Paper Bag “Bricks”

Before After

Many years ago, a dear friend of mine grew tired of averting her eyes from her awful kitchen floor. Linda decided she wanted to do something with the yellowed vinyl floor. We both knew linoleum floor tends to become drab and boring, especially when the color and pattern is old-fashioned. When my friend mentioned her dissatisfaction, I immediately came up with a suggestion. I laugh to myself now as I look back to that day, because Linda didn’t consider my idea…not even for a second. However, Linda immediately exclaimed “Yes! Let’s do it!”

You see, my idea was a rather unconventional one, to say the least. The idea came from something that I read somewhere. This was long before we had home computers to search for ideas, or browse on Pinterest, or Houzz. In fact, I knew my idea was so crazy that I presumed it would either be perfect, or a total failure. But it really didn’t matter. My dear friend, Linda Woyame, was willing to let me use her kitchen floor as a guinea pig. I had absolutely no idea if it was going to work, or not. But it must have had some value; after all it was already in print! Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn! This was my chance to experiment and see which it would be.

Linda lived in a 1950’s farmhouse and she didn’t have an unlimited budget. My mission was to create a sense of history in her kitchen—on her budget. Was it truly possible to make a beautiful floor out of brown paper bags? Yes! You read that right. Brown paper bags! Let me repeat myself…I was going to attempt to make a beautiful floor out of brown paper bags.

According to what I had read, brown paper bags may not look like much on their own, but they provide interesting visual texture to a floor when you use them to create faux finish bricks. But why use paper bags? Well first of all, I wanted Linda’s floor to be one-of-a-kind. Secondly, it didn’t seem like it would be that difficult to create. And finally, faux bricks are much less expensive than using actual materials. Keep in mind; this was during the era when our groceries were still being bagged in brown paper grocery sacks. Therefore, they were readily available and never in short supply in most homes.

Linda was intrigued by my idea, and very eager to start the project. I’m not sure if her enthusiasm was because she wanted to see if my idea would actually work, or if she just hated those floors so much that she was desperate. Nonetheless, we quickly set out to do something that seemed impossible, but it would also be fun. Here’s a list of what we used:

    • Brown paper grocery bags
    • Scissors
    • Ruler
    • Pencil
    • Drop cloth
    • Disposable gloves
    • Red primer spray pain
    • Paint brushes
    • Gray oil-based enamel paint
    • Wallpaper adhesive
    • Polyurethane

The project required a considerable amount of prep work before we could begin. The first thing I had to do was determine the size of bricks we planned to use. I measured an actual brick on the outside of my Ohio home. Linda measured her kitchen. After doing all the calculations we determined that we needed approximately 2,500 “bricks”!!! I started cutting “bricks” by hand with a pair of scissors. It didn’t take me long to realize I needed to purchase a paper cutter. That investment not only saved my hands, but it significantly sped up the cutting process.

In order to create a brick-like texture, it is important to crumple each individual paper “brick.” The more crinkled the paper gets, the more they’ll look like real bricks, so I paid special attention to crumpling each one. Once they were all wadded, I opened them up and laid them out on top of a drop cloth in my backyard. Using the red primer spray paint, I lightly dusted each individual brick. I didn’t cover them completely but sprayed just enough to create a mottled design. This created the look of old weathered bricks. Also, I didn’t worry if extra droplets of paint landed here and there, because it actually gave the bricks natural looking characteristics.

Linda removed all the furniture from her kitchen. She then cleaned the floor thoroughly. Even though the linoleum was old, it was flawless. I mean there weren’t any holes or any lifting that could create a problem. If you attempt to do this in your own home, make sure that there are no tears in the vinyl. If you do find some, repair them with a vinyl repair kit. Once the floors were completely dried, we painted the linoleum with gray oil-based enamel paint, a color that resembles cement. We wanted to ensure the floor was completely dry before we moved on to the next step, so we allowed 24-hours to dry. The next day Linda painted a second coat of the gray oil-based paint.

A few days later we sat on her kitchen floor and divided up the bricks. We applied wallpaper paste to the “bricks” one by one, using with a paintbrush. We then applied the “bricks” to the floor. We used our paintbrushes to gently flatten the bricks, making sure they were completely glued down, with no unwanted wrinkles or bubbles. We left about ¼ inch between each edge of the “bricks,” as this allowed the painted floor to show through and appear as mortar. Needless to say, it was a very messy and lengthy process.

As we worked laboriously for hours, we made the time sweeter by talking, reminiscing, and laughing. The more we reminisced, the more we laughed. That’s when we discovered we shouldn’t lean our hands on the paper bricks after we glued them down because the “bricks” slid out of place on the painted floor. A few times we both learned the hard way. Worse yet—they came up on our sticky hands! That only made us laugh even harder.

We repeated this painstaking process until we covered the entire kitchen floor. We applied the “bricks” in a basketweave pattern. We created a pattern of alternating right-angle pairs: set two pavers parallel with the wall followed by two pavers perpendicular to it…and repeat. We didn’t use any special tools to keep the “bricks” in a straight line. We eyeballed everything. Then we waited overnight to ensure the entire floor had completely dried.

The next day we sealed the “bricks” by brushing on a coat of semi-gloss, water-based polyurethane. We initially panicked when we saw the “bricks” change color after the wet polyurethane contacted the paper. But after the polyurethane dried, we were thrilled. The “bricks” looked rustic and weathered. I remembered reading in the aforementioned article that anywhere from 4-12 coats of polyurethane would need to be applied. Linda waited 24-hours before she applied coat, after coat, after coat.

Although we knew we put a lot of time and energy into this DIY project, it was well worth it. However crazy this idea may have sounded, it worked brilliantly! The weathered paper bag bricks looked incredibly real. And you can’t put a price on the precious time that my friend Linda and I spent enjoying each other’s company while laboring over this floor. It was hard to believe how inexpensive it was to disguise an otherwise ugly floor. Once word got out about her unique floor, Linda’s guests were often drawn into her kitchen. Everyone was in awe of Linda’s weathered “brick” floor.

The rest of the story: The “brick” floor looked wonderful for 12 years. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Linda’s new puppy…she probably would still have the same floor today. And no, it wasn’t urine.

This wasn’t my friend’s first puppy. In fact, she has been an animal lover all her life. She knew her new pup, Duke, could get into trouble easily — especially since he was very young and not aware of what was dangerous and what wasn’t. Therefore, whenever Linda left home, she kept Duke confined to the kitchen with a baby gate. This was a good way to keep him from chewing on electrical cords or swallowing harmful things. He had plenty of toys to keep him entertained. His little bed was located in a perfect place in one corner. But it was in THAT corner where Duke must have grown bored. Perhaps he saw a crumb and licked it. Or maybe the polyurethane or paper reminded Duke of the smell of his food. Ultimately Duke, the super puppy licked, and licked, and licked until he wore a hole through the many layers of polyurethane. And then, those “bricks” started to come unglued!

The moral of the story is that Linda DID NOT come unglued on Duke! The little guy seems to now have a special power. He had the ability to bring about change…because Linda eventually got a new floor! The “brick” floor was a great and inexpensive solution that lasted twelve great years. But all great things must come to an end!


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