Custom Finishes

When you consider using a luxury finish in your home or business, carefully research the pros and cons.  One of my favorite custom finishes is tadelakt, the hand-polished natural lime plaster from Morocco.  It is visually rich and has a feel unlike any other finish. It’s an original, emulated by modern faux finishes.  Tadelakt’s often used in bathrooms and other damp locations, due to its moisture resistance and its natural resistance to molds including mildew.

But like other custom finishes, tadelakt’s not perfect:

  • It’s more expensive than many other wall finishes, due mostly to the wages of the specialized and experienced artisans who apply it.  Even a large metropolitan area may have only a few artisans experienced with tadelakt.
  • It needs more attention than tile: bleach and other strong cleaners will destroy a tadelakt finish, so it must be washed carefully and treated occasionally with natural soaps and waxes.  Potentially staining spills or splashes must be cleaned immediately.
  • Tadelakt isn’t as waterproof as porcelain tile and epoxy grout, so when it’s used in a shower, the applicator must be extra vigilant to protect the wood framing of most houses from the mold and structural movement caused by moisture.  (In Morocco, tadelakt is usually applied over masonry or concrete, which are much more tolerant of moisture.)
  • Tadelakt damages more easily than porcelain tile, and although it can be repaired fairly easily, the repairs require those expensive artisans.  So tadelakt includes a potential continuing expense.
  • It isn’t meant to be painted – color is incorporated into the plaster.  So you and your designer need to choose a tadelakt color carefully, commit to it, and be prepared to work it, including with its natural variations.

Like most other custom finishes, tadelakt also performs differently from modern, manufactured finishes:

  • The finish will show the hand of the artisan who applied it.  It won’t have the perfectly flat surface and even finish of drywall or machine-cut stone.
  • Colors may be uneven or mottled, even in a small area, and especially where the finish has been repaired.  The finish may include hairline cracks.  To the aficionado, this is a rich patina, an old world visual feast.  To others, it just looks old and worn out.

In my case, the pros easily outweigh the cons.  I love the look and feel of tadelakt.  I offer tadelakt as a finish for customers of my construction business in the San Francisco Bay area, so the skilled labor to apply and repair the finish is readily available to me.  I can do it myself, too.

These types of pros and cons – appearance, expense, maintenance, performance – apply to most other custom finishes: leather paneling and floors; exotic wood finishes; carved stone, etc.  So when you consider a luxury finish, carefully research the additional factors.  If the original finish doesn’t quite make sense,  then consider one of the faux finishes, which often come quite close.

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