Interview with the Founder – Bricks at Melbourne Brick

In this series of enlightening interviews with the Founder of Melbourne Brick – Matt Curtain – we discuss the wide range of products available for the creation or renovation of your home or outdoor room at Melbourne Brick.

In this interview, we talk about bricks…

So, I’m with Matt Curtain from Melbourne Brick and Matt we’re going talk a little bit about your brick range

Yes we’ve got a large range of bricks from various suppliers all over Australia, including the Apple Isle from Tasmania, ISLAND BLOCK which they have a new really cool range of eco bricks and blocks and retaining walls and paving which are green certified.

They use recycled glass, so with that, that gets them the green ratings for green certification. They still uses natural sands and their cements but less of the cement and more of the recycled glass and the product looks superb giving you a glitter of the glass hitting of the sun an natural light and its quickly become a really popular range in all areas, both new houses and in the landscape.     

Staying with masonry you’ve got a some really nice choices of smooth honed block and bricks as well getting more and more use for feature work and just for styling things to get a gloss, shiny finish on it.

Some of these have come about because of big changes with clay brick.

Clay Bricks have really become very innovative in the last 7-10 years, so you’re getting a lot of real spread of colour, texture and glazing on bricks now. We still have good levels of bricks ranges available, however where our brick lines have had an average selling price 5 years ago of $600-$1000 per 1000, you’re now probably getting up towards $800 -$1200 per 1000 or $1,20 each and in the speciality glazed bricks between $5 & $10 each.
They’re not necessarily always building a whole house out of them but they’re using them as features for the house, so it might be the front, might be some inside, won’t necessarily be all the way around, so the cost isn’t significant over the entire project, particularly when it’s one thing you can’t easily change in a house is your brick… so as we say you can always upgrade your oven or dishwasher or an appliance but you can never change a brick!!.
It’s there forever because you’re building a house in your mind forever so it’s really important that you get that right but it’s important now you’ve got a great range to get that right with, so people are spending a bit more on their bricks now but they’re saving on maintenance down the track, they’re saving on ongoing costs because there is very little to none with brick.

It’s there; once it’s done it’s there forever.

You’ve also got some superb boutique bricks manufactured in Australia and imported bricks nowadays. We never had a lot of imported bricks in the past because of the weight to transport but as bricks have gone up in Australia because of energy costs we’re now finding that imported bricks are coming in from Spain, Italy, Malaysia and other parts of the world, so they’re quite different, with different sizes some of them, so some of them are longer, some of them are thinner, some of them are standard size. With some of them they are recreating the old convict handmade look where you can actually get a blend or a colour specific to what you want and you can actually order it and wait for it.

Not a huge market for it but they’re some of the changes that have come in in the last 5 years more and more. So, brick has really become a very stylish exterior these days with a massive choice.
A lot of choice in texture, colour, glaze, finish and then size. Even our smaller boutique brick yards that we deal with, which we deal with most of them, they’re even trying to do the same thing now so rather than leaving it to the imports, they’re starting to catch onto it and they’re starting to do it too which is great because we’d like to keep it Australian made, keep it local.
Makes it easier for us and we’ve got that support and backup of the locals with that. So, bricks are really on trend to where the people use it. It’s really exciting at the moment.
We still a lot of the traditional pressed bricks and wire cut bricks we’ve had of old but a lot of new trends and new colours and new ranges so that’s really exciting for a very old product that’s been very set in its ways and stood the test of time, but to have these current very much on trend looks to it and modern but also old in some respects.

It’s great for the consumer and great for us because it adds excitement to it. We didn’t have that probably 15 years before that, it was fairly much the same but now we’ve got those choices.

So, bricks have been around four thousand years I think. Why do you think people continue to come back to them? Other things come out, people use wall cladding, they use rendering, all that sort of thing. Why do people keep coming back to brick?

Look, traditionally, that’s what people have used, so that’s one reason. My grandfather, their grandparents, their parents, they all had house out of brick and in Melbourne particularly, in the inner suburbs as you come out you’re seeing the traditional red bricks, cream bricks, clinker bricks scattered all through Melbourne and one of our sites in Glen Iris where we sell city brickyard from the late 1800’s, that’s what they made, red bricks, cream bricks and clinger bricks.

There was 15-20 little kilns all over the place in inner Melbourne, so Melbourne’s been built on brick. Melbourne Brick was built on brick too.

The traditions of that, they’re still great value for money so we still say you know if a brick’s a dollar each and you’re getting 3 ½, 4 kilos of product for a dollar, it’s pretty good value still. It’s protecting your house, it’s solid, it doesn’t need any maintenance.

You can kick the footy at it, you can smash the car into it by accident and it’s still going to be there where a lot of these more modern surfaces, whether it be a lightweight block or a cladding of some description, you’re not going to have that strength, number one, you can damage it reasonably easily, it does need maintenance because it’s a painted surface straight away.

While they report, and they do, that their acoustics and their thermal values are good, brick is still very, very good too. While it may not be quite as good, in all cases some of the new products it’s not far away but still well and truly excels on what is the minimum requirements. So, brick is, I think for most people, it’s strong, it’s safe and the three little pigs couldn’t even blow it down.

I remember my grandfather, as you know, was the chief engineer at the state brickworks in Homebush so I reckon I might have some brick dust in my veins as well but he was responsible for pretty much firing most of the bricks in post-war Sydney, because they didn’t have kilns all over the place, they had one big major one at Homebush which became the Sydney Olympic site and I still remember bricks that he’d bring home I can’t recall any house that I ever went to that was anything other than brick. Particularly in Sydney

Yes, and look in Melbourne still now, I mean recycled or reclaimed bricks is still a big part of what we do. We do a lot of brick match ups for renovations and extensions but also as you know in new homes, so we still sell a lot of reclaimed, recycled bricks into both of those areas.

They’re still popular because people still like the look of them, even though there’s a lot of the modern styles, people still want a traditional homestead house or a traditional looking house, which uses all of those products

So what else is happening with bricks, other than these trends at the moment? Maybe you could talk a little bit more about these specialty bricks and how people are using them, so the $10 a brick sounds like a lot but they’re using it for parts of the house they can see?

Yes, well generally the dearer bricks, they’re the $10 ones or the $5-$10 ones. There’s more, if you like, technology going into them so they’re actually making colours and blending colours, so generally the more colour that’s in a brick, the more the firing processes have to change or the more extra additions of product additives or different types of clays etc. need to be used to get those colour ranges so it costs more.

So, the higher the temperatures sometimes to burn it the more cost again so the shorter the run the more cost.

So that’s where those costs are coming, particularly from imported because you’ve got freight as well but in locally made or in Australia you’ve got a lot of the glazed products, so you’ve got very high shine glazed bricks in various different colours and invariably they are a solid brick rather than a wire cut brick with holes in them.

They have to be packaged very carefully so they don’t chip or damage. So, there’s a lot of extra cost that goes into producing them, so they’re mainly used for feature work and/or a lot of commercial buildings as well but in feature domestic designers are really liking that now we can use brick where they’ve used other products to try and get that effect, they can now use brick.

Matt thanks for sharing a little bit about the brick part of your business, and for the listeners out there, you’ve heard about bricks being 4,000 years old but they’re still on trend with all of these stylish bricks that are coming out. Some trends on European styled bricks and various other things that are being done so get out amongst it and get some bricks in your house.

Check out Melbourne Brick Online Store or Melbourne Brick website for further information.