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Dare to bare: Get the industrial chic look with a raw plaster finish

As the saying goes, everything old is new again. And that also applies to the way in which we dress our homes.

Bare, plastered walls — popular since the time of the ancient Egyptians — are back.

Long-prized for their hard-wearing properties and sense of depth and texture, many of us are now looking to recreate this easy-on-the-eye approach at home.

Natural wonder: Bare plaster walls give rooms a rustic look, creating the perfect backdrop for unfussy schemes

Natural wonder: Bare plaster walls give rooms a rustic look, creating the perfect backdrop for unfussy schemes

Where once exposed brick walls were all the rage, renovators are currently choosing to give living rooms, kitchens or cloakrooms the plaster treatment, whether rustic or polished, neutral-toned or bold.

But bear in mind this finish isn’t one for DIY enthusiasts — and is best left to professional plasterers.

Mellow style

Known for its breathability, natural clay has been used as a building material for thousands of years. Its beauty has been revered as a wall and ceiling finish in the past few decades, too.

Being a naturally pigmented raw material, it doesn’t need painting and can be applied directly to board or underlying layers.

Although available in colours that include greens and blues, as well as black and white, it’s the earthy, neutral tones of clay that hold the most timeless appeal.

Inset: Clayworks plaster has an appealing subtle tonal and textural variation

Inset: Clayworks plaster has an appealing subtle tonal and textural variation

‘I think the natural, soft pinky-brown colour we associate with clay is a big draw right now,’ says interior designer Louise Robinson.

‘Its subtle imperfections are lovely and add a depth you can’t achieve with plaster-coloured paint. 

‘A clay finish should also age nicely, so you don’t need to be too precious either. The worn-in look only adds to the appeal.’

Best of all, most clay plaster finishes are environmentally friendly, being VOC (volatile organic compound), formaldehyde and synthetic-free. 

Plaster also absorbs excess moisture in a room, and releases it back as the air becomes drier, maintaining indoor humidity between about 40 and 60 per cent — levels at which there are significant health benefits.

Viruses and bacteria find it difficult to survive at these moisture levels, as do dust mites.

Good looks

Of course, there are plasters other than clay that can also be used, depending on what you want to achieve. 

Tadelakt is a natural lime-based plaster, common in Moroccan interiors and prized for its soft hues and waterproof qualities. It is a good choice for bathrooms and kitchens.

Marmorino Venetian plaster combines lime and ground marble and has a more polished look, brilliant for creating a marble effect, which works well as a refined, smart finish in living rooms and hallways.

Gypsum plaster, a decorators’ staple, doesn’t have the same eco-credentials as its natural alternatives, but can be great for producing a simple raw finish on a shoestring — just be sure to seal it with varnish and add beading between the wall and skirting.

Broad appeal

Plaster’s natural properties create a great interplay with the light. Interiors take on a gentle depth that changes subtly throughout the day.

‘Every hour you’ll notice a different dialogue,’ says Adam Weismann, co-founder of Clayworks. ‘

A plastered space feels entirely different to a painted room. 

Clay’s natural, cloudy aesthetic is unlike any other material; it has an appealing subtle tonal and textural variation, plus the soft, raw nature of the material absorbs glare and sound.’

Incorporating the look into a home involves paring back schemes to let this architectural finish come into its own.

Plaster walls suit minimal yet impactful furniture — embrace overscaled pieces and bold shapes, such as a large rectangular dining table and generous round mirrors.

Textured pieces bring out the depth and warmth of a plaster finish — think wicker, rattan, boucle, timber and terrazzo.

‘Be experimental,’ says interior designer Omar Bhatti.

‘Micro-cement and limewash walls are a really interesting alternative to more traditional wallpaper and tiling.

‘I’ve recently turned to plaster as a finish for kitchen walls and flooring for a seamless, super-fresh look.’

Aged bronze, copper or gold fittings, from taps and door furniture to lighting, are a natural partner to plaster, elevating the look from rustic to polished.

This is an appealing finish that will have you shrugging off the stresses of modern life in no time. 

Savings of the week! Cookware 

This 24cm Le Creuset casserole dish is £199 - down from £250 (

This 24cm Le Creuset casserole dish is £199 – down from £250 (

If you resolved to become a more accomplished cook this year, you may need a new set of pots and pans — and there are good savings to be had.

Asda has a five-piece set of George non-stick aluminium saucepans reduced from £30 to £24, a 20 per cent cut.

Described as a ‘starter set’ it will allow you to discover whether your talents might deserve a larger investment later on.

At Lakeland, three separate aluminium and stainless steel pans, cost £154.97. But under its multi-buy scheme, the same pans are £131.99, a 15 per cent saving.

Happy to spend more? Horwood’s red Teflon Judge Radiant aluminium and stainless steel four-piece set is down from £147 to £49.50 — a 66 per cent cut. 

Someone with a large family who loves to cook might splash out on the eight-piece stainless steel set from ProCook, which includes a wok. It is reduced from £299 to £199, a 33 per cent cut.

Or get the French bistro look with a Le Creuset casserole dish.

At Philip Morris Direct, the 24cm dish in several colours is £199, down from £250, or 20 per cent off.

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Folkestone dubbed the new Whitstable after undergoing a dramatic transformation

Every year around this time we hear of plans to regenerate run-down seaside towns and dreary resorts, from Margate to Morecambe. 

Yet none could match the dramatic transformation of Folkestone on Kent’s south coast.

Just ten years ago, Folkestone was on the slide. ‘I moved here in 2015 from Gran Canaria to work in a hotel and parts of the town, notably the harbour area, were scary — so I moved on to Canterbury,’ says Alex Rodriguez, 31, now a freelancer working in corporate communications.

Turning the tide: The Kent seaside town’s once off-limits harbour is now an enticing location

Turning the tide: The Kent seaside town’s once off-limits harbour is now an enticing location

‘Then I heard about the changes going on, so in 2020 I moved back here with my husband and picked up a three-bedroom Victorian end-terrace house for £240,000. 

I have never regretted it — Folkestone nowadays has a really cool vibe and beautiful scenery.’

It is difficult to imagine the Folkestone that Alex found back in 2015. Much of the harbour and seafront was occupied by railway sidings, a squalid fairground and a flea market. The Old Town area was, to put it bluntly, a slum.

It took the ambition of Sir Roger De Haan to create the Folkestone of today. He bought the town’s harbour in 2004 with a view to regenerating it.

‘My parents started [travel company] Saga and when I sold the company in 2004 [for £1.35 billion] I was still only in my late 50s and I needed to carry on working,’ Sir Roger told me. ‘I decided on four strands of regeneration: education, buildings, the arts and sport.’

These areas were in desperate need of attention. Folkestone had one of the five least academically successful secondary schools in England. 

With an investment of £34 million, Sir Roger had architect Norman Foster design a replacement and it is now judged ‘good’ by Ofsted. 

Sir Roger also helped set up performance venues and ploughed money into a variety of sports facilities.

But the flagship of the new-look Folkestone is a development of 84 apartments on the sea-front. Set on shingle at the top of the beach, it is built of glistening white, glazed bricks. 

Broad balconies give the exterior a Gaudi-esque look, while inside the curvature of the tall windows means rooms are bathed in light. Materials of wood and pebble echo the seaside theme.

Prices range from £430,000 for a one-bedroom flat to £2.2 million for a penthouse. Six more blocks are planned, totalling 1,000 units (

Nearby is the restored Harbour Arm, with its champagne bar, food stalls. Stroll south along the seafront and you pass brightly painted beach huts and a landscaped coastal path.

The revamped Old High Street is now bursting with independent shops and studios — not unlike popular and chi-chi Whitstable on the north Kent coast.

‘It has a really cosmopolitan atmosphere,’ says Alex. ‘There are lots of freelancers and we meet in a coffee shop twice a week, which gives a real sense of community.’

There’s a lot to attract newcomers, with London’s St Pancras just an hour away. So, with so many seaside towns looking to re-invent themselves, what’s the secret of a successful regeneration?

‘In areas where the economy is broken, it is not enough to just fix the buildings,’ said Sir Roger. ‘You have to give the town a whole new economic purpose … there must be one over-arching grand ambition.’

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Majority of Businesses (82%) Set to Boost R&D Funding in the Next Three Years

Businesses And R&D Funding

More than 78% of R&D professionals believe that an enhanced 50% R&D tax credit will incentivise green tech development

A recent report by the Industry Research and Development Group (IRDG) and KPMG sheds light on the state of Research and Development (R&D), highlighting the urgent need for increased funding to keep pace with other leading innovation-driven nations. Titled ‘Ireland’s Innovation Index,’ the report presents insights gathered from a survey of 394 respondents representing various sectors, including engineering, technology, medical, and software.

Growing Ambitions for R&D Investment

The findings of the report reveal that a significant majority (80%) of respondents plan to boost their R&D expenditure in the next three years, while 67% have already increased their R&D budgets over the past three years. Encouragingly, only a mere 4% anticipate a decrease in future R&D spending. This heightened commitment to R&D investment underscores its critical role in driving economic growth and competitiveness.

R&D Landscape

Ireland has demonstrated commendable performance in the realm of R&D, with a substantial proportion (69%) of multinational companies considering Irish R&D grants and tax supports on par with or even superior to those offered by other countries. Only 31% expressed a less favorable opinion. Moreover, 64% of the survey respondents have taken advantage of the Research and Development Tax Credit (RDTC), while 53% have availed themselves of semi-state grant supports. These figures indicate the value that companies place on government incentives to support their innovation endeavors.

The Need for Increased Funding

Despite the positive strides made, the report highlights the pressing need for Ireland to bolster its R&D funding to match the levels seen in leading innovation-driven nations. According to the IRDG, an additional €2 billion in funding is required to bridge this gap effectively.

Embracing Sustainability and Digitalization

The report also emphasizes the potential of enhanced R&D funding in promoting green tech development. An overwhelming 78% of R&D professionals believe that an improved 50% R&D tax credit would serve as a powerful incentive to drive innovation in sustainable technologies. This highlights the need to align R&D investment with the challenges of sustainability and digitalization, ensuring continued economic prosperity and positioning Ireland as a global leader in these areas.

The Importance of Support for SMEs and FDI

Dermot Casey, CEO at IRDG, underscores the significance of increased investment in innovation, particularly in supporting innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to create the next generation of Irish success stories, akin to industry leaders like Kingspan and Fexco. Additionally, such investment is crucial to bolster the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) sector. Businesses are poised to invest, but they require robust support to overcome challenges related to accessing skills, talent, and administrative burdens.

Competition in the Global Landscape

Ken Hardy, head of KPMG’s R&D incentives practice, draws attention to the intense competition among European jurisdictions, including neighboring countries like the UK, which are actively vying to attract R&D activities. In light of this landscape, Ireland must fortify its support systems and allocate a more substantial budget to maintain its competitiveness. Hardy commends the positive sentiment among over two-thirds of Irish RD&I professionals who view Ireland’s support systems as comparable to those of other countries.

Charting the Path Forward

The report underscores the urgent need for Ireland to bolster its investment in R&D, both to stimulate innovation and to address the challenges presented by sustainability and digitalization.

By increasing funding and providing comprehensive support to innovative companies, Ireland can seize opportunities for economic growth and maintain its position as a global hub for research and development. The collective efforts of industry, government, and academia will be instrumental in driving Ireland’s innovation agenda and securing a prosperous future.

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Ways Small & Medium-Sized Businesses Can Hire Big Tech Talent

In response to mounting financial concerns, tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) have recently implemented significant staff cuts. This has prompted industry leaders to reevaluate their hiring practices, recognizing the limitations of Big Tech’s ability to weather challenging economic times.

While the tech industry’s overall stability is assured, the combination of a declining economy and a previous surge in hiring has resulted in substantial job losses. However, this situation also presents an opportunity for small businesses and start-ups to tap into a pool of available tech experts.

To capitalize on this unique scenario, small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners must act swiftly to gain a competitive advantage over larger companies and attract highly skilled candidates.

In this article, John Elf, Technology Contributor at ‘Voice of EU’ and Head of Marketing at Vibertron Technologies, provides insights into some simple but effective strategies for attracting talent in a candidate-heavy market.

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can leverage consulting services to attract the best talent, just like big tech companies do. Here’s how SMBs can make use of consulting services to enhance their talent acquisition efforts:

1. Talent Acquisition Strategy Development: SMBs can engage consulting firms specializing in talent acquisition and HR strategies to help them develop a comprehensive talent acquisition strategy. These consultants can assess the organization’s needs, identify talent gaps, and devise effective recruitment and sourcing strategies tailored to the SMB’s specific industry and requirements. This strategic approach ensures that the SMB is targeting the right candidates and maximizing its resources.

2. Employer Branding and Positioning: Consulting firms experienced in employer branding can assist SMBs in developing a strong employer brand that resonates with their target talent pool. They can help SMBs articulate their unique value proposition, culture, and growth opportunities, ensuring that the organization stands out as an attractive employer. These consultants can also provide guidance on how to effectively communicate the employer brand across various channels to attract the best talent.

3. Recruitment Process Optimization: Recruitment service provider can help SMBs, same as LCEs, optimize their recruitment processes, making them more efficient and effective. Consultants can review and streamline the entire hiring process, from job postings and candidate screening to interview techniques and selection methodologies. By improving the candidate experience and ensuring a smooth and timely process, SMBs can enhance their reputation as an employer of choice.

4. Candidate Sourcing and Evaluation: Consulting firms specializing in talent acquisition can assist SMBs in sourcing and evaluating candidates. They can leverage their networks and resources to identify top talent and conduct thorough assessments, including skill evaluations, cultural fit analysis, and background checks. By leveraging external expertise, SMBs can access a broader candidate pool and make well-informed hiring decisions.

5. Compensation and Benefits Consulting: Attracting and retaining top talent often requires competitive compensation and benefits packages. SMBs can engage consulting firms that specialize in compensation and benefits to ensure their offerings align with industry standards and meet the expectations of high-caliber candidates. These consultants can provide insights into market trends, salary benchmarks, and innovative benefit options, enabling SMBs to remain competitive in talent acquisition.

6. Training and Development Programs: SMBs can leverage consulting services to design and implement training and development programs. These programs not only help attract talent but also contribute to employee retention and growth.

Consultants can identify skill gaps, design customized training modules, and provide guidance on employee development initiatives, ensuring that SMBs create a culture of continuous learning and professional advancement.

By utilizing consulting services in talent acquisition, SMBs can access specialized expertise, best practices, and industry insights that are typically associated with larger companies. This approach enables SMBs to compete for top talent on a more level playing field, enhancing their ability to attract and retain the best candidates.

By John Elf

John Elf is Head of Marketing at Vibertron Technologies, and an Honorary Contributor at ‘Voice of EU’. A version of this article has already been published.

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