Chicago is defined by brick, and this is especially true of Chicago’s bungalows. Brick soared into popularity thanks to its fireproof nature, of course, but also because of the design possibilities that brick allowed. I like to say that each brick is like a pixel or brushstroke. There are so many different patterns, colors, and textures of brick that can be mixed together to create a unique home. As developers and homeowners built thousands and thousands of bungalows across Chicago, they turned to varied bricks to make each home look and feel unique.
Read on to learn about some of the different patterns, textures, and colors that you might find on you and your neighbor’s homes.
Face Brick vs. Common Brick
Your home is most likely made of two different types of brick. One type can be found on the street facing facade of the building. This front facing brick is called face brick and was made with intention and care to achieve a particular look. 99% of the face brick you see in Chicago came from outside of the city. Some common sources of face brick were St Louis, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio.
The other kind of brick can be found on the sides, back, and basement walls of your home. This brick is called Chicago Common brick. Unlike face bricks, these bricks were not made with much intention and care. They were made to be structural, but beyond that they were not made to be pretty or consistent. Chicago Common bricks were made locally in Chicago with local clays - clays that were full of pebbles and stones and inconsistent levels of minerals that control color. This made for bricks that were super varied in texture and color and Chicago’s brickmakers did little to try to make them homogenous or aesthetically pleasing.
So, if Chicago Commons were considered so ugly, why did architects and developers use so much of it on homes? It’s because Chicago Commons were incredibly cheap; in 1915 it could cost you $40 or more to buy 1000 face bricks, but it would only cost you $12 to buy 1000 Chicago Commons. Owners shelled out for the bricks that would be seen from the street, but saved their pennies for the brick that would be more hidden away.
Now, let’s talk about some of the patterns you might find.
A bond is the name for how bricks link together. Bricks link together across a wall, of course, but they also link together through the depth of the wall. Your home’s wall is a few rows thick, and there are bricks that are turned at 90 degrees, reaching back into the wall, that link the front of the wall with the back. These turned bricks are called headers. Bricks that run horizontally are called stretchers. The different ways to organize your stretchers and headers are called different bonds. Bonds are structural, but they can also be used for decorative purposes.
English bond is the strongest bond. It features one row of all stretchers for every one row of all headers.
Flemish bond features rows of alternating headers and stretchers. In this example, the bond is used decoratively too: the stretchers are red and the headers are grey.
Scottish bond features five rows of only stretchers for every one row of only headers. If there are six or more rows of stretchers for every one row of headers, it is known as American bond. This bond is most commonly found on the Chicago Common side walls, like in this example.
Now, this bond doesn’t have an official name, but I call it Sneaky bond. This looks like a wall of just stretchers, but if you look right in the middle of the picture you’ll see two headers side by side. These two headers are there to tie these bricks to the bricks behind them, but done in a way that won’t draw too much attention or break up the pattern. You’ll usually see this on the face brick facade of your home.
Colors & Textures
In the late 1800s, architects preferred to use bricks that were uniform in color and smooth in texture. By the time most bungalows were being built, architects had gravitated towards bricks that had some texture to them and more color variation. Sometimes they still used uniform color bricks, but most often architects would use a “blend”, bricks that had a complimentary variety of colors or shades that varied brick to brick.
Different textures were made by cutting the faces of the unfired bricks in intentional ways. As many of the texture names imply, architects used textures to emulate things like fabric and wood to make their buildings feel more natural and visually interesting than earlier generations of building.
There were many different color and texture possibilities for architects to choose from. Here are some common examples you might find on your home.
Tapestry bricks were made by dragging a wire across the face of the unfired brick to give it a close, rough texture. This is also an example of a color blend, mixing gold, red, and orange.
Vertical scratch bricks have fine, evenly spaced grooves. The grooves were made by using nails or a brush to cut out wet clay. The excess clay was discarded.
Similar to vertical scratch, rug texture bricks had channels cut into them. The ribbons of clay that were cut off, however, were then pressed back onto the wet bricks to create a shaggy rug texture.
Bark texture bricks were made by cutting the face of the brick with a wire (like Tapestry bricks) and then pressing the removed clay back onto the brick with rollers. This creates a random texture reminiscent of tree bark.
Scratch and Smooth
Scratch and smooth bricks are similar to vertical scratch bricks, in that they have vertical channels cut in them, but the scratches are only made on the center of the brick and the edges are left smooth. This creates a checkerboard pattern when viewed from afar.
Waffle texture bricks were made by pressing textured rollers into the wet clay.
Architects didn’t need to stick to one texture or color of brick, and this is especially true of the front of bungalows, underneath the bay window.
Are these bricks still made today?
Unfortunately no, for the most part. As technology, fashions, clay availability and regulations changed, most of these types of bricks are no longer made and most of the companies that made them are long gone. The companies that are still around have changed the way they make bricks (using natural gas instead of coal, for example) and it’s very hard to replicate the look of 1910s and 20s bricks. Chicago Common bricks have also not been produced since 1981.
There are some modern companies that make modern bricks with textures like these (Ragland Brick is a notable example), but it is next to impossible to find an exact match for your historic home’s brick. The best thing you can do is appreciate and care for the brick you have!
This is the third part of The Feature Series exploring the defining features of the Chicago bungalow and their variations. Thank you, Brick of Chicago, for contributing this post!