German Schmear: A Risk Worth Taking

Who remembers the infamous Fixer Upper episode where Chip introduced Joanna, and the world, to the German Schmear technique? In case you were living under a rock and for some reason missed that episode, they were renovating a house for a younger couple who loved the old world charm associated with older character homes. Chip came up with this technique to make the existing exterior bricks look aged and distressed.

Fixer Upper German Schmear
Fixer Upper German Schmear

What is German Schmear?

You may be wondering, what the heck is this German Schmear she keeps talking about? No, it’s not a spread (although it’s original meaning is to smear/slather). German Schmear is a technique that mimics the look of weathered stones and heavy mortar joints. This style is often seen in old cottages and castles.

English cottages
English cottages Photo by Ivy Barn on Unsplash

It is similar in look to whitewashing but instead of using a latex paint, you use a mortar compound to achieve the desired finish.

Supplies Needed:

  1. Mortar – Most articles that I have read, use a mortar mix that requires adding water. Since this means you also need a mixing paddle to attach to a drill, we opted for a pre-mixed thin set mortar. The kind you normally find in the tile aisle at your local hardware store. You can use either.
  2. 6 inch trowel
  3. Tile sponge
  4. Puddy knife/scraping tool
  5. Ram board or other protection for your floors

How to German Schmear:

Start by prepping the brick. To do this, simply take a stiff bristled brush and wipe off any soot and dirt that has collected over the years. You can spray the brick with water to allow yourself more drying time to perfect the look. Mortar typically sets within 45 min – an hour. I chose not to spray the brick. I recommend using painters tape to tape off any edges and laying ram board down to protect your floors. This will make clean up much easier.

Fireplace - prep
Fireplace – prep

Now you are ready, go ahead and dig in. I am no mason by any means and I have developed a newfound respect for them because this is back-breaking, tedious work. Get some mortar on your trowel and spread it onto the brick. It’s best to work in a small area (no more than 3’x3’).

Once you have covered the area you want, take a step back (this is important because if you are a perfectionist like me you won’t be able to do this if you are right up against the brick). Review the area and mentally picture what brick pieces you want to show through.

There are two ways you can “distress the brick”. One, is to take the tile sponge (slightly damp) and wipe away the excess mortar to reveal the exposed brick. The other way is to take a putty knife and scrape away the mortar. This gives more of a rough distressed texture versus the sponge technique, however, both are done while the mortar is still wet. I ended up using both techniques through trial and error but I liked the putty knife better.

The key, and hardest part if you are slightly Type A and OCD like me, is to make sure it looks randomly weathered. There is no right or wrong way to do this, it’s all personal preference. You have to decide whether you want more brick showing or more mortar when all is said and done.

Finished Product:

I’ve heard that good designers must take risks, that being comfortable and safe doesn’t allow for true creativity. I have never agreed more with this statement! This was by far the absolute hardest project I’ve ever done, not just physically, but mentally, but boy was it worth it! I love how it brightened the entire space up and instead of having a dark corner with a fireplace, we now have a focal point.

German Schmear Fireplace
German Schmear Fireplace

What do you think, worth it or not? When have you stepped out of your comfort zone and felt like it was completely worth it?

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  1. I absolutely love how your German Schmear project turned out. It looks amazing in the room with the paint color you chose and really brightens up the area tons! Makes me want to tackle such a project. Thank you for explaining the steps involved, how you settled on the method you preferred vs other method, and the reasons behind your personal choices. This is very helpful information for newbies like me who may be considering new design adventures!

  2. It is absolutely gorgeous! Love the way you set up your step by step instructions. It totally transformed the look of the room! And the clock looks amazing against the fireplace!

  3. Wow! It looks amazing!! I can’t wait to share this with my sister. She just bought an older house (with two chimneys) and loves everything vintage and DIY. They’re in the middle of renovating and trying to figure out what to do with the chimneys.

    1. This would definitely be right up her alley! If she try’s it tell her to share the pics with me I would love to see them!

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