Plaster vs. Limewash Wall Finishes

While planning the design concept for the Austin Tudor House, I dug into wall treatment options that would be architecturally appropriate and lend some Old-World charm to the newer construction house. Wallpaper was an obvious choice (and I recently blogged about how I want to use it) but plaster and limewash finishes kept coming up in my research. Materials can make or break a space, and these dynamic finishes convey a sense of age and permanence more effectively than drywall. They add depth and movement to walls and are equally at home in a space with classic or modern style. Let’s dig into the differences in each, and where and how they can be used.

range hood with Italian plaster

Range hood with Italian plaster| Design: Yond Interiors | Photo: Erin Little

Plaster vs Limewash: What’s the Difference?

Plaster

“Plaster” is an all-encompassing term that means several different things, but in general refers to layers of cement, sand, lime, and water mixed together to create a substance that is applied to a frame to create a wall surface. If you’re thinking of the walls of your grandparents’ home, likely you’re recalling slaked lime plaster, which is composed of several layers over a wood lath and finished with a fine skim coat. Gypsum and Ventetian plaster are also common. Gypsum has a matte finish and is singe-hued, while Venetian plaster requires many layers to create depth and nuanced shades of color. Long before the invention of drywall, plaster walls were widely used in interiors and even used in molds to create reliefs for molding or decorative details. 

Limewash

Made of crushed limestone mixed with water (and sometimes a color), limewash is a translucent material that creates a distinctive chalky finish. It can be applied to porous surfaces, making it ideal for rehabbing masonry like brick or stone both indoors and out. Limewash is environmentally friendly, containing no VOCs, and is naturally mold- and mildew-resistant.

living room with plaster wall finish

Plaster walls| Design: Arianna De Gasperis | Photo: Nicole Franzen

Limewash over brick| Design: Moore House | Photo: Erin Little  

Plaster vs. Limewash: Application

Applied in layers with a trowel, plaster is definitely the less-DIY-friendly option. We recommend leaving to plaster finishing to the experts. It is especially at home in historic spaces, but can be used to add organic texture and movement to your walls no matter your home’s architectural style. It’s certainly more expensive to install than painted drywall, but it’s a timeless material that is long-lasting in both style and practical use. If you are interested in learning more about using plaster wall treatment, consider taking a virtual class with Jersey Ice Cream Co., or take on a small project like a range hood.

Limewash is applied with a brush and may be easier to DIY. Portola Paints offers a line of products in a wide range of stock or custom colors, including a primer and sealer to yield the most long-lasting results. If you are applying a limewash to brick or stone, consider the products by Romabio. A tinted limewash is a lovely way to add color variation and texture in a way that is more dynamic than paint but more subtle than wallpaper or millwork.

bedroom with Limewash wall finish

Limewash walls | Design: Vestige Home | Photo: Rebecca McAlpin

kitchen with plaster wall finish

Plaster walls| Design: Arianna De Gasperis | Photo: Nicole Franzen

Plaster vs. Limewash: Maintenance and Care

While limewash is relatively low-maintenance – minor scuffs can be cleaned with a damp cloth or mild sanding – plaster requires more upkeep. Defects or marks may require the entire wall to be re-plastered, so it’s best to do some research before hanging frames or hardware over plaster. Cleaning, however, is simple, especially if a wax seal has been applied to repel grease and grime.

BY: ANASTASIA CASEY

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