Venetian plaster's subtly textured, lustrous finish epitomises timeless elegance. Here is all you need to know about renovating with Venetian Plaster.
With its subtly textured, lustrous finish, Venetian plaster epitomises timeless elegance. As a lime-based product, it celebrates the organic beauty of polished natural stone, transforming walls and ceilings into handcrafted works of art. This centuries-old veneering technique dates back to Roman times, and was used extensively in Venice during the Renaissance period. As more modern artisans become skilled in this ancient craft, the unique decorative properties of Venetian plaster are enjoying renewed popularity. Tempted to bring a slice of Italian history into your home? Read on for more information and inspiration.
In the 15th century, Venetian architects veneered the walls of their canal-side buildings with a wet mixture of crushed marble and slaked (powdered) lime, which was applied in thin layers and ‘burnished’ or polished to a glossy finish with a flat, steel trowel. The finish recreated the opulent look of marble, but without weighing down the buildings’ watery foundations as stone cladding would have done. Venetian plaster also proved to be highly durable and well-suited to the city’s damp conditions.
Over the centuries, craftspeople have experimented with the technique to create different looks, adding materials such as crushed quartz to the mix, tinting with oxides and other pigments, and buffing the surface with wax to seal and preserve the finish. Some modern manufacturers have created Venetian plaster mixes with added resins or acrylics that allow for easier application and compatibility with painted surfaces.
Today, ‘Venetian plaster’ describes many forms of decorative or polished plaster. Specialist plasterers sometimes use other terms, including:
- Venetian stucco
- Polished plaster
- Tadelakt – Moroccan-style lime plaster that doesn’t contain ground marble
- Scagliola – which mimics the veined look of marble
Venetian plaster is the ultimate bespoke wall-surfacing product, as it can be customised to suit the style of your home. It can be smooth or highly textured, polished to a gentle gleam or a high-gloss, mirror-like glaze. Choose a bold colour, a pearlescent or metallic finish, or a pared-back neutral. Venetian plaster can also be designed to mimic the look of natural stones, such as marble, travertine or limestone.
Venetian plaster is suitable for use on walls and ceilings, including curved surfaces such as archways and columns. It works beautifully on fireplace surrounds and feature walls.
The finish adheres best to a porous substrate, and can be installed over correctly prepared plasterboard, brick, cement board, concrete and concrete blocks. Some preparations can be used over previously painted surfaces – check with the manufacturer or your plastering specialist.
Venetian plaster dries down to a hard, durable finish. When applied to exterior walls, the look is similar to concrete render, but with a more nuanced depth of character and a cool, tactile feel. Its unique ‘breathability’ makes it a practical choice: after rain or during humid weather, the plaster dries quickly and prevents moisture from being trapped behind the surface. This helps preserve the structural integrity of the building.
Venetian plaster offers a grout-free, low-maintenance alternative to tiles or natural stone. It is naturally resistant to mould and mildew, and, in terms of hardness and durability, is comparable to tiles.
As an all-natural material, Venetian plaster won’t release harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the same way that acrylic paints, glues and sealers will. The added lime gives the plaster a high pH level and is a natural fungicide, which means it won’t harbour mould.
Lime plasters are described as ‘lifetime’ finishes – they are said to be less prone to shrinking and cracking than cement finishes, and will develop a beautiful patina as they age. A wax coating will help repel dirt; it is recommended that you re-wax your Venetian plaster walls every couple of years. If cleaning is required, use only water or mild soap as bleaches and harsh cleansing agents can damage the surface.
Applying Venetian plaster is a bit like creating a sculpture or a piece of art – there’s a high level of knowledge and skill required and the craftspeople who specialise in it have often spent years perfecting their trade. Incorrect application can result in a patchy, uneven surface. It’s also worth noting that in its wet form, lime plaster is highly alkaline and caustic, so it’s best handled by an experienced tradesperson using appropriate protective gear.
With its intriguing depth, sheen and tactility, Venetian plaster is undeniably luxurious. And it comes with a price tag to match. The finished result is dependent on the quality of the plaster mixture and the application technique, and it’s quite labour-intensive, so expect to pay upwards of $150 per square metre (for materials and installation), depending on the finish you’re after and the type of space you’re having decorated. If you’re tempted to do it yourself, ready-made formulations can be purchased from about $40 per square metre.
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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.
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