Venetian plaster walls for the Palace in the Sky

What to do with the walls. A palace, by definition is a large or splendid residence, often gaudily ornate and used for entertainment or exhibitions. Well, the gaudily ornate aspect of the Shaw penthouse was certainly addressed when we painted, glazed and installed the nearly $70,000.00 of J P Weaver molding I discussed in the last post.

After experimenting for a couple weeks we decided to give the walls a venetian plaster application. The problem with a traditional venetian plaster application is that to achieve that glass like reflective quality that venetian plaster is known for, you must have walls that are essentially pristine. That is to say the walls should ideally be a level 5. In other words the dry wall installers must ensure that the mudded joints between pieces of dry wall be as smooth as possible.

A level 5 wall, just doesn’t happen anymore, even in very hi end homes. It requires so much more work and expense. So I created a textured version of venetian plaster that would give the walls a distinctive, yet aged , yet elegant appearance. And by the way, I prefer to do textured finishes as they require less precision and are more difficult to mess up. Often it’s a safer way to go when working on large expanse walls.

The technique itself : I first troweled on a tight skim coat of the venetian plaster material giving the walls 100 % coverage. OK, I shouldn’t mention this, but we used Behr Venetian Plaster from Home Depot which illustrates that often it is not the raw material one uses but the imagination and craftsmanship of the applicator or artisan tah makes the finish distinctive.

Once the skim coat dried, we applied the same venetian plaster material but this time my application tool was a plastic grocery shopping bag. I dipped a crumpled bag into the can of venetian plaster and smooshed on the walls. Smooshing is essentially smearing the material onto the wall and pulling the bag off the wall quickly. This pulling off action leaves peaks and swirls of texture.

Ideally, an artisan prefers to have no obvious indication of the tools he/she used to create the end result, ie no brush strokes, or trowel lines etc. The same goes for the bag technique.

Timing plays a critical part now. Once the smooshed on texture is on the wall surface, you must wait until it is almost dry before manipulating it further. When the textured venetian plaster gets to this point, I use a large bondo knife to gently knock it down and compress it just a little bit. You should end up with a slightly textured wall. The texture itself should barely be perceptible as you look straight at the wall.

Once the walls are completely dried, I would wait 48 hours, they are ready for the final step, a waxed top coat. Home Depot also sells a Behr Venetian Plaster Top Coat Wax of their own which I did not use. Instead, I opted for a wax from a company called Safra. Safra is an importer of hi end venetian plasters, marmorinos, etc from Italy. They also sell a Millenium Wax. I prefer this wax because it flows so easily and doesn’t bite into the finish as most solvent based waxes will.

I tinted the wax slightly with a raw umber colorant and applied to the walls with cheese cloth. The wax revealed all of the previously applied texture but left a subtle color on the walls. This finish is cost effective yet distinct and quite user friendly. I demonstrated this buy pouring a glass of red wine onto the wall and blotting it off with not a trace of wine left on the walls. These photos show the subtlety of this technique.

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