DIY Plaster Walls
According to David Bermann of Toronto’s Scandinavian Decorating Contractors, any faux finish can look current, depending on how it’s applied and what colours are used. Today, wall finishes are more subtle and have visual texture as well as pattern. This finish creates the ambiance of timeworn plastered walls, yet has a smooth, marble-like feel.
“Venetian stucco” is a thick, paint-like material that is applied in three layers (each one a different colour) using steel scrapers. Once dry, it is “polished’ to a smooth sheen. We used a product called Marbleizer in Desert Sand colour. Marbleizer can also be purchased in other stock colours or you can choose your own custom colours.
Materials and Tools
- Patching compound
- 100-grit sandpaper
- 120 diamond-grit sandpaper
- 220-grit sandpaper
- Masking tape
- Super-adherent latex primer or regular latex primer
- 4″ stainless steel scraper
- 6″ stainless steel scraper
- Venetian stucco in 3 parts (used here, Marbleizer in Desert Sand)
- Pail of warm water
- Cloth rag
Note: As with all painting techniques, it is a good idea to test your colour and practice your technique before actually working on a wall. The more you practice, the more control you will develop over your tools. Select a space where mistakes won’t matter like inside a closet or on a sheet of masonite. Apply all three layers to a 2- or 3-square-foot section. You can paint over unsatisfactory attempts with regular paint. When tackling the actual walls, beginners may want to complete one wall before continuing the rest of the room. Consider completing the least important wall in the room for your first attempt and work up to the dominant wall. You’ll be an expert by then and your best work will be seen first as people enter.
Step 1: Prepare the walls
Fill any holes with a standard patching compound. Glossy surfaces should be sanded with 100-grit sandpaper and primed with a super adherent latex primer. Other painted surfaces can be primed with a regular latex primer. Marbleizer adheres best to flat or eggshell latex finish. Tape the ceiling line (where it meets the walls) and the baseboards with masking tape, then apply the primer. After priming, lightly sand all the walls with 100-grit sandpaper to get rid of nibs and rough spots.
Step 2: Prepare your supplies
Before using steel scrapers for application they need to be “broken in.” Using 120 diamond-grit sandpaper, rub both sides of the flat edge of the scraper vigorously and round the sharp corners at each edge of the blade. This softens the sharp edges for better results. The scrapers will improve with usage and eventually will become rather sharp, so be careful when handling them. Fill a pail with warm water so that you can clean the scrapers as you work.
Step 3: Apply the first layer
When you buy Marbleizer or a similar “Venetian stucco” product, you will be given three cans, each containing a different colour which, when applied in layers, produce the final colour you have chosen. The first (base) layer is usually the darkest colour. With Desert Sand (the colour we used) the first layer was a muddy olive green.
When applying the finish, you should work in 2′-3′ wide sections, starting in one corner at the top of the wall and working down, away from the freshly applied area. When you reach the bottom of the wall, continue to the next section and so on, until you reach the opposite corner.
With the 4″ scraper or paint stir stick, scoop out a blob of material (approximately 2 oz.) and transfer it to the 6″ scraper. Replace the can lid loosely so that the paint material won’t “skin” over.
Using the 4″ scraper, pick up a small amount of the material from the 6″ scraper and apply it to the wall in a thin layer. Imagine that you are making an X from top left to bottom right (call this Motion 1), then from top right to bottom left (call this Motion 2). You are not actually applying an X to the wall, but this is the general rhythm and feel of the application. Repeat this “cross-hatching” motion each time you apply the material to the wall. The idea is to apply a thin layer and smooth it out. You will overlap and leave slight ridges as you do so, but these ridges create pattern and texture. When you get to the bottom of the wall, apply the material in an upwards motion starting at the baseboards, so you’ll have a clean edge and won’t get the “stucco” on the baseboards.
When you have used up what is on the 6″ scraper, get more from the can and continue. After doing this several times, you will notice the material beginning to “gum up” a bit and you may not be able to get all the material off the scraper onto the wall. You may also notice bits of “skin” forming on the wall scraper. Rinse your scrapers in the pail of water every 10 minutes or so as the material on your scraper runs out. Do not put any old material back in the can because it will contaminate fresh material. Rub the edge of one scraper against the other in the water until both scrapers are clean. Wipe scrapers with a cloth to get excess water off and go back to the can for more material. Continue applying first later.
Step 4: Apply the next layer
By the time you have finished applying the first layer, the wall should be dry enough to begin the second layer. It should take about half an hour for each section to dry. If it is cold or you are working on a cold (outfacing) wall, a space heater will speed up the drying time. Lightly sand the entire wall with 220-grit sandpaper to get rid of nibs. Brush wall off with a whisk-broom to get rid of dust.
The second layer of material is usually lighter in colour than the first. Desert Sand has a mid-yellow colour as its second layer. Apply this layer in the same manner as the first. Allow some of the first layer to show or “shadow” through. How much you allow to show depends on how you smooth out the material in Motion 2. You will find that if you pull hard on the scraper, you can make the second layer very thin and show more of the first layer. Do not smooth out too aggressively, however, because the goal is to “bury” most of the first layer, leaving only shadows of it when finished. You don’t want to scrape off all the second layer, leaving completely bare sections of the first layer.
As you apply the second layer, the wall will become quite smooth. Stand back from time to time and look at your work to view the effect. If you feel that certain areas are too dark and require extra amounts of the second colour, you can always go back and apply more. Be sure that the area has dried, however, so that you don’t disturb any wet paint.
Step 5: Apply the top layer
Once the second layer has dried, lightly sand the entire surface with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any nibs or dried bits of material. Brush wall off. Apply the third layer with the same cross-hatching technique as the first two. The top layer is actually a slightly different material and thinner in consistency that the first two. If you desire a softer finish and colour, you may want to leave more of it on as you smooth out in Motion 2. This will “mask” more of the colour underneath. Do not sand.
Step 6: Polish the walls
With the third layer complete and dry, you should have a fairly smooth finish, slightly textured where small ridges of material have formed. To give the finish a sheen, “polish” the walls by running your clean scraper over them while exerting pressure on the scraper. Hold the scraper as you did when applying the material but bring the handle closer to the wall so that you are placing a good deal of the flat part of the scraper against the wall’s surface. Push down and rub in a circular motion. With your free hand, you can apply extra pressure by pushing the flat of the blade onto the wall. Be careful that you do not dig the sharp edge of the blade into the finish and chip it. If a chip does occur, fill it in with a small amount of base layer and once dry, some of the top layer. When the wall is completely dry, you can dust it off with a dry cloth to get rid of any scraped-off residue.
Find more DIY ideas in our guide.