Looking to enhance your space with a sophisticated and subtle old world finish, dating back to ancient times? Fortunately, you no longer need to be a trained professional to recreate the look at home. Keep reading to see why this trend has staying power and how to DIY it over a weekend.
What is Venetian Plaster?
Dating back to the 4th century, traditional Venetian Plaster is a pigmented lime paste/marble powder mix applied to walls. It became widely used due to its strength, durability, and appearance that could mimic real stone.
Today, real Venetian Plaster (also called lime or polished plaster) has seen a resurgence in popularity. The term now represents a broader technique to achieve the signature look, and there are many products variations available (including synthetic and DIY ‘Venetian Plaster’).
Applied in thin, translucent layers, Venetian Plaster creates the appearance of depth and movement on your walls. The result is a soft and earthy look, suitable for minimalist and traditional style homes alike.
As someone who loves incorporating natural and earthy elements into design, I’ve been drawn to Venetian Plaster (and similar techniques) since it appeared on my radar. Recently, it has seen a resurgence in popularity, and I knew it would be a perfect fit for our mediterranean-style renovation.
Our DIY fireplace was the ideal candidate to test out this technique:
Here’s what you’ll need for this project:
Materials and Tools
- Venetian Plaster (I had mine tinted in two colors: SW Alabaster and Shoji White)
- Putty knife
- Pointed Trowel
How to apply Venetian Plaster
Note: This tutorial uses Modern Masters Venetian Plaster, an acrylic-based tintable synthetic plaster. While the application process is similar for all types of Venetian Plaster, make sure to consult your specific manufacturer’s instructions.
Step 1: Prepare the surface
Venetian Plaster can be applied over a variety of substrates including wood and concrete, but the most common application is over drywall. The drywall must be in sound condition—no cracks, flaking paint, etc, and either primed or painted in a flat sheen.
Most manufacturers recommend applying over smooth drywall, but an orange peel texture is fine if multiple coats of plaster are used.
Our fireplace drywall was completely smooth, primed and painted previously, so I just had to wipe it down and tape off the surrounding area.
Step 2: Apply a skim coat
In this first step, the goal is to completely cover the surface with a thin layer of plaster. Don’t worry too much about the texture or or technique—that will come with the next layer(s).
Starting in one corner, scoop some of the plaster onto your trowel. Hold your trowel at a 15-30º angle, and spread it over the surface in short curved motions. You’ll quickly get a hang of the technique and how easily the plaster spreads.
Curves or rounded edges are a bit tricker—you may need to use a small or flexible spatula to get into those areas. I also used a putty knife to get into the tight corners. Unless you desire a completely smooth surface—perfection is not the goal here!
It took me less than two hours to get the first coat of Venetian Plaster (tinted SW Alabaster) on the fireplace.
Step 3: Apply a texture coat
After 1-2 hours, when the plaster is dry but not fully cured, use a sanding block or putty knife to smooth out any imperfections or rough edges. There’s bound to be build-up along the corners or unwanted trowel marks. Plaster dries very hard, and it will be harder to sand at that stage.
Once the first coat is dry, apply a second coat of Venetian Plaster. I used a slightly darker color this time (tinted SW Shoji White) to create depth and dimension. Darker colors will have a natural shade variation when dry so you may not need a second color if you want a more subtle look.
The second coat is applied in the same way as the first, but if this is your final coat, you’ll want to pay more attention to your technique/coverage. Apply a thinner layer and more pressure in certain areas to allow some of the first coat to show through. I let the bottom layer peek through slightly in some areas, but you may choose to cover yours completely. Try to stay consistent with your technique from top to bottom.
You can always add more plaster, but you can’t remove it once it’s on, so start with a small amount and add more as you feel comfortable.
Step 4: (Optional) Add a third coat and/or burnish the surface
You’ll likely need one final sanding to remove any rough texture/edges. Then, if you are happy with your results, no need to add more!
Otherwise, you can add even more depth and texture with a third coat (this is what Modern Masters recommends, but I found it wasn’t necessary for the look I was after).
For a smooth/shiny finish, burnish the surface with a fine 400 or 600-grit sandpaper. For an even higher sheen, burnish by rubbing your trowel across the plaster (just be mindful of the sharp metal edge!) Burnishing can darken the finish by up to 20-30% and give it the appearance of polished stone.
I wanted a softer and more natural, matte look, so I chose not to burnish.
Step 5: Apply a sealer
Sealing is an important step to protect the finish. I applied two coats of Modern Masters Dead Flat Varnish, which applies like paint and dries with a slight sheen. This will allow the surface to be cleaned up with mild soap and water.
Subtle, soft and ethereal… what dreams are made of!
I think the plaster brought a much needed warmth and character to this flat, one-dimensional fireplace.
The texture and contrast create such a lovely movement across the surface. I think I achieved the natural stone look quite well!
This technique may not be suitable for every design style, but I think it’s a match made in heaven with Spanish-Mediterranean influence of this home.
I also used the same process on our range hood in the kitchen:
- Make sure to always apply in a curved/circular motion. This creates a more natural looking movement and texture.
- Regularly move any dried plaster from your trowel. Dried bits of plaster will get stuck in and scratch up the finish!
- Sand down any rough edges/imperfections before the plaster fully dries. Venetian plaster dries very hard, and it’s harder to smooth out once cured.
- Feel free to experiment with different colors and techniques! You aren’t limited to 1-2 colors and a metal trowel. This Venetian Plaster can be applied with a sponge, squeegee, or any other applicator depending on your desired outcome. Unlike real lime plaster, synthetic Venetian Plaster is more of a decorative finish, so there is more freedom to experiment.
Because this is technique dates back to ancient times, I don’t think it’s at risk of becoming outdated in general—when done right. Any technique can be misused or overdone, and those will look dated once the popularity fades. When it aligns with the architectural/design style of the home and stays true to the historical nature, I wouldn’t worry about the trends over the next decade. As always—do what you love!
There are countless options on the market today—ranging from synthetic to true Venetian Plasters. I chose Modern Masters due to ratings, affordability, availability and custom color options. Well known makers of lime Venetian Plaster include Master of Plaster, FirmoLux, Vasari, Firenze Color, San Marco among others.
Primed or painted (in a flat sheen) drywall or wood surfaces in sound condition, with no cracks or peeling paint. Some formulas can be applied to tile or brick, but make sure to check with yours first. Most manufacturers recommend applying Venetian Plaster to smooth surfaces only, but you can mask lightly textured (orange peel) walls with additional coats of plaster.
The surface should either be primed or painted in a flat sheen. The walls must be free of any cracks, peeling or chipping paint.
In order to protect the finish, you should seal with a varnish specifically recommended for your plaster. For a natural look, choose a matte/flat varnish that dries invisible.
Most sealed Venetian Plaster surfaces clean up easily with mild soapy water and a non-abrasive sponge.
Have you tried Venetian Plaster? Share your tips/experiences in the comments!
Next up: the DIY fun continues with floating white oak shelves in the kitchen. Follow along as we inch our way towards completing this house!