A brick-by-brick guide to making rustic-style French gateposts

Nick Inman disguises a new fixture as something centuries-old 

DIY enthusiast covers a grey gatepost by cementing it with layers of brick
Nick Inman adds character to a grey gatepost with layers of bricks

The idea all along was to make a pair of new but old-looking gateposts.

Their skeleton is formed by columns of concrete blocks which are functional but ugly. Now it was time to dress them with brick to make them look as if they had always been a part of the 18th-century house.

For more than 20 years I had been stockpiling old bricks for this purpose. They were all around the property, removed from walls during renovation work and often dug out of the ground where they had been discarded as useless by previous anonymous artisans.

They varied in thickness from 4cm to 6cm but their irregularity was what appealed to me and they would give character to the finished work.

When I say “bricks” I should specify that I don’t mean whole ones, but fragments. Any portion of a brick with a good, baked edge would do for what I had in mind.

I opted to cut my chunks of brick to a width of 4cm, which meant measuring and marking them up individually.

Then I cut them to size using an angle grinder – I tried a more powerful 230mm disk, but a smaller machine with a 115mm disk was much more manageable and less tiring.

The knack was to preserve as much of the old brick as possible, and wherever I could I cut them into an L shape to be used to make strong corners.

Read more: Progress on French DIY tortoise house is slow and steady...

Big tip from hindsight: do not cut bricks near any space that you use everyday. Brick dust goes everywhere – it finds its way into the most improbable corners and cleaning it up is a painstaking task. I am pretty sure the next owners of our house, years hence, will be cursing me for my thoughtlessness.

Second big tip: overestimate the number of bricks you are going to use. It is better to err on the side of cutting too many rather than too few so that you do not find yourself with a batch of wet mortar to use up and no bricks to apply it to.

The bricks cut, I then wheelbarrowed them out to the worksite and pasted a thick layer of lime mortar on the ground, on which to lay the first course.

Thereafter, I alternated a thick band of mortar with a line of bricks, measuring with a spirit level all the while to keep things more or less even. 

If I found I had a gap and no brick of the right size to fill it, I went back to my angle grinder and cut one as needed, although gaps could be filled directly with mortar.

Lime mortar dries more slowly then cement mortar and scraps of brick are by their nature irregular and unstable.

Read more: French renovation: family DIY project saves money on garden gates

As a consequence, I found it best to do no more than three courses of bricks at a time before letting my work set. 

Occasionally I could do this twice in a day, but my other commitments did not always permit it. It takes time to build in the old way but the result – for me – is worth it.

Finally, I went over my new brick-façade work to scrape off any excess mortar and fill inadvertent holes. 

The effect is the opposite of modern perfect – the bricks are not all of the same thickness and so neither are the intervening bands of mortar – but that is just the effect I was going for. 

The colour of the whole thing is inevitably new but in a few months, when the mortar is completely dry, and the weather has gone to work on them, they will gradually blend into the rustic style of the property and perhaps one day nobody will be able to guess that my brick columns are not centuries old like the rest of the house.