Clinker Bricks: The Ugly Duckling of the Architecture World

Clinker bricks are used as a decorative element, like in walls.

When looking at a Craftsman bungalow or Arts & Crafts house, you may have noticed some bricks that are distorted, blackened and weirdly colored. They’re also strangely beautiful, at least in my opinion. Those are clinker bricks and they can add a lot of charm to nearly any home, though they’re usually associated with vintage homes.

Clinker brick as decoration.

Clinker bricks a little like the ugly ducklings of the architecture world. Their story starts centuries ago when bricks were made by hand and fired in a kiln. The goal was for uniformity but every so often some of the wet bricks got a little too close to the fire, which caused undesired effects. The intense heat turned them into oddly misshapen, dense bricks that often resembled lava rocks. When you “clink” these heavy bricks together they make a unique sound, and thus the name “clinker brick.” No one wanted them so that meant that clinkers were, for all intents and purposes, clunkers. Builders typically threw these distorted, weirdly colored bricks away because they weren’t uniform enough for use.

That started to change in the mid-1800s when the Arts & Crafts movement began gaining momentum in England. Because Arts & Crafts favored uniqueness and craftsmanship over industrial uniformity, suddenly clinker bricks found the audience they deserved. Each clinker brick is one of a kind. And because of their density, they don’t take on water as much as their more porous counterparts. They’re also much stronger than regular bricks, making them ideal for, say, fences or a decorative addition to a larger wall. They’re used for decorative purposes and not for entire structures because they make for poor insulation.

Clinker bricks don’t make for good insulation so you can’t build an entire house with them. But they do make a terrific accent.

Here in the United States, clinker brinks gained popularity in the early 1900s when the architectural team of Greene & Greene began using them in their distinctive Arts & Crafts buildings and houses. The Greene brothers saw the beauty in clinkers that so many others had missed. As a result, the Greene brothers began using them in combination with other bricks and rocks to turn walls, fences and chimneys into unique pieces of art. The trend caught on and clinker bricks can still be seen today in many homes, though most of them are vintage. There are, however, a few companies out there still creating them. Thanks to the internet, they are much easier to find than they were a few years ago so if you want to incorporate a unique look to your house, clinker bricks might be a good choice.