Ask The Painter: What are Some Options for Custom Textures?

August 24, 2010
A Variety of Products and Techniques Makes for Some Interesting Possibilities

One of the more interesting and creative ways that people change the look of their home’s interior is through the use of custom textures. There are a number of techniques for applying custom textures that meet different needs and budgets, and the product offerings in this area are becoming more numerous and affordable than ever.

The simplest method of applying a custom texture to a wall or ceiling is to simply trowel on some drywall compound that has been mixed to a thicker consistency than what is used for a sprayed on texture (e.g. “knock-down”, “drag”, or “orange peel”). Different trowel techniques can result in a wide variety of different looks. Once the newly applied texture has dried, it must be primed and painted. While relatively simple and on the lower end of the price range for custom textures, this approach has its disadvantages. First, if the drywall compound is applied too thick, it will crack as it dries and shrinks. Second, the texture material itself is not very durable. This may make it unsuitable for use in high traffic areas such as hallways, kitchens, or bathrooms. Third (and closely related to the lack of durability), is that when damaged white drywall compound will be exposed. This combination of disadvantages makes custom texturing using drywall compound unsuitable for “heavy” textures, textures with prominent ridges (striated or heavily troweled, for instance), or for high-traffic areas.

At the other end of the spectrum is a true venetian plaster treatment. Interestingly enough, most of the products used to create “venetian plaster” today are neither from Venice, nor are they true plaster products (true plaster is a mixture of gypsum, lime, sand, and water). The term “venetian plaster” as it is modernly used refers to a number of products and techniques that result in an “old world” look of true plaster. Venetian plaster is applied in small sections at a time using a wide putty knife, so is very labor intensive. The plaster itself may be tinted to achieve a wide range of colors and is typically waxed with a color wax that may contain additional accent powders for multi-colored or metallic effects. The plaster itself is very durable and because it is colored, areas of slight damage may simply need to be re-waxed and buffed. As already mentioned, applying venetian plaster is fairly labor intensive, so this leads to their downside: they can be quite expensive.

An in-between (in terms of effort and expense) approach to achieving a wide range of textured looks involves combining specialty products and faux painting techniques. The specialty products themselves are typically applied by textured roller and may then be “ironed” with a knife or trowel or brushed to achieve the desired type of texture. These products simulate rock, stone, or plaster finishes. Once applied, they are coated with a clear sealer or “stained” with a combination of glazing mixture and paint. Many interesting effects may be created in a fraction of the time it takes to apply a venetian plaster.

As with any “artisan” type of specialty finish, finding the right professional to help you achieve your vision can eliminate a lot of lost time and frustration. Professional installers should either have a set of sample boards to show, or they should be willing to make one specifically for your project. This is recommended as a way to verify that the installer knows exactly the look you want and can produce it. A professionally done custom texture/finish can be a spectacular addition to your home and can be a source of pride and enjoyment for years to come.

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