Venetian Plaster on the Cheap

I recently had a client that wanted venetian plaster “done” in his powder room. He had no idea of what venetian plaster was but knew he wanted it. Fine, I measured, inspected the surface and gave him bid. Now the bid I gave him was based on installing an authentic Italian plaster and providing him with the hi gloss sheen he was expecting venetian plaster to have.

The Italian plaster brand I chose was Safra. Safra is one of the better quality authentic venetian plasters from Italy. It is a true lime based plaster with all the hi end characteristics one would expect. While Safra Italian plaster is of high quality it also comes with a substantial cost.

My bid to install this venetian plaster in the clients powder room was $ 9.00 per square foot. The powder room had approximately 212 square feet of wall surface which resulted in a bid of $ 1,908.00. That figure was more than the client wanted to spend. We had to come up with an alternative.

One of the problems decorative painters and faux finishers face these days is the plethora of lesser quality materials that yield lesser quality results. The problem lies in the fact that these products get an awful lot of press and advertising money to promote them to the DIY’ers. In particular I am referring to the Home Depot brand of venetian plaster.

While Home Depot may invest substantial monies in promoting their version of Italian plaster, the product itself is an inferior acrylic based product that is not much more than a thick paint. But, the client doesn’t know any better and can’t understand why I would charge so much to use it.

Well to make this convoluted story short, the client decided that Home Depot venetian plaster would be fine for his purposes. I followed all the prescribed steps for preparation and base coating the walls. I applied the plaster as detailed on their literature and the results were predictably boring and flat. This plaster lacked any depth and interest. The nature of the product itself was very limiting in terms of sheen and depth.

So, what to do? This is where a good decorative painter or faux finisher can showcase his talent. I heard somewhere that the sign of a good faux finisher is the ability to improvise and to problem solve on the fly. That is often the case.

The walls needed somvenetian-plaster-in- raw-siennae punch and depth. Since it was now to late to change the materials used or color, my solution was to create the illusion of depth and complexity. I applied a third coat of plaster but this time I added a little red tint to the yellow plaster I began with. The method of application changed too. This new color of plaster was thinned with water substantially. Unlike the previous 2 coats that were applied with a trowel, this next coat was applied using plastic grocery bags, you know the kind they use at supermarkets.

The process is called smooshing. Smooshing is a term invented by faux finishers to refer to a rubbing on of color or material using a rag or cloth. In this case I used a plastic bag to rub the color where I wanted to create movement and complexity. Once dry, I still needed to provide a hi sheen he had expected from the Home Depot venetian plaster.

The Home Depot product because of it’s acrylic makeup could not be waxed without changing the color substantially. My solution was to top coat the plaster using the clear acrylic top coat material sold by Home Depot made for their plaster and then, once dry I went over that with a petroleum based wax that could be buffed to a hi sheen.

The photo shows a wall with color variations , movement and a hi gloss finish. See, you really can get good results from inferior products if you use a little innovation.

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