Ask the Audience: How Do You Feel About Plaster & Limewash Walls?
Like all good design risks, I’m about to dance a fine line of dated/try-hard OR beautiful and textural…and before we all embarrass ourselves, I thought it was worth a conversation with 50k of my favorite friends.
As you might remember, nine years ago when we started the mountain fixer, I wrote a post about doing some moody wall colors for the bedrooms and this desire has not changed. I’m dying to get away from the all white wall trend (I’m not alone here either…Arlyn wrote a post waxing poetic on this exact topic yesterday) and the guest bedrooms in this house are the perfect place to do it. That’s not the risk. The risk is that I want more texture on the walls because there really isn’t a lot of interesting architecture in these guest rooms—no moldings, no wall paneling, no ceiling paneling, just really pretty wood windows (but only on one end) and beautiful wood flooring. The rest of the home is filled with amazing architecture, big dramatic ceilings, or special finishes that we are putting in but these guest rooms are simple as they are now. I don’t want to add paneling all over the walls or molding. I want these rooms to be edited, curated, uncluttered and just calm and simple (with the perfect everything) but still warm and interesting.
But this house is a 1960s totally renovated rustic Scandi-style chalet and I fear that plastering all these walls would, well, perhaps cost too much if done correctly. So that is concern #1: The Cost.
In the Portland house (bottom right corner of the below grid), my impulse was to go with a smooth flat finish not knowing that I was basically tripling the paint labor and materials cost of just going with a standard orange peel. Sure, I knew it would be more expensive but I don’t think I knew HOW much more (again, triple). Not only was the labor more but every time we had to adjust a junction box two inches, the sheetrock guys had to come back out to smooth coat it. Am I glad that we did this for this house? YES. VERY. VERY. VERY. GLAD. Those smooth walls feel fresh and high end and modern just like the house should. Was it the smartest decision to do on an investment property that we were trying to keep within budget and on top? Maybe not.
Let’s review with this little cheat sheet the different types of texture, in case you aren’t familiar with the “orange peel” term that I just threw out there. No, there aren’t orange peels cladding your walls; it is just a term that was generated to quickly talk about the texture that the walls have. Without going into too much of a backstory or financial lesson. Orange peel walls are dramatically more cost-effective than smooth flat finish walls because you can be a little quicker with the application and you won’t notice the little differences in everything once it is painted. It helps to hide everything with a texture whereas the smooth coat is the opposite. Every little tiny crack or imperfection will only be amplified once it is painted.
Our budget isn’t endless (I haven’t looked at the budget in a while for the mountain house for fear of nausea, spontaneous hysteria, depression, anxiety, etc), but let’s just say we are trying to cut costs on finishes where we can. As a “smooth coat lover,” I approached my GC at the mountain house and he has convinced me to save money and time by doing a slight “hand” texture—not full plaster, but some in order to save money on smooth finish and instead use something that is more forgiving without going full orange peel.
Now, if you are scared, I was, too, but then he showed me pictures and I thought to myself, well, I like a textured wall when done well and in a color of my choosing then I think it would look pretty. Our LA house (that’s my bedroom in the bottom left shot above) has 100-year-old plastered walls and I love it. The texture is subtle but adds just a little movement to the walls. This would be “Plaster-lite.”
So I started pinning the texture that I love. Nothing too Venetian or obvious. It’s my relatively firm belief that unless you live in a very old building (at least 80 years old) or a crumbling loft (I guess same rule) then be VERY careful about doing Venetian plaster or any sort of extreme faux finish as it will look well, “faux” and therefore could date itself pretty quickly. I’ve seen it done in new builds and depending on the architecture, it sometimes works, sometimes feels out of place. On a custom high-end build with groin-vaulted ceilings and grand archways and staircases, sure, but… just take heed otherwise.
In the office in my old home, we did a lime paint and it gave it a slight texture although, maybe even too slight (you honestly can’t really even see it here, but…it was there):
Also remember that the family room and living room fireplaces in the house are both plaster, as is the tile in the dry bar backsplash (you don’t know that yet) so there is kinda this element happening repeatedly in the house already. Bringing this texture into the bedrooms feels…natural and right and like it won’t be a huge departure from what we’re already doing. Well, I’m leaning more toward a limewash instead of a plaster which is a texture created by…well, Remodelista did a whole article on everything you need to know about limewash, and here’s how they put it: “An ancient house staple dating back to Roman times, limewash is made from limestone that’s been crushed, burned, and mixed with water to make a lime putty. The putty is aged and then thinned with water and colored with natural pigments. Limewash creates surfaces that are mottled and matte with a chalky texture something like suede. It lends a depth and luminosity to flat walls.” Chalky, nuanced texture? Oh yes, bring it on.
Jersey Ice Cream Co., who designed the Lokal Hotel in Philadelphia but also are the geniuses behind SO many rooms we’ve shown you on this blog recently, have mastered the textured wall in a fresh, modern way. I think they’re using a Venetian plaster technique, rather than a limewash, but it feels like a hip grandma that also happens to dress REALLY COOL. Obviously, the “age” and “character” is there, but also, SO COOL.
Here’s a close-up shot of some texture that is subtle but just enough to not feel totally flat. The color is moody without being like someone turned off all the lights and there are faint variations all over.
No surprise here, I love this blue. It’s so inky and the texture from the wall finish really catches the light. Can you imagine in one of the bedrooms with magical winter light streaming through the windows?
I can’t tell if this is actually just wallpaper…it might be? There’s a seam I spotted under the hanging aprons but it’s just another example of that really subtle tonal texture that makes things feel automatically more interesting than just a basic orange peel or smooth finish.
How pretty would this be in a little girl’s room (not to say pink is just for girls…it could go in the room anyone, of course), but a finish like this is something that is grown-up enough to stick around from crib to queen-sized bed. It’s a classic finish and therefore feels timeless no matter where it is used.
This feels very Belgian and if you’ve ever studied Belgian interiors, you know those people know what they’re doing over there. No one knows how to create a warm, refined, super chic yet rustic (and kind of primitive but also modern!) look like them. My children would definitely get splinters in their little supple baby feet from these floors, but those walls are a different story. So subtle, so good. The color looks kind of different everytime your eye moves, but that’s what gives it so much depth (and probably wouldn’t cost thousands of galleons to patch if whoever hung that art made a few mistakes along the way…)
If you’ve been following along like a good, dedicated daily reader, you might remember this shot from the mountain house color post I did all the way back in February when I was still young and green about this whole project (okay, I’m still excited, now that walls are going up and the next fun phase is about to begin). I thought it was really pretty and soothing and inviting back then, and still do now. I originally saved this photo for the color inspiration, but it also has a “wait, is that right?” kind of texture that feels like a wall that’s been around the block a few times…in a good way. Most likely it is due to the fact that it looks like it is a bedroom in an old Parisian apartment flat—complete with beautiful old walls. But the texture is still there and the movement happening on the walls is beautiful.
I recently met with Portola Paints & Glazes, a local LA company that mixes up really beautiful, subtle, quality paints and also offers a handful of custom glazes and finishes (like plaster and limewash), and I’m really excited about possibly working with them for this (more on that later).
Their limewashes range from subtle (like that one in the middle) to a little more suede-y and varied. I’m definitely leaning more toward the “hushed” texture. I don’t think I need the walls to scream LOOK HOW COOL AND HIP I AM, but more like “hey, lean in…take a look…aren’t I beautiful in a way that makes you think I don’t know how good looking I am?”
What I’m not really after is something SUPER varied and kind of splotchy, like these:
That look is beautiful when in the right space and might be just right for someone, but not for me. There’s something kind of…unfinished about that first blue shot (which works perfectly for this vignette) but again not perfect for the mountain house. And there’s just a bit too much variance in color of the grays and pinks in the second shot. I love it in this space (heck, it is one of my favorite restaurants here in LA and is gorgeous inside), but again probably not right for the mountain house. We want subtle, calm and simple texture.
So…now I throw it to you guys…what do you think? Is this too “trendy” and something I should just avoid (even though I definitely will be doing some kind of texture because, like I said, smooth finish is TRIPLE the labor cost) or you’re all like YES, YES about it? Let me know your thoughts on the finish you think we should go with (more subtle or more varied) in the comments, as always. I’m leaning toward more subtle in a rich color for the guest bedrooms (and might even consider a limewash finish in other spaces…maybe the whole house), but would love to hear what you guys are thinking.