One scroll through Pinterest or flip through an interiors magazine these days will prove to you that plaster of Paris surfaces are back in a big way. Once a finish reserved for opulent and traditional interiors, this way of giving any colored surface a distinctively dusty—and distinguished—look is now finding its way into spaces of modern and varying styles.
From blush pink kitchen walls to moody grey floors, the opportunities for using plaster of Paris in your home are endless. In light of this trend's resurgence, I thought it a good time to take a look back at where plasterwork first began, highlight it’s beneficial (and not so beneficial) qualities, and share a few ways we can apply it to our spaces today.
The idea of utilizing plaster for interiors is certainly not a new concept. Dating back thousands of years, the Egyptians used this material to construct the insides of their palaces and pyramids, since it's easy to shape both into smooth surfaces and decorative forms. Many of these ancient embellishments still exist today—due to plaster’s innately dense, sanitary, and fire retardant qualities, which make it ideal for construction reasons and not just decorative ones.
The material eventually made it’s way to Greece (where we get the word “plaster” to begin with) and Italy, where it served a variety of purposes from masonry walls and ceilings to various imitation marble surfaces known as scagliola.
Produced by heating the mineral gypsum to 300º F, plaster of Paris is sold as a dry powder that, once mixed with water, forms a workable paste just before it gets applied to a surface. (A large deposit of gypsum in the Montmartre area of Paris, mined for this purpose by early artisans, gave it its name.)
The reaction of the plaster with water liberates heat, allowing the hydrated plaster to harden (starting about 10 minutes after its exposed to air and fully setting after about 72 hours). The look of the finish reads as worn and storied despite its relatively quick application, which is very likely be the appeal of it today. With clean, white interiors previously dominating the interior design limelight, plaster of Paris surfaces introduce the perfect patina to take a space from austere to inviting.
The downside? Aesthetically, there aren't many. But inch by inch, the application of plaster of Paris can be more costly than what's required for cement or cement lime plaster, and it cannot be used in moist situations—read: yes for the powder room, no for the master bathroom.
Given its subtle qualities, it’s also advisable to employ a skilled installer for a precise application of plaster of Paris—again, a bit more costly, but a relief to know the end result will be desirable.
Outside of how great it looks, the upsides continue: Given its heat-resistant nature, plater of Paris is a very good natural insulator. It also won't shrink or crack over time, can be molded into any shape depending on the style you're going for in your home, and takes well to added colors (which you can mix right in while it's still wet).
If you're still not convinced, hopefully these images of some of my favorite uses of plaster of Paris in modern spaces can speak for themselves. (I have my heart set on a pink kitchen in the very near future, if you can't tell.)
Plaster of Paris—gorgeous for walls or better reserved for arm casts? Let us know in the comments.