Now More Than Ever, I Need (Not Want) Plaster Walls
Three pros dish on how to get the finish right.
Updated Sep 29, 2021 7:03 AM
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I have a note in my iPhone from August 2016 that reads “London Fog by Benjamin Moore.” It’s not from a trip to the hardware store to buy paint; it’s the wall color at my favorite furniture store, MONC XIII, in Sag Harbor, New York. The walls, finished in a matte Venetian plaster, are just the right amount of muddy without being too dark and have an ideal, not-too-textured patina. In short, just like Goldilocks’s third bed, they are perfect. This store visit was the first time I declared I would have plaster walls one day, but not the last. In May, a visit to the Kips Bay Decorator Show House revived my love for the finish.
In the house, there wasn’t one but at least five rooms with plaster walls, ranging from moody, matte green bathrooms to airy and bright ivory spaces with 3-D stripes. This wasn’t old-school Venetian plaster either. Of-the-moment colors and unexpected applications made the material appear fresh and modern. I spoke to a few plaster-versed designers to get their top tips on how to get the look in my own apartment—check them out, below. If you decide to try it with me, prepare for your home to feel like a breezy Italian farmhouse.
Introduce 3-D Texture
In Nashville-based designer Sarah Bartholomew’s petite living room for the show house, subtly fluted plaster walls give the space depth and much-needed architectural interest. “We used plaster panels with a one-inch fluted pattern,” she explains. “We finished the plaster panels in a limewash paint made of slaked limestone, matched to Benjamin Moore’s White Dove.”
The designer warns against the overpolished look. “The beauty of plaster is the raw, matte finish,” she says. “When it’s overpolished, it loses a bit of the je ne sais quoi that makes plaster so special.” Don’t assume white is your only option either. In a future project, Bartholomew wants to use Venetian plaster in a pale blue hue.
Go Matte and Moody
Design firm Pappas Miron also used plaster in its tiny, Italian-inspired powder room for the show house, but in an entirely different way. Alexandra Pappas and Tatyana Miron chose Roman plaster from Ressource House of Paints in Etourneau to create a matte, moody wall covering to pair with the stunning pink stone sink. “A rough primer is used; then a mineral undercoat; and finally a plaster, which is troweled on,” explains Miron. “We prefer to have less movement when the final coat is troweled on, rather than big, swooping movements. We think that the stillness with subtle texture and change is super-chic and old-world.”
Miron prefers colors that have earthy undertones, but she’s also a fan of a clean, white look. At all costs, she avoids primary colors: “Plaster can go wrong with a lot of color or too much movement. It goes from being elegant and interesting to unsophisticated in a moment.” For inspiration, Miron turns to Belgian designer Axel Vervoordt. “His rooms were the first that I noticed had matte and rough plaster design elements,” she says. “There is really no substitute for starting the mood of a room from the walls. It sets everything off in such a beautiful way. It’s a perfect jumping-off point.”
Add a Dose of Color
Seasoned renovators Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Co. have made a name for themselves plastering walls everywhere, from private homes to hotels like Hayfield Catskills and Philadelphia’s Lokal Hotel. “We typically mix custom colors for each job using pigments from Guerra Paint and Pigment,” explains Bright. The duo looks to periods in history and architecture around the world for ideas. “Traditional plaster remains more common in some countries than modern wall systems. Traveling always sparks the most inspiration for us,” he adds.
Bright recommends a lot of rehearsals before trying the technique on your own walls. “Mastering it takes loads of practice, since the plaster only gives you about an hour of working time and so many things can go wrong,” he explains. Plaster may take a while to get right, but if history is any indication, it’s a time-trusted finish that won’t go anywhere soon.
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