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Tadelakt: the Minimalist, Moroccan Technique That's Sweeping Bathroom Design

August  1, 2016

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.

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Top Comment:
“This is not meant as a personal critique of your piece but perhaps the reason why you were "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." is because most people in the US still hold very stereotypical and biased views of not just the people but also the design and architecture of much of the developing world. I am from India and it really annoys me when people say that India is the land of bright colors, loud designs, elephants, snake charmers, etc etc, when there is a mind-boggling variety of aesthetic sensibilities in these really large swaths of the world! ”
— anu
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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.

In this bathroom, the tadelakt is a dreamy sky blue.

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!

10 Comments

tamater S. February 10, 2018
Where I live, there would be no class within several hours. What I might be able to find though, is a tutorial on YouTube. That's what I'll search for, then. Thanks for planting the inspiration.
 
pepina July 27, 2017
We absolutely fell in love with Tadelakt in Morocco. Definitely want to have this in my bathroom one day!
 
Bobbi H. January 7, 2017
I love this. I am searching for artisans and/or classes.
 
Lisa S. August 31, 2016
Wow. Incredibly beautiful. Let's hope it catches on more widely and more craftspeople learn how to do it.
 
Mary August 21, 2016
Would love to find people in Florida who know how to do this
 
Rebecca S. August 3, 2016
Man.. ::heart eyes::
 
PistachioDoughnut August 2, 2016
Loved it! Recently, I went to Tanzania and Zanzibar and one of our hotels had bathroom of similar design and bathtub in open terrace in Stone Town, Zanzibar. I can't add a picture here.
 
anu August 2, 2016
Ah, I wish people would stop using terms like "the land of snake charmers" to describe "Oriental" cultures and stop calling non-American/ European food "ethnic food". This is not meant as a personal critique of your piece but perhaps the reason why you were "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." is because most people in the US still hold very stereotypical and biased views of not just the people but also the design and architecture of much of the developing world. I am from India and it really annoys me when people say that India is the land of bright colors, loud designs, elephants, snake charmers, etc etc, when there is a mind-boggling variety of aesthetic sensibilities in these really large swaths of the world!
 
Madeline January 5, 2017
This is months later, but I am coming to the piece late and wanted to let you know that I really appreciated seeing the comment. The persistence of Orientalist tropes is deeply frustrating. Plus: kind of tired.
 
Azora Z. August 1, 2016
Obsessed with this!