Should I render my brick home? (Our tribute to the triple fronted, cream brick veneer home)

(Picture 1 – A collage made from art work by artist Howard Arkley)(Picture 1 – A collage made from art work by artist Howard Arkley*)

“Should I render my brick home?”  It is a common question that many owners of 1950’s and 1960’s homes have considered at some time.  While most people would love to own an uber-cool mid-century modern home designed by a well-known architect such as Harry Seidler, Ernest Fooks, or Anatol Kagan, unfortunately they are in short supply (and expensive).

There are thousands of the ubiquitous, triple-fronted brick veneer houses across many of our suburbs, that have provided honest homes to many families since the middle of the last century. Many were built in the post-war decades of the 1950s and 1960s.  While these common homes would never be considered architectural masterpieces they do have a certain charm, familiarity, and affordability, for many families.

(Pic 2 - there are thousands of cream brick veneers across our suburbs that do have a certain charm, familiarity, and affordability, for many families.)

(Pic 2 – there are thousands of cream brick veneers across our suburbs that do have a certain charm, familiarity, and affordability, for many families.)

Now sixty years later many of them have changed hands a number of times, and possibly have not been maintained as well as the original owners may have cared for them.  They are often looking a little bit tired and sad with plantings that are sixty years old and too close to the house, needing gutter repairs and window maintenance.  The irony is that while these ancilliary items do need attention the face brickwork is generally sound, and has lasted sixty years without as much as a wash down.

(pic 3 – a typical 1950’s blonde brick veneer home with some art-deco touches)

(pic 3 – a typical 1950’s triple-fronted cream brick veneer home with some art-deco touches, source Instagram – realhousesofmelbourne)

I was inspired to respond to this question that was posted on one of the Houzz platforms to provide an alternative to the populist thinking that it is good to render every brick house and paint it grey.

The question posed by developer Matthew was:

Hi everybody,

Looking for some advice as to what I could do to update the exterior of my 1960’s triple fronted brick veneer.

I have a planning permit to build a unit at the rear, which I plan on having built early next year. At that time I will be taking down the garage, tearing up the driveway, and replacing the fence.

Keen to get some ideas as to how I might go about modernising/updating the exterior of the house though so that it better fits with the build that will go on the rear. My initial thoughts were to:

– Render the front

– Paint the house in a colour that will match the new build

– Refinish the roof to match the new build

– Add a deck to cover the porch

– Replace the shutters

– Landscape

The permissions we have for the rear unit is for grey brick (of some kind. Shade, etc, is up to us). So my thoughts were to match that with an urban grey, or a blue grey. Then, having the natural finish timber decking & railing out the front would offset that and create somewhat of a feature, provide something bright against the grey.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.”

(pic 4 – Matthew’s triple-fronted brick veneer home that was posted with his question on Houzz)

 (pic 4 – Matthew’s triple-fronted brick veneer home that was posted with his question on Houzz)

I was surprised at the number of respondents who assumed that a simple, and not cheap, coat of render would readily lift the appearance of this home.

Here is my response to Matthew:

Matthew, I think you have got things the wrong way around. A triple-fronted 1960’s house with its distinctive stepped shape and hipped roof-line is always going to look like a 1960’s triple-fronted house, no matter how much you try to disguise it with render. The character of a home is defined by its form, not so much by its exterior finish.

I would be saving my money on the render, tidying up the front of the house, celebrating its existing style, and putting your render money towards landscaping, or improvements in the home, such as a new kitchen or bathroom. I would be removing the daggy old roller shutters, consider replacing the windows if they are in bad condition with something appropriate to the style of the home, cleaning the brickwork, repainting the gutters, eaves and wrought iron in a fresher colour.

Reinstate and celebrate the style that you already have, rather than trying to make it look like all of the other 1960’s houses that have had their character and appearances compromised in the name of “modernisation”.

If the new unit in the rear will be built in face brick, why would you change the existing front house to a rendered house so that it would match the new brickwork? If you do decide to render then you should render the whole exterior as the side facing the long driveway is very exposed.

(pic 5 – a good result of rendering a brick veneer home, assisted by newly painted roof, windows, gutters and eaves. Also the new timber deck, new paving ,and new landscaping improve the look. How would it have looked with all of these improvements, no render, and clean brickwork?)

(pic 5 – a reasonable result of rendering a brick veneer home, assisted by a newly finished roof, windows, gutters and eaves. Also the new timber deck, new paving ,and new landscaping improve the look. How would it have looked with all of these improvements, no render, and clean brickwork?)

If the designer of Matthew’s rear unit had considered the whole site, and the neighbourhood character, they may have suggested a more traditional brick that was more in keeping with the existing house (and neighbours), rather than a premium, contemporary brick, and then saved the cost of rendering the front house to make it blend in with the new rear unit.

For many homes the exterior soul is in the brickwork.  As terracotta bricks are based on a natural material, and are fired in a kiln, there is often some variation in colour and tone between individual bricks, and no two bricks are identical.  This is especially true of the cream and blonde bricks that were so commonly used with this style of triple-fronted home.

(pic 6 – One of Secret Design Studio’s clients who have kept the blonde brick, triple fronted look to their home for the renovation of their classic 1960’s home).

(pic 6 – One of Secret Design Studio’s clients who have kept the blonde brick, triple fronted look to their home for the renovation of their classic 1960’s home)

Some homes from the 1970’s and 1980’s play with this variation and emphasize it by “blending” bricks, to provide a richer tapestry look, which was very popular in some up-market homes that used Daniel Robertson bricks.

(pic 7 – Many homes of the 1970’s and 1980’s emphasized the differences between individual bricks to provide a lot more colour and life to the brick walls)

(pic 7 – Many homes of the 1970’s and 1980’s emphasized the differences between individual bricks to provide a lot more colour and life to the brick walls)

Sadly many builders and developers have taken the dumbing down option and rendered over the brickwork, but not addressed the issues of maintenance to windows, gutters and repainting.  Once a house is rendered it is impossible to cost-effectively return the brick to its original state.

(pic 8 – A poor quality render job that looks patchy can decrease the value of a house, especially if the other external elements of the home are ignored)

(pic 8 – A poor quality render job that looks patchy can decrease the value of a house, especially if the other external elements of the home are ignored)

If you are considering rendering your 1960’s home to “modernise” it please consider these points:

  • A good quality render job is labour intensive and expensive. The thickness of the render required will depend on the coarseness of the brick face, with heavily textured brickwork taking more time, materials and labour. Try cleaning an area of brickwork with a high pressure hose, being careful not to remove the mortar between the bricks, to see if removing sixty years of grime will freshen up the brickwork before committing to render.pic9

    (pic 9 – Most rendering jobs consist of one or two base coats, followed by a top coat)

  • Some companies specialize in cleaning brickwork, such as Vacu-Blast, who can return brickwork to its original clean condition. http://vacublast.com.au/services/stone pic10(pic 10 – a professional clean may be all that is needed to return the brickwork to its original, pollutant free colours)pic11(pic 11 – a professional clean may be all that is needed to return the brickwork to its original, pollutant free colours)
  • The idea of rendering to the front elevation facing the street, but not all of the sides of the home is the lipstick on a pig option. But at least you will have saved lots of money, and it will be very obvious.  Many triple fronted brick veneer homes have a garage to the rear, and the long side of the house facing the driveway with no easy break point to stop brickwork and start render.pic12

    (pic 12 – many triple fronted brick veneer homes have a garage to the rear, and the long side of the house facing the driveway with no easy break point to stop brickwork and start render)

    • Render stains from the atmospheric pollutants in the rain are common with exposed brickwork such as chimneys, parapets and balconies. Face brick seems to hide these stains better, while crisp, clean render emphasises them.(pic 13 – rendered elements that aren’t protected by an eave will get grey stains from the atmospheric pollutants that come down in the rain)

      (pic 13 – rendered elements that aren’t protected by an eave will get grey stains from the atmospheric pollutants that come down in the rain)

Make sure that all of your window frames are in good condition before you render. Replace any windows that need replacement before rendering. Rendering has thickness. Some renderers will apply the render hard up against a window frame, which provides an opportunity for moisture to collect between the new render and existing window frame, and in time this trapped moisture may start to rot the timber, or rust the metal.If you need to replace a window after the house has been rendered the thickness of the render will exclude removal and installation of the new window from the outside, unless you patch the render afterwards.pic14

(pic 14 – Window replacement may need to be factored into the cost of rendering a home as replacing windows after rendering is problematic and can be even more expensive with rectification work and matching colours)

  • Renderers need room to work, so any bushes that are close to the house will need to be removed, and any garden beds against the house will be trampled and splattered with render.pic15

(pic 15 – Shrubbery against existing brick walls will need to be removed prior to rendering. This home belongs to one Dr Retro’s old clients)

  • A rendered home will need more maintenance in the future with a better cleaning regime (as render shows off dirts and stains better than face brick work), as well as repainting.pic16

(pic 16 – Face brick is relatively maintenance free compared to render in the long term. Photo from Instagram david.landis.morse)

  • Some homes from this period have interesting, contrasting brick details, such as banding, piers, etc which add to the charm of the home. As these details are labour intensive they are rarely used in today’s contemporary homes. Rendering will obliterate these details forever. pic17(pic 17 – the contrasting brickwork is the feature)
  • The baby-boomers houses of the 1960’s have a simplicity, honesty and integrity about them, and a distinct Australian character about them that was celebrated by Australian artist Howard Arkley. There is nothing as sad as a 1960’s home whose external character has been smothered over in an attempt to modernise it. The results always look like a compromise, and will always look like a 1960’s house that has been rendered over. Celebrate the character with period appropriate windows, wrought iron work, new gutters, fresh paint, landscaping and cleaning the existing brickwork and concrete patio.(pic 18 – despite the cost of the render this house still looks like a 1960’s house with render over it, modernisation fail.)

(pic 18 – despite the cost of the render this house still looks like a 1960’s house with render over it, modernisation fail.)

  • Remember that rendered grey houses of today are like the apricot houses of the 1980’s, it is currently fashionable, but the fashion won’t last forever. Most people can’t tell the difference between rendered brickwork and rendered polystyrene, which is commonly used for first floor additions.  With the recent controversy over the use of flammable cladding materials after the Grenfall Tower disaster, my crystal ball says that we will start to see an increased appreciation for inflammable cladding and honesty in building materials, such as face brick in the coming years.  Do you really want to smother it in render?

pic19
(pic 19 – a 1950’s home after a tidy-up looking better than the day it was built)

pic20(pic 20 – a 1960’s home after a tidy-up and some fresh paint)

pic21(pic 21 – celebrate the original style of your home, rather than replacing those features that make it special)

Credits for the Howard Arkley collage at the start of this post:

Arkley, Howard, Study for Family Home Suburban Exterior Courtesy of Sotheby's © Howard Arkley

(pic 22  Arkley, Howard, Study for Family Home Suburban Exterior Courtesy of Sotheby’s © Howard Arkley)

Arkley, Howard, Untitled 1993 Courtesy of Cromwell's Sydney © Howard Arkley

(pic 23 Arkley, Howard, Family House: Suburban Exterior 1993 Courtesy of Joel Fine Art © Howard Arkley)

Arkley, Howard, Untitled 1994 Courtesy of Deutscher~Menzies © Howard Arkley

(pic 24, Arkley, Howard, Untitled 1994 Courtesy of Deutscher~Menzies © Howard Arkley)

Arkley, Howard, Family House: Suburban Exterior 1993Courtesy of Joel Fine Art © Howard Arkley

(pic 25, Arkley, Howard, Family House: Suburban Exterior 1993 Courtesy of Joel Fine Art © Howard Arkley)