Imagine a world where you never again have to spend your Saturday mornings scrubbing the grime and mildew off of your bathroom shower tile and grout. Go ahead, dream with me. Well, guess what? THIS WORLD EXISTS and no, I don’t mean just using large, heavy, very expensive stone slabs. You’ve likely been seeing more and more of this plastered bathroom look on your feeds lately, and today, I’m putting an official name to it: tadelakt.
I used to just call this “concrete/plaster” like some kind of design heathen but Grace (our previous social media manager who also went to design school) came correct with the real facts for me and now I’ve been awakened enough to pass along my knowledge to you guys! I’m going to show you a bunch of beautiful examples of its use in bathrooms, but first, let’s talk through what exactly it is and why it’s so much more than just a pretty
What exactly is tadelakt?
The word “tadelakt” itself is derived from Arabic and means “to rub” or “knead” which makes sense when you find out how it’s installed, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While it might feel “modern” and “trendy” right now, it’s actually a technique that’s been used for centuries in Morocco and though it looks just like traditional Venetian plaster or limewash, it’s different in that it’s actually waterproof, water-repellent and mold/mildew-resistant, making it ideal for bathrooms and kitchens. Well, I’m sold. And look ma, no grout seams!
How is it installed (and what makes it so durable)?
Alright, so the install process evidently is quite laborious. According to this article from Brownstoner, where mineral plasters like Venetian is a two- or three-coat process, tadelakt requires six to seven coats with the addition of burnishing and—what makes it truly magic—an application of an oil-based soap. Evidently, that soap that’s rubbed onto the surface reacts with the lime in the plaster to form something called calcium stearate which is insoluble (i.e. impenetrable).
What does this magic stuff cost and what is the maintenance like?
Maintenance on this bad boy is easy peasy: just wipe with water, meaning no chemical cleaners necessary (or allowed…they’ll actually ruin the surface, so STEP AWAY FROM THE BLEACH). Recoating with the soap solution regularly will ensure your gorgeous tadelakt stays intact and in great condition, but really, that’s it. Now, in terms of cost, yes, it will run you considerably more than a standard install of subway tile from Lowes, for instance. I reached out to a few local installers to get a quote but they all said the same thing “it depends on the room, the square footage, etc. etc. etc.” Helpful.
I guess if you have an ACTUAL space, it would be easier for them to quote, but my vagueness was met with no real answers. However, digging around the ‘net did bring a little clarity. While different than Venetian plaster as I already mentioned, this article from Architectural Digest mentions pricing on Venetian plaster is roughly between $8 and $15 per square foot. Considering tadelakt is a longer process, my guess is it’d come in at likely twice that depending on your space. Bloggers Bodie and Fou had this done in their home in London and said it came out to £125 per square meter (if my math is correct, that’s about $15 a square foot). Considering most mid-range tiles come in at about that WITHOUT installation, it’s actually not quite as pricey as I first imagined, TBH.
Are there any downsides?
Here’s the thing, though. Because tadelakt is seamless and watertight, if any part of the surface is damaged, the entire thing needs to be replaced. You cannot patch it or repair a part of it because it would tamper with the waterproofing, sadly.
Because I’m quickly reaching my limit of times I’m allowed to say a single word in any given post, let’s move along to pretty photos of tadelakt in action.
Like I mentioned earlier, tadelakt is best saved for areas where it will be continuously hit with water, like a shower surround or sink area. Yes, you can use it on all the walls of your bathroom or kitchen, but to save on installation costs, it might be best to go with a traditional plaster (which is naturally mold- and mildew-resistant just not watertight) on other surfaces. Here, in this bathroom by Isabel Lopez-Quesada via Architectural Digest, it would appear, though I can’t be certain, that tadelakt was used in the shower spiral and most of the flooring.
One of the biggest selling points to me is the whole no-grout thing. I mean, what on earth would I occupy my weekends with if not scrubbing mildew out of white grouted corners that are cracked because I live in a 100-year-old apartment? I just can’t imagine such freedom of choice.
A really traditional use of tadelakt is coating anything that will hold water, like a bathtub! I like how the floor color flows up into the tub, while the walls were left light and bright white. I do have to wonder about where the shower curtain is here? The owner of this home, Trish Deseine, lives in France, so likely it’s just a wet room, but also…privacy? Regardless of those logistics, this is beautifully minimal.
If you’ve gotten this far and thought “that’s nice, but I’ll stick with tile because I hunger for color,” there’s still tadelakt hope for you. Pigment can be added to the plaster mix to get beautiful dramatic tones like this deep teal in a bathroom by Bentley Hagen Hall (via Remodelista). Top to bottom here is definitely a bold choice but personally, I love it paired with the warm wood and brass fittings. It feels Old World-meets-modern-day, which in general is a vibe I’m very into.
I’m not entirely sure whether this wall is tadelakt or traditional plasterwork to be honest, but I wanted to show it as an example of the technique used in a smaller, simpler bathroom that leans more modern. In my research, a lot of experts mentioned they wouldn’t bother with the labor-intensive tadelakt process in areas that won’t get particularly wet, so unless this is one big wet room where that wall carries into the showering area,
Here’s another example, also from Remodelista (but this time designed by Leigh Herzig) of a smaller more “normal” bathroom with tadelakt (by normal, I mean it’s not a palatial hotel/spa vibe room that’s purely aspirational). This is actually in a spec home, where the owner revamped the interior to really customize to her tastes, and no two bathrooms are alike. It appears that plaster was used in the shower surround (the bathtub apron is limestone) and on the custom vanity, while the rest of the walls were left without…likely a cost-saving tactic.
While I personally love the look of full top-to-bottom tadelakt, you can also opt for tiled or marble floor (here, the marble is also echoed in the shower knobs) for something a bit more traditional. I also want you to take note of the plaster’s use on the bench…I mean, have you ever sat down with your naked bum on a cold, wet tile or stone slab bench? It is NOT pleasant. No one talks about this, but I’m going to talk about it. It’s not good and quite the unnatural feeling. I could almost guarantee this is a far better experience. Just sayin’.
If you want to get all kinds of fancy (I’m only saying that because this LOOKS fancy, it might not even be any more expensive than purchasing a basin sink), you can go the plastered vanity top AND sink situation. Because this stuff repels moisture and is cleanable with just a simple wipe of water, I’m safe to assume I’d never have to scrub out all my foundation splatters and rogue crusted toothpaste junk from my vanity, right?
And that’s all I have for you today. To sum it up, tadelakt is a pretty awesome, really quietly beautiful alternative to tile that turns out, doesn’t cost as much as you might think. It’s watertight, water-repellent and mold- and -mildew-resistant. So basically, it’s bathroom (and kitchen) magic. True story. I’m curious to hear if anyone here has done this in their bathroom (either by a hired hand or themselves as a DIY) and how it’s worked out for you. Any trials and tribulations the internet is holding close to the chest on this one or is the centuries-old technique centuries-old for the very fact that it’s a solid choice? Looking forward to hearing what you all have to say/add!
Could this be applied over existing tile?
We have this installed in our three bathrooms over existing tile. This was done before we bought the house, so I don’t know about cost, but since it was installed right before putting it on the market I am assuming it was cheaper than tile.
Unfortunately some areas were not installed well (like some corners are not exactly smooth) and it has cracked in some places on the floor, so eventually we want to replace it.
It think it can be done, just be sure your tile is solid and you hire a good installer.
I stayed at an AirBnB in Morocco and the shower compartment was made of this stuff – I was so amazed by it and have been wondering about it ever since. Thanks for giving it a name for me!
You’re welcome (well, really, thank Grace who taught me).
This was so informative and well written! I saw a lot of this style in Sicily recently but wasn’t sure whether it was Venetian plaster (highly possible) and loved the look! Definitely saving this for future reference!
What about a kitchen counter? I would love that!
I think yes based on my research! The technique is typically used in bathrooms and kitchens, and man would it be beautiful on the counter!
@almostmakesperfect just had this done in her master bath with Merlex Super Shower, which I’d assume would be a bit cheaper because it’s more widely available and a less labor intensive process, with a very similar end look. We almost used it 2 years ago in our bath but couldn’t find a local installer and didn’t want to risk DIYing it.
Beloved Team EHD – it’s time to cut back on some of the videos/advertising. We’re now getting to where I spend half my time on the site closing out ads and offers, and can’t load the actual design pics because the videos are eating all the bandwidth. Please scale it back a tiny? Thank you!
use adblocker- EHD has ppl to pay!
Wow, this is silly but THANK YOU. I have no idea how I missed this magic invention! Life, changed.
Second that. Kathryn, you’re a genius.
I absolutely love this. If you find an installer in LA please pass on the info. I’m mid construction and would love to have this. I’ll let you know how it goes.
So I cannot vouch for them, because no one here has use them, but it looks like this company does tadelakt here in LA: https://www.naturalwalls.com/ Good luck on your construction!
Hey guys, Caity here, one of your long-time readers. This is an awesome post. I’m sure there are lots of people out there like myself who have been trying to figure out how to get tadelakht in their house. I’ve done some research on this, since my husband and I are considering building a tadelakht kitchen in our basement. This is because it is a super easy (if labor-intensive) and cheap DIY option for a kitchen counter, sink, and cabinets. Yes, people, if you are willing/able to do the work yourself you could get a kitchen for pennies on the dollar, with your major expenses then being just appliances and plumbing/electrical work. One thing I wanted to add is that you can build your structure, vanity, shower, etc, out of cob first (mud, clay, and straw), and then finish it with the tadelakht. This means if you don’t have carpentry skills (like me), you can just shape away with your bare hands. Another amazing thing about this is you are cutting down on dangerous and harmful chemicals in your home in a BIG way. This is a huge benefit. This building method is also extremely eco-friendly and good for the… Read more »
Bless you! I really like this look, but was already moving on past even considering it. I will now.
What does it feel like? Does it feel like cement or the plastic of pool or….?
It feels like smooth, slightly shiny plaster. Not at all plasticky. It’s a lovely finish.
I can’t get this because my husband would never stop saying, “Tadelakt!”
‘Tis gorgeous, and that last bathroom is my dream.
I can’t lie…it’s pretty fun to say.
We’ve just used a tadelakt type product in our en-suite in France. We DIY’d it and the product was from a place called Leroy Merlin (a bit like Home Depot). It took a primer, 3 coats (so not a true tadelakt?!) and then 3 coats of the soap. Really liking it so far as I am really not keen on grout lines. Just need the rest of the room finished now so I can take pictures!
Hi! I am in France too and starting to remodel. Would love to know the name of the product, and also what did you put it over? I mean was there a regular wall before? Brick or stone or..? Merci 🙂
I LOVE this post!! My DH has been to the Mid-East several times & raves about this stuff! My question is, would it work to repel mold & mildew in nasty, humid Gulf Coast Florida? And is it heavy? We’re building a tiny home on wheels & our current shower option is just not working well. That view of the final mountain desert view….omgeee! I could slather it all over my body! JK.
I just want to know how long it took you to memorize the spelling of tadelakt!
HA! You know, actually not that long. My fingers went into tadelakt autopilot/muscle memory pretty quickly! 😉
I love this look and would definitely like to try it on the right project. I do think it is repairable.
Also, please let your readers know that bleach is very hard on every material, including tile and especially grout. Don’t bleach your grout, it can break down the sealant. Even vinegar can break it down. When grout sealant is damaged by corrosive cleaners it then becomes very difficult to clean. If grout is in good condition, it can be easily cleaned with soap and water. If it gets moldy all the time, it should be replaced or at least resealed.
My husband and I went to Marrakesh, he was there to learn how to do tadelakt directly from the artisans there. Most of what you wrote is accurate. Traditional tadelakt is very, very labor intensive. One of the reasons it is waterproof is because the applicator literally presses the water out of the material as they apply layers. It can certainly be tinted. It would be difficult to patch without seeing where the patch was. It is not scratch proof. In fact one of the more beautiful things they do in marrakech is carve it in intricate patterns. While we were told by some that the only true tadelakt is made from clay found just in marrakech, many of the Venetian plaster companies in Italy have formulations that will act the same but aren’t as labor intensive.
norine! where are you (& your husband) based? does he have a business installing?
This post annoys me because you teased it on Instagram saying “It’s not as expensive as you might think!” but then come here to find that you don’t actually know because you didn’t give enough information to the installers to get a real number. You have PLENTY of sample bathrooms to send them to get a quote for the purpose of sharing real numbers. Just give them one of Emily’s bathrooms!
Anyway. Feels lazy. And after Jenny Komenda’s declaration that blogs are dead and seeing the struggle bus content that has been here lately, I might be agreeing with her….
The quote thing bothered me a little too. And have to agree, although I’m sorry to say it, that the quality of the content seems to have really gone down. I still appreciate what you’re doing, it’s just not hitting the heights that it used to.
I am remodeling and am definitely looking in to this for my dated kitchen counters. How to resurface and keep scratch resistant. It would look awesome molded from the counter up the walls like a back splash. hmm..