Do you love the look of the aged-plaster walls found in European country manors and old-world cottages? You can re-create that look with nothing more than paint — no messy plaster required. The secret to the textural appearance is to apply the paint with a plastic trowel, the tool used to smooth joint compound onto drywall, decorative painter Molly Spain says.
“By troweling on thin layers of paint, you create the same combination of jagged and smooth edges you see in old plaster, creating the illusion of texture even though the painted finish is actually quite smooth," Spain says.
The technique requires a minimum of three colors of interior latex paint, but you can use as many as you like. For the example below, Spain used five colors: dark brown, rust, smoky orange, yellow, and cream. “I started out with the dark brown on the bottom and roughed it in,” Spain says. “Then I went back to the top and troweled on the cream and worked my way down,” adding a bit more of the darker colors with each pass of the trowel.
To switch from color to color, Spain says, you don’t need to wipe excess paint off the trowel. “The little bit of color remaining on the trowel ends up on the wall, and that is what creates the illusion of depth,” she explains. “The randomness of the application ensures that no two surfaces you do this treatment on will ever be alike.”
The amount of dark versus light paint you use determines how much contrast you get. A deep terra-cotta sample was created with the same paint colors as a pale creamy sample: terra-cotta, mustard, and cream. “I simply used more cream paint on the lighter sample, and more terra-cotta on the other,” Spain says. “The beauty of this treatment is that you can keep working colors in until you achieve the look you desire. It’s really that simple.”
As a finishing touch for this technique, Spain often applies a final, lightly tinted antiquing glaze over the entire wall. The glaze adds depth to the layers of paint and unites the colors for a stunning visual effect.
“The translucent quality of the thin paint layers draws your attention—the more you look at it, the more you see,” she says. “It’s as if you’ve created a century’s worth of paint and plaster layers in minutes.”