Brick Fireplaces - Manufacturers and Brick Types
If fireplaces were bread, ceramic would be focaccia, marble would be white with the crusts cut off, cast iron would be some kind of German rye, and brick would be good old wholemeal. While each materials has its merits, there's something hearty and reassuring about brick fireplaces which is a virtue all their own. Especially if the bricks are handmade: it will set you back a little more but it could be worth it for a more individual look.
Many companies specialize in brick fireplaces. You may be aware of a local dealer, but it's worth a bit of research to determine whether the price is reasonable or not. The National Fireplace Association (www.nfa.org) is always one good place to start, as is the BBC website's search facility (www.bbc.co.uk). One place for handmade bricks is the Brick Centre (www.handmadebrick.com). Their selection could give you few ideas of the style you might want and they also have some deals on, as they put it, 'cheap handmades'. Reclamation yards are also good places to find low-cost handmade bricks. And, as the Brick Centre points out, it will only take about 100 handmade bricks for a small fireplace surround.
Brick began to be widely used as a building material in England in Elizabethan times. Timber was becoming increasingly difficult to source and what wood there was, was used up by the ship building industry. It was around then, too, that traditional wattle and daub smoke hoods fell out of favor (for the good reason that they, like wooden walls, kept catching fire) and laws were introduced in London stipulating that chimneys had to be made of brick or stone. Though the type of bricks used and how they are made have changed since then, brick has never lost its place in architecture.
Brick types are distinguished from each other by what they are made of, their color, whether they are patterned or not, and how weathered they are. The latter effects can be produced by age, machine or hand, depending on where you get the brick from. Brick fireplaces don't need serious cleaning too often, but they will benefit from the odd scrub unless they're very old, in which case it's better just to sweep them to avoid crumbling. One way to clean brick fireplaces is to mix equal parts of soap and salt into a thick paste, then apply it with a cloth like polish to the brickwork, leaving it to dry before brushing it off.