Venetian plaster is one of the oldest finish in history going as far back as 15th century Rome. As I’m sure you can imagine it wasn’t originally a ‘decorative’ finish but was used to cover area’s that were subjected to water such as; home exteriors, Moroccan steam baths, and the Venice Canals (hence the name Venetian plaster)! The other common finishes of the time; cement & milk based paints couldn’t handle the constant fluctuation of humidity and water exposure without erosion.
There are different types of plaster based on the region, origin, and time in history. For the basis of today’s post I’m going to talk about the lime based venetian plaster that is most often used today and can be purchased from specialty manufacturers. This is what you would receive if hiring a decorative painter such as myself.
I will not be covering the ‘Venetian plaster’s’ found at big box stores. It may be labelled as such, but is NOT a true venetian plaster. The product is mainly composed of acrylic, fillers such as sand/clay, and vinyl polymers. Making it a specialty paint finish, which is beautiful when completed, but will fade within a few years time & feels like plastic or vinyl not stone. Vetian Plaster is an all natural finish with no harmful ingredients while these types of “plaster” are filled with hazardous fillers and ingredients.
Venetian plaster vs. Other Finishes:
Some common questions I hear about venetian plaster are:
- “What is the difference between Venetian plaster and say, other plasters?”
- “How is Venetian plaster different from glazing over and my current wall texture finish (such as hawk and trowel)?”
Hawk and trowel finish pictured below:
The short answer to both of these questions is: There is a VERY big difference!
Venetian plaster can be applied to have a glass like finish once it’s cured, it can also be applied to look old, crackled, rough, glazed, and many other ways. The difference comes down to the finishers experience and the clients preferred outcome. Your current wall finish is probably composed of drywall, tape, and mud. The mud is what makes up the texture on your wall- there are many different types of texture that it can take but none have the outcome of Venetian plaster because of one very big reason….
Venetian plaster is made up of lime, ground marble, and pure pigments used to achieve the resulting color. These components mean that once the plaster has been applied and has cured to a hard surface it actually turns into stone!
No matter how high quality the paint selection you choose it will eventually dull due to UV damage. The plaster finish will never fade, chip, crack, or dull if applied correctly. It will also have slight variations and depth only seen in a plaster finish that can be fascinating depending on the color combinations and lighting in the room.
Moisture Resistant Properties:
There is a myth I would like to de-bunk right here and now…Venetian plaster can & should (if you desire) be used in area’s that receive moisture! There is the added benefit of the resistance to mold and mildew when it’s cured which makes it a great finish for outdoors and bathrooms.
As I already stated, it was originally used in the canals of Venice which take quite a beating throughout the year. Since the plaster cures to stone, this means that it can absorb the moisture and release it back into the air to dry once again. Think about when rocks get wet, how they seem to change into different colors and beautiful textures! This opens up the possibility of bathrooms, steam rooms, and even exteriors!
The most common area’s you’ll see this finish is on entryways, living rooms, and dining rooms but there is really no limit to the area it can be applied!
There are so many finish possibilities that I could go on for days, but I’ll try to stick with some of my favorites & most common:
1.Glass Like Finish & Non-Shiny:
This finish cannot be achieved with any other product or method. While a high gloss topcoat could be used, it wouldn’t have the depth, shine, or be cool to the touch like you’ll find when done with a Venetian Plaster. Reflections can be seen when viewed from an angle as if it were glass, this also helps spread light throughout the room! Not all plaster has to be buffed to a high shine, it depends on how it’s applied- the more it’s compressed while drying the shinier it gets. It’s possible to have a satin, or even matte finish.
One of my favorites is a warm grey undertone & a creamy white based plaster which mimics the look of marble! Just look at how stunning that is, don’t we all wish we could have this throughout our house?
2. Cracked surface: While this is technically something most finishers work very hard to avoiding (because cracked plaster means it isn’t being applied in thin enough coats) it can be done! It should be noted that controlling the size and final outcome of the cracks can be nearly impossible (as far as I understand), so clients who desire this should have an open mind.
3. Metallic Foil Under layer finish. This is one of my all time FAVORITE plaster finishes but should be completed in a room that needs a “wow factor”. It can make the room look busy (depending on the metallic and top color choices) and shouldn’t be surrounded by other high contrasting colors and textures unless the room is very grand in scale. My favorite combination is metallic leaf peeking out from under a warm gray or blue, it is so stunning I don’t think anyone would want to draw attention away from the walls!
I hope to do this on our dining room wall someday when we are done remodeling.
4. Textures: There are any number of textures that can be completed with plaster. While venetian plaster isn’t the only type that can be used, I still wanted to include them because it’s a common product used by many faux finishers due to the quality of the hardened finish.
Striae texture is one of my all time favorites when the room lacks architectural interest. This can be done with a paint finish to mimic grass cloth wallpaper (without the expense), but with plaster it takes on a whole new form. The plaster can also be applied sparingly in chunks to make the wall look like an old roman stone wall that’s peeling away.
Stencils can be embeded into the depth of plaster which makes the seem as if they are floating inside the finish when completed. There are SO many options for texture but I’m going to stop there since these are a few of my favorites and Pinterest is a wonderful place to search for more if your interested.
I sometimes get asked if this is something that can be done as a DIY project but for a project of this magnitude I wouldn’t recommend it. It requires high quality product and trained expert(s) to get the job done right. Depending on the desired effect it may also take some serious patience to allow the plaster to cure before moving on to the final steps.
It CAN be done, but to do it well is hard without training or experience (hopefully both). Venetian plaster is expensive and intimidating to try for the first time. If this is something you feel you have the time and basic skills to learn I recommend doing at least 10 practice boards before putting it on your wall of choice. And if possible take a class to learn what some common issues are (cracking, layers, coloring correctly, etc) to avoid costly mistakes that can show up along the way.
Many people shy away from Venetian Plaster because of the cost of application, but there are a few things I urge you to consider before crossing it off as a possibility.
It cures to stone, is mold and mildew resistant, self healing, doesn’t fade with UV exposure, increases buyer value when selling, and is timeless design. This means it’s a once in a lifetime cost that will result in an amazing bespoke wall finish.
The future of building and remodeling is focused on green products and procedures. Venetian plaster is simple composite of all natural material and doesn’t deplete the earth resources of products that cannot be easily cultivated again. If your trying to be aware of the footprint your home remodel is making this finish is one of the most eco friendly options for walls, ceilings, and outdoors.
Once you’ve seen & touched a venetian plaster finish it’s impossible to look at a plainly painted wall the same again! I hope to work on our dining room in the next year or so and update this post with photos of our own homes Venetian Plaster…but until then, if you’ve plaster finishes in your home we would love it if you share!