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
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.
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
‘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.
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.
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.