Venetian Plaster Demystified
by Regina Garay
Venetian Plaster is a technique that has been around for hundreds of years — but there are many misconceptions about it, especially for those who are trying it on their own. Here’s the scoop….
Venetian Plaster is a gorgeous finish and fits easily within numerous design styles: from Modern to Mediterranean. This is because the finish showcases texture, but it is smooth to the touch — thereby ensuring that even the sleekest environments can be a good home for this technique.
In 2006, I traveled to Italy to be trained in Venetian Plaster applications. (For the record, nothing is quite as unnerving as working on your boards while several Italian men stand behind you speaking in rapid Italian about your work!)
While there, I was told that Venetian Plaster was created due to demand for marble structures in the city of Venice — yet, unfortunately, marble could not be used since the weight would cause a plunge into the canal.
The solution? Marble dust was mixed into plaster, troweled on and buffed…voila! A beautiful, marble sheen without the weight. Hence the name: Venetian Plaster.
- Lime-Based (Marmorino)
- Synthetic (Acrylic)
Traditionally, Italian plasters are lime-based. These, when applied correctly, dry to a natural luminescent stone state. They are mold-resistant and are an environmentally sound choice. Most professionals will choose the ethereal quality of lime-based products over the synthetic.
This is not to say synthetic plasters are bad — on the contrary, high-end synthetic plasters take deep colors beautifully, are easier to match to a specific color and are less difficult to apply, a boon for DIYers. Many professionals also enjoy the results of a quality synthetic Venetian plaster.
Some tips to remember:
1) Always start with a smooth surface. Most walls have an orange peel or knockdown texture — they will need to be sanded, smoothed out (“skim coat”) and primed properly before the start of any Venetian plaster.
2) Although some manufacturers suggest rolling on the first coat of plaster, most professionals will tell you that a trowel coat will help achieve a more polished look. Much harder to do but worth the elbow grease.
3) The best trowels to use are an angled hand trowel and a Japan scraper.
4) Two coats will give you a nice finish but a third coat (possibly followed with a wax coat) gives the most translucency and depth. Most plasters will need to be buffed quickly for the best shine.
5) A wax coat adds durability to your finish — highly desirable in kitchen, bathroom or hallway. The synthetic and lime based plasters use different waxes so please contact the manufacturer of your chosen plaster to suggest the best wax to use.
6) You can also use tinted waxes to deepen the plaster or metallic waxes to add a bit of “wow!” to the finish.
Regina Garay is an accomplished artisan with creativity and energy to spare. A specialist at all manner of decorative painting techniques, she shares with us tips, how-to’s and trends in surface design, as well as inspiration from the design of public spaces.