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!