what the pros know about plaster walls photo by Don McCullough


A powder usually including a finely ground stone (sand and limestone are most common) mixed with water to form a paste that is applied to walls to harden or shaped into decorative moldings and adornments for walls and ceilings.

HISTORY:  Mixing stone powder with water resulting in plaster has been around as long as, well, stones and water.  But once humans arrived on the scene we could finally do something with it.  There are different types of plaster - generally depending on use and what exactly it is made from, but we're talking about the type that goes on walls primarily today.  If you've ever seen the inside of walls in an old building with horizontal timbers (laths) oozing with lime plaster - this is what was used until drywall was introduced in the 1950s.  Plaster is applied in multiple coats by an experienced artisan the benefits to plaster are fire-resistance, better insulation for sound and air, and it is highly durable - if it doesn't move.

USES:  Plaster has been used to build entire structures like earthen dwellings, mold statues, and as a fire-retardant.  But I'm focusing on the wall treatment in this post.  While there are products out there that seek to replicate the look of plaster, true plasterwork is a highly specialized craft.  Plaster gives your walls a depth and luminosity that paint could never achieve.  But despite its benefits and superior aesthetics, it is labor-intensive and time-consuming.  Venetian plaster has marble dust in the mixture and is polished to a high shine.  While plaster is a old-world technique, it can be used in a modern way.

  • 450 Architects made the plaster walls a highlight with minimal everything else.
  • A fresh traditional bathroom, Wendy Young Designs showcases plaster in two tones with hand-painted stripe between the two colors.
  • The home of Rory Cameron originally featured in the April 1984 issue of World of Interiors as seen on The Art of the Room demonstrated the flexibility of plaster in this nautilus inspired staircase.
  • Sometimes plaster has been hidden under layers of paint and wallpaper, as it is in the apartment of Thea Beasley featured in Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles.
  • The tonal variations and depth of material is evident in this hall designed by Whitman Design Build Inc.
  • The original walls of the house are tsuchi-kabe (mud plastered), a traditional technique used in old houses. For an updated look, the walls were covered with shikui, or traditional Japanese plaster in this Japanese storefront featured on Remodelista.

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Sunset & Stone by Don McCullough