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Brick by brick

There is nothing in machinery, embankments, railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.

It is a truth, universally, acknowledged, that once something hitherto unremarkable has been brought to your notice, you start to notice it more.

My word, there really are an awful lot of brick varieties out there. Obviously, in my professional capacity I know that, have always known that. But it took something else for me to really start noticing the bricks around and how getting it right can make or break the look of a building.

Over the next six months or so this blog is likely to be peppered with references to my own, recently started, extension project and, guess what, there have been some issues with the bricks.

One of the problems with extension work is that so many older houses – mine included – were built with bricks from brickworks that no longer exist, using clay from quarries long since exhausted and turned into industrial estates. So anyone building an extension will have their work cut out to find bricks that match or don’t jar horribly with the original ones. Not the least because of the slight difference in size between older, ‘imperial’ bricks and newer ‘metric’ sized bricks.

As a result, brick matching and brick sampling has become something of a black art, and a good merchant brick matcher is worth his or her weight in gold.

I have looked at more brick samples in the last two or three weeks than I ever thought possible. So, permit me to say a massive thank you to everyone who helped us to source the bricks – especially the Gibbs and Dandy crew of Andrew, Kevin, Clive and Elaine who went over and above to get me some samples.

I’ve found the bricks now, thank goodness; delivery is taking a wee bit longer than originally hoped, but at least not the 16 to 18 weeks we were first threatened with. They are as perfect a match as we can find, made from good old Sussex clay, just 30 miles away from where the original ones were dug.

Onerous though the process may have been – especially for anyone trying to pick their way through the obstacle course of samples lining my hallway – it has taught me one thing. Bricks – or whatever facade you chose for the building – are too important to compromise on. Get it wrong and you are stuck with it. Change your mind about the kitchen units or the showerhead and you can change those. Mess up the bricks and your extension might always look like an ugly, add-on.

Let’s face it, in building, as in so much else, if a thing’s worth doing, then do it right.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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