What’s behind brick slips’ popularity?

Here Jason Hughes, Managing Director of Imperial Bricks, talks about the growing market for brick slips and tiles – both externally and internally.

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ricks are a timeless material, and still the number one choice for construction. And, although architects and planners are becoming more particular about the types and styles of brick, there’s no sign that they are losing popularity. Often the first thing people see on a building, the look, feel and quality of brickwork can make a significant difference to the value of a property. But there are new takes on the old. Brick slips, or tiles, are cut from full-size bricks, and have really taken off in the last few years and are increasingly specified for external and internal use. They offer a traditional finish which can quickly be applied to less expensive materials such as concrete blocks or timber frame construction. And they look great too.

So, what’s behind this rise in popularity? We’re seeing brick slips chosen for a variety of projects, from cladding new builds to adding decorative feature walls or an industrial look to bathrooms and kitchens in residential interiors. Externally – if you use the right brick – they are an effective way to blend a new property into the neighbourhood or ensure an extension looks right. Slips can now be cut from bricks to match existing or nearby brickwork exactly, in terms of the region, size (imperial or metric), age and condition, and with a reliable supply. This is an exciting new opportunity for architects and developers that wasn’t available before.

We’re seeing the trend for slips, particularly in urban developments. Space is at a premium in our cities, and nowhere more so than in London. New buildings are shoehorned into small spaces, while old – and not so old – premises are demolished to make room for homes and commercial developments. Speed is essential for these projects; demolition and construction are potentially very disruptive to everyday life, and developers want to build quickly to minimise the impact on the community, and their costs. Often, storage space on site is very limited too, and slips take up less room. Brick slips offer an ideal solution for developers who want to save time and labour, or for self-builders. Traditional bricklaying is time-consuming, weather dependent and requires expensive, skilled tradespeople; if you can find them. The ongoing skills shortage can seriously delay projects, adding to costs and disruption. Fixing slips to an existing surface is quicker and easier and can be undertaken by a non-specialist builder or even a self-builder. Brick corners or ‘pistols’ are available to complete the look, while brick slip systems offer a template so the slips can be correctly spaced – making it even easier to achieve a great finish.

Case study: bricks for Brixton

A recent project in up-and-coming Brixton illustrates the value of using bricks slips and tiles, inside and out. Vanquish Iconic Developments, the London-based urban residential developer, recently completed a development of eight apartments a short walk from the Underground and Brixton Market. The apartments were built on the site of a dilapidated 1960s building, previously used by a children’s nursery and a local church. Once permission was granted (several sets of plans were submitted before the final design was approved), the building was demolished and replaced with a four-storey block. The top three storeys were brick-clad, sitting over a glass-fronted ground floor which has been developed into a gym. Vanquish ID has used brick slips a number of times before, notably in its award-winning Moonlight Drive development in Belgravia, and the developer was well aware of the advantages. For the Brixton project, Victorian Orange Wirecut 73mm slips with an aged finish from Imperial Bricks were used to complete the outside. The finish mimics the look of a converted warehouse and echoes many buildings in the area. The result is a development which instantly fits with its surroundings; it looks as though it’s always been there.

Vanquish also used brick tiles in the same blend to great effect inside the apartments. A premium penthouse look is achieved with high ceilings, industrial fittings and ‘exposed brick’ feature walls.

Vanquish has worked with Imperial Bricks on several projects in the past four years and is planning to continue the relationship with their upcoming developments. The company specialises in developing creative, unusual and stylish apartments, often converting existing buildings to provide unique new homes. A spokesperson commented: “We use slips because they are quick and effective. Given the sites we work on, where space is often limited, we’ve found it’s much easier to fix brick slips in tighter spaces (such as when we are working up to neighbouring walls). Our sales manager works closely with suppliers to source unusual bricks – for example, a grey glazed or a reclaimed red – and we know we will get an exact match either from stock or using a bespoke mixture.”

Brick slips are very much a product for the times. They won’t replace traditional bricks, but there are many projects where a quicker, simpler and more lightweight type of construction is required. Slips can be provided in metric or imperial sizes and all colours and finishes. Imperial Bricks, for example, offers the widest range of traditional handmade, wire-cut and pressed bricks from a single supplier, with over 50 different regional bricks (covering most of the UK). Slips can be made to match any surroundings – a real advantage when building on infill sites in busy cities. Planning and conservation requirements are easily met, and developers can make the most of often limited space to construct new buildings with traditional looks and modern performance.

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