How to Brighten a Dark Brick Exterior

Use Paint and Flea Market Finds to Enhance Your Home's Exterior

Painted brick row houses in the Foggy Bottom Historic District of Washington DC.
Painted brick row houses in the Foggy Bottom Historic District of Washington DC. By Smallbones (Own work) [ CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Brick is a classic building material for residential construction, but brick exteriors sometimes look drab and dark. Deep red and brown brick houses are the worst offenders. To brighten dark brick homes, you have two options: actually brighten the brick or make the overall look appear brighter with lighter, brighter accents.

The right solution for you depends on your home and your taste. You may find that a combination of ideas works best.

Paint the Brick

Painting the brick is the most extreme solution for a dark brick exterior, but it definitely brightens the look. It's a good option when you don't like the brick color at all. Neutral paint colors ranging from white to taupe tend to look best.

Before painting your exterior brick, drive your neighborhood to make sure your home will still fit. If you belong to a homeowners association or live in a designated historical district, make sure the change is permitted.

If you plan to put your home on the market soon, consult with a real estate agent to make sure painted brick won't lower your home's value.

Paint the Trim

Most brick homes have some non-brick trim, such as gables and window frames. The builder or previous owner may have painted them to match the brick or with another dark color. By lightening that dark trim, you'll brighten the overall look.

For a subtle change, choose paint in the same color family as your brick, but go several shades lighter.

Choose white, pale gray or ivory for a greater effect.

If your home doesn’t have a lot of decorative exterior trim, search flea markets for architectural salvage you can add. Then, paint them to match the rest of the trim for a built-in look. You might perk up a plain front porch with columns or balustrades, add vintage corbels, or look for decorative iron work you can hang directly on the brick.

Paint the Front Door and Shutters

If painting the trim light or white doesn't brighten your home enough, paint your front door with a bold or bright color. If you have shutters, treat them likewise. The eye will be drawn to the bold accents instead of to the expanse of dark brick.

If you don’t have shutters -- or if you have fake shutters narrower than half the total window width -- search architectural salvage shops and flea markets for vintage versions. For a Key West or New Orleans effect, you can even add a pair of louvered, shutter-style doors in place of a screen door; the bright color will look right at home. Vintage doors with stained glass panels are also charming.

Pop dark red brick by painting the front door and shutters with a complementary color. Complementary colors sit opposite each other on a color wheel. Green is the true opposite of red, and green options range from sage to chartreuse. Though blues and blue-greens aren't true complementary colors of red, they're close enough to green for a similar effect. Consider shades such a royal blue, peacock, or aqua.

The same greens and blues that flatter red brick also look good against brick that's brown. Yellow, orange, berry red, and blue red work well too.

Enhance the look and draw further attention to your door by adding a vintage door knocker from the flea market or antique mall, perhaps a quirky Victorian piece in the shape of a hand.

Change Your Plantings and Landscaping

Paint isn't the only way to counter a dark brick exterior. You can also brighten the look with your landscaping. Many flea markets have garden vendors selling both plants and containers.

Flowering plants have the biggest impact. Consider a mix of hanging baskets, bedding plants, and flowering bushes or trees. Flank your front door with a pair of vintage urns.

Landscaping doesn't consist entirely of blooming plants. Your greenery choices can brighten your exterior too. Mix lighter green plants and shrubbery -- especially those with gold-green leaves -- in with your darker greenery.