Jason Hughes, Managing Director of specialist brick supplier, Imperial Bricks, looks at recent trends in bricks and slips.
We may have been building homes out of bricks for thousands of years, but the trend for exposing it on internal walls didn’t come into fashion until the mid-late twentieth century. Developers converted old industrial buildings in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District into apartments for practical (ie: cost) reasons, but the creative community loved the look which revealed and celebrated the raw structural elements and materials. It’s been in vogue ever since.
Exposed brick feature walls are used in the UK today to great effect in commercial developments, premium penthouse apartments, rural barn conversions, cottages and almost everything in-between.
But removing old plaster to expose original brickwork can create a myriad of deterioration issues, particularly as the interior layer (or wythe) was traditionally a lower quality brick or one that might not match the external bricks. However, using full-size bricks to create a feature wall requires time-consuming (and expensive) brick-laying skills, and takes up too much space.
Cut from full size bricks, slips are cheaper, easier and quicker to fit and can transform a room in a day. Bought from a reliable supplier, they should be as high quality as the bricks themselves, and available in just as many options.
They can be sourced and finished to exactly match the brickwork on the outside of a property in terms of weathering, age and locality (clay varies from region to region, so local bricks differ widely — even over a few miles, the colour and texture can change dramatically). And if you’re looking for something ‘different’, then slips and individually-made brick-shaped tiles — very different to your standard ceramic tiling product — can be used to create a stunning feature wall in pretty much any colour or finish you like.
Any of Imperial’s bricks can be supplied as a slip, and we’re seeing handmade, wirecut and pressed versions used for interior feature walls, or to clad timber or steel framed buildings. Accordingly, we’re experiencing increased demand and enquiries for slips from merchants, self-builders and architects.
The fashion for slips is a natural follow-on from the trend for handmade bricks; a market that has seen unprecedented growth in recent years. For example, Grant & Stone Purchasing Manager Mark Smith, who also serves on the NBG Brick Committee, states he has seen demand for high quality, handmade bricks increase year-on-year over the past decade. Mark commented: “Demand is outstripping supply, for even basic bricks and blocks. But our customers also want something different; something to set their developments apart from the crowd.”
A slip of colour
We’re definitely seeing demand for more unusual bricks and slips in terms of colour, finish, size and shape. TV interior design programmes have helped inspire homeowners and raise awareness of the options available. And recent events have boosted this interest further.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, we saw visitors to our website increase significantly as people stuck at home searched for ways to improve their living (and now working) environment. Web pages for traditionally ‘niche’ products such as slips, or out-of-the-ordinary colours and finishes are proving popular.
The new Imperial Brick Tile range has been particularly in demand. Launched last year, this range is suitable for both heavyside and lightside merchants, as well as tile retailers. It features staples such as handmade Victorian Limewashed, Victorian London Stock and burnt-orange Victorian Pressed slips — but also a stunning, metallic blue Designer Linear option.
The range also includes glazed brick tiles, individually made and covered in a specialist coating before fired in kilns. Iridescent jewel tones — Ruby, Pyrite and Jade, to name just a few — mean merchants and their customers can offer homeowners something truly unique.
“We’ve been promoting brick slips recently, in all finishes and colours,” explained Nigel Edwards, Branch Manager at Travis Perkins, Malvern. “Sales have really done well. Customers love them, for trendy interiors mostly. It’s a niche market but it’s proving very popular.”
Adam Lundy, of Jewson’s Worthing branch, agrees, saying they keep 2 or 3 handmade bricks for their local area in stock, but 6-7 slips. He said: “Before lockdown we had half a day’s training on tiles and slips from Imperial. And we’ve had a lot of interest over the past few months.”
In the past few years Imperial’s range has grown to 70+ different products in response to demand for more choice and diversity. Slips and tiles are the tip of the iceberg! But we’re also dedicated to supporting merchants with the training, samples and point-of-sale material they need to make the most of these profitable markets. Our brick-matching experts are always available to offer advice, help on specification and even site visits, with appropriate Covid-19 safety measures in place.
For more information on Imperial’s range of slips and tiles, head to: