. Well, that’s one way to do it but it LOOKED faux and it was taking FOREVER! The thought of having to come back and do two or more coats was really killing my lower back!
I could go over with you the week long experiment of trial and errors…the whitewash technique that left my test area PINK. The hand sanding technique, the single coat technique etc etc etc. But why don’t I just tell you the QUICKEST, EASIEST WAY to get the German schmear look without using permanent brick mortar!
Just look at this chippy goodness!
So, you can imagine my excitement when I found the EASY and SIMPLE way to achieve the German schmear fireplace technique WITHOUT applying permanent brick mortar for days! If you want to make your brick fireplace look like mine I have the step by step process and products you’ll want to use to achieve the German schmear fireplace!
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The Magic Behind the EASY Faux German Schmear Fireplace
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There is one thing that you are going to need for this project that is ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY ESSENTIAL for chippy, German schmear success! That one product is Old Fashioned Milk Paint.
If you haven’t used Old Fashioned Milk Paint before lemme let you in on farmhouse DIY style’s biggest secret…Old Fashioned Milk Paint makes everything “chippy”. Whether it’s fireplaces or furniture you can get that instant crackled, chippy patina with the stroke (or two) of a brush!
Important Notes About Milk Paint:
- Milk paint has the consistency of…well…milk. Mix to directions but don’t be surprised if it’s more runny than latex paint.
- When milk paint is mixed for use you are starting a chemical reaction that can’t be stopped. You have about 3-4 hours to use the paint before the paint is not workable. Only mix the amount that you will need and use. Closing mixed milk paint up in a container does not stop the chemical process.
- Wear protective particle mask and safety glasses when sanding. Milk paint is great because it doesn’t have VOCs (for those sensitive to paint smells) but it uses lime. Lime dust can irritate moist areas of your body if an excessive amount is breathed in or contacts your eyes.
- Test milk paint and the german schmear fireplace painting technique on a small area first to make sure you are satisfied with the outcome. There’s a large variation in bricks…some are smooth, some are rough. Results may vary from fireplace to fireplace.
So with that in mind let’s get started with all the supplies you’ll need to to complete this weekend fireplace makeover!
German Schmear Fireplace Project Supplies:
- Old Fashioned Milk Paint in Snow White
- Detail Sander or Palm Sander
- 60 Grit Sandpaper
- Particle Mask and Safety Glasses
- Brick Cleaner
- Brick Sealant
- Several Foam Paint Brushes in Various Sizes
- Wide Painters Tape
- Rags and sponges
- Drop cloths
Step 1: Clean the Fireplace
You’ll need to remove any contaminants from the fireplace such as dust, candle wax, ash & soot. If the surface isn’t clean you may have a difficult time getting the milk paint to adhere to the brick.
I used a specific brick cleaning product that worked amazingly well. When I looked at my fireplace it didn’t seem very dirty but after I used the brick cleaner I was shocked! It made a huge difference! I couldn’t believe that it was non-toxic and didn’t contain any harsh chemicals or acids.
Step 2: Protect with Painters Tape
Step 3: Schmear One Small Area at a Time
Using a foam brush fill in the brick mortar areas first with milk paint. Then fill in the brick area. You’re going to apply two separate coats. You want to make sure that you are using enough to make a thick coat but not so much that the paint is dripping and pooling. Given the rough nature of painting bricks you will probably go through a a couple of foam brushes on this project.
Step 4: Schmear on a Second Coat
After painting the first coat of Old Fashioned Milk Paint you’ll want to wait at least 8 hours before applying the second coat. Again, you want to make sure that you are using enough to make a thick coat but not so much that the paint is dripping and pooling.
Step 5: Sand Bricks Using Palm or Detail Sander
I used 60 grit (stripping level) sandpaper to remove select areas of the painted brick. Here is where having a detail sander is super helpful. You can actually see what the heck it is that you’re sanding. A palm sander (or hand sanding) will work just fine…it’ll just be more difficult to get into small spaces (so go slowly).
I also used some of the detail sander attachments to hit smaller concentrated areas in the center of the brick. You’ll find that as you are sanding, the sander will hit the high spots on the bricks. Usually that is the edges of the brick. Make a point of also sanding some areas of the center of the brick to spread around the faux “wear pattern” and give it that German schmear look. Make sure that you are wearing a particle mask and safety glasses to keep the sanding dust out of your eyes.
I don’t know why exactly but the Old Fashioned Milk Paint is the only paint I’ve ever used that gives you that chippy, natural aged patina that is similar to the German schmear fireplace you’ve seen on Fixer Upper. I’ve used latex paint, chalk paint and enamel and you just can’t get this look with ANYTHING but Old Fashioned Milk Paint.
Step 6: Clean Fireplace Bricks…Again
As you’re sanding you’ll probably create a lot of dust, including brick dust. If, as you’re sanding, you actually sand away some of the brick itself don’t worry. I panicked a little bit when my once dark red brick looked pink after sanding it. We’re going to wipe it down with a sealer that will restore the color of the brick. Before we seal you’ll need to vacuum all the sanding dust and wipe down all the bricks with a wet rag.
Step 7: Wipe Fireplace Bricks with Stone Sealer
Now that we’ve partially sanded many of the bricks in this process we’ll want to go back over all areas with a brick sealer. This will darken the bricks again and protect the bricks from staining and wear in the future. The picture above shows what my once pink bricks looks like now.
Step 8: Decorate Your Fireplace and Enjoy!
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I’m absolutely delighted in how this German schmear fireplace hack turned out! comparing my living room now with how it looked back in 2013 when we moved it…it’s like night and day! My boring red brick has a brand new makeover and it all happened in a weekend! AND this was so much easier than actually using brick mortar! If for some reason I change my mind and go in a different direction I can strip this paint or repaint it completely!
If you like this farmhouse style DIY be sure to check out my $100.00 Shiplap Whole Room Makeover that uses REAL wood you can find at Lowe’s or Home Dept! You can’t shiplap a whole room on the cheap without this crazy cheap hack!
I hope you enjoyed this easy weekend DIY! If you like what we do here consider joining the thousands of subscribers to A Country Girl’s Life! Just leave your email with us at the bottom of this page and you’ll get the latest posts as soon as they drop!
First time reading your blog! Love what you did to the fireplace wall and the black framing is icing on the cake! I like your living colors, sofas and chair. I purchased the fabric on your chair years ago and made curtains and slipcovers for two chairs I had. Loved that fabric. Your living room is cozy and inviting. It says come on it and sit a spell.
Andy Jones says
So excited to have found your blog! Your Schmear tutorial looks wonderful and so professional looking! I don’t see why you’d want to change it (ever)
I am interested (very interested) in the fireplace screen with the cabriole legs. Will you share your resource for this? I am in the process of building my own farmhouse and I want my fireplace to be just like yours! Thank you.
Lisa | acountrygirlslife.com says
Hi Andy! Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you found the schmear tutorial useful. So to answer your question about the fireplace. It’s a standard black insert with glass doors but I found a piece of salvage from an estate sale that was from a mantle surround on an old house. It’s literally leaning up against my black fireplace in the pictures. My advice would be to start cruising home salvage stores or habitat for humanity stores and look for something like this. Sometimes I find these in antique stores. You can always try ebay, craigslist etc and see if you can find something there. Try search for “mantle surround” which is what it actually is. I wish I had a direct link I could send you to find one but it’s just an old piece of salvage! I hope you can find one you love just as much!