Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Faux Plaster Technique

When I moved into the old barn, it was decorated in a combination of country cottage, Victorian lace and 1970s orange. There was wallpaper everywhere– sometimes as many as three patterns on one wall. Actually, with the exception of the seventies orange (which I replaced before I even moved in) I liked the decor– it was charming and eclectic and perfectly suited to the character of the house. I added brocade drapery panels to frame the rooms and lots of little round tables covered in velvet and cluttered with knick-knacks to play up the Victorian theme. Several housekeepers and four dogs later, I got tired of the upkeep on the frilly Victorian look and decided to go for something simpler. The wallpaper that covered every surface– sometimes two and three layers thick– had to go.

I could have spent the rest of my natural life with a wallpaper steamer, chemical stripper, and manual perforaters, and I still would have had an uneven, bumpy surface that would have to be repaired before it could be painted. That was when I discovered the wonders of faux plaster– otherwise known as joint compound. The technique is really simple and you can be as creative as you like– there’s no such thing as a mistake!

First, if the wallpaper is loose or peeling, get as much of it off as you can. You don’t have to be meticulous about it, and you don’t have to remove the backing that sticks to the wall. If the wallpaper is firmly adhered, leave it. You will need regular joint compound and a trowel or joint compound knife (which isn’t really a knife at all but more like a spatula). For a small bedroom, start with a five gallon bucket; for an average bathroom you’ll need a couple of gallons. Start applying the joint compound in a random sweeping pattern. Every now and then lightly tap the trowel into the wet compound on the wall for a rough, stucco-like texture, and turn it this way and that for interest. This will give you a nice Tuscan farmhouse look, or you can go for a more traditional plaster feel simply by smoothing out the joint compound until it has the look of sheetrock.

The mixture will need to dry completely before you paint it. This can take a couple of days, and the mixture will usually change colors as it dries, from light grey to white. I like to finish the look with several complementary colors of glaze, which are washed on with a sponge. To ‘set’ the look, or make it look like an integral part of the plaster treatment, I apply a final glaze of very thin off-white. You can either mix this color with an acrylic polyurethane, or apply a separate coat of polyurethane to finish and preserve your project.

In the picture below, I used three-dimensional stencils to create the leaves with joint compound, and then hand painted each one. Yes, it was time consuming, but fun!


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