Moroccan design isn’t exactly synonymous with the word minimalism. After all, this is the land of snake charmers, vibrant splashes of color, and elaborate geometric designs adorning nearly every surface. That’s why I was surprised to learn that the gorgeous minimalist bathrooms I’d seen popping up all over the internet are actually implementing an ancient plastering technique from this North African country.
It took a bit of sleuthing to find out exactly what was producing this sculptural, seamless aesthetic. Was it stucco? A form of plaster? Sort of.
After a few googling sessions, I landed on the accurate term for what I was seeing: tadelakt. (I also read that this word is pronounced similar to a toddler trying to say “Cadillac,” so that’s about the only pronunciation advice I can give.)
It was originally the Berber tribe who, centuries ago, discovered that this limestone-based concoction is actually water-proof. Naturally, they used the material for water cisterns, but tadelakt is best known for its subsequent applications in the famous hammams, or steam baths, of Morocco and the Middle East.
Perhaps this is why, even today, its most fitting implementation seems to be in the bathroom—the lustrous material is almost water-like itself. It is cool to the touch, giving a cave-like ambiance. A water-resistant nature, combined with its ability to mold into any conceivable shape, are what makes this technique a modern-day designer’s dream.
An ancient technique, tadelakt begins by applying lime plaster to a substrate, which is then molded into the desired shape. The material will always have a natural ‘hand’ look to it, so perfection is not the goal. Next, a hard stone is used to press down the plaster, while buffing the material, providing it with a trademark lustrous finish. (Tadelakt is roughly translated to mean “to knead” or “rub in.”)
Lastly, an olive oil soap is applied, which is what chemically reacts with the limestone, creating a water-proof seal. All things considered, the finish is relatively low-maintenance: Re-applying olive soap every couple of years is required to maintain its look and durability. This isn’t much more daunting, however, than having to re-seal natural stone in a bathroom.
It’s easy to see why tadelakt has had such a recent surge in popularity. It caters to many home-owners’ desire for a minimalist interior that is still inviting and tactile. The artisanal touch makes being in a bathroom like this a special, luxurious experience. Along with these more obvious benefits, the technique is also eco-friendly.
Even though today it is mostly seen in its natural off-white color or in a shade of gray, any hue can be achieved through mixing pigment with the plaster solution, which gives more color options than current low-VOC paints.
There aren’t as many barriers to entry for using this technique as you might imagine. Tadelakt is an oral tradition passed down for thousands of years, with no formal methodology. Its imperfections are part of its appeal. Still, if you are so bold as to try it at home, taking a few classes is highly recommended, especially if you’re unfamiliar with plastering as a whole.
And while the process is labor-intensive, considering that the end result could last centuries, you can expect a good return on the investment.
Would you use tadelakt for a bathroom design? Tell us in the comments!