Not All Venetian Plaster Is Created Equal by Aalta Design Group, Inc.

by Aldo Gattamorta


           After several years in the specialty wall finishes field I’ve seen my share of products & manufactures in this niche market. Though the recipes for a slaked lime polished plaster haven’t changed much over the last few decades, there have been dozens of importers & manufactures that have come and gone. The scene has changed quite a bit since the “Venetian Plaster Boom” of the late 90’s. The market now in 2014 has a wide range of companies to choose from, each with their own interpretation on the principal recipe. Some as with most products nowadays, have cut corners to reduce cost in order to curb inflating prices, drastically affecting the quality of the product over time. Others have found more modern fixes, keeping with demand while still delivering a sustainable product true to the original traditions. So how do you sift through them all to know who offers a top quality product? How do you even know if the product you’ve used for years is even up to par anymore? There are three keys to follow in searching for the best authentic Venetian Plaster out there.


PERFORMANCE - The Applicators Standard

                  As an experienced applicator who knows what the golden age of fine grain grasello/marmorino had to offer, I have a pretty good understanding on what the product must deliver. A smooth paste consistency easily tintable to any shade using universal, mineral or low/no VOC colorants. A smell true to its origin of limestone & marble unlike similar acrylic based imitations. A stable & reliable product that thrives under the classic three coat application; smooth & matt on its first initial coats while polishing with deep depth on its final. Finally and often overlooked, versatility. Versatility in the product when it comes to custom finishes like textured strias, wet on wet application & unconventional installs are key. Can the product adapt & remain sustainable under the given application, or does it collapse in the process? These are just some of the performance factors you must consider when testing the market for your stalwart marmorino as an applicator.  


POLISHABILITY – The Lime/Marble Ratio

            The traditional recipe calls for around 40% marble content with slaked lime as the central base. Many manufactures vary after this, using some acrylic polymers or sticking completely VOC free with natural components as binders. In the last few years though, getting the factories to shoot straight with what’s actually inside their products has gotten pretty difficult. Some manufacturers in the States & oversees have completely abandoned their founding principles for their products, banking on their history as a reputable source to supersede their decline in product quality. Too much lime content & inconsistent batches should not be overlooked when it comes to the supplier you use. If you notice too much chalkiness when it comes to your hands, tools or trowel; the lime ratio is probably too high also leading to quick drying times & tougher lap lines. Polishing should come fairly effortless with the right experience, revealing depth and slickness rather than an overload of cloudiness and impurities. The lime to marble ratio & how easy or difficult it is to polish are fundamental to a top quality Venetian Plaster. Now as you can see, polishabilty & performance are the meat & potatoes of a marmorino product, but our third key still remains the most important.


PROFITABILITY – The Almighty Dollar

            That’s right the almighty dollar, the main reason were in this field to begin with. We can tell ourselves it’s for artistic expression or for love of getting your hands dirty, but at the end of the day it’s about the bottom line. You may do some work at a local community or church sure, but no one is out here day to day giving back to the design & building industry, we’ve got bills to pay! Profitability is the primary goal of all business ventures & without it long-term you will not survive. Were all familiar with the $1.00 per sq. ft. rule of thumb, but what about having to re-due work due to product or color issues? Not to mention additional labor cost. Where does that leave the $1.00? Contractor discounts are appreciated but they can’t replace customer service & attention to detail. Competition is fierce these days so do your research because a .50 cent cut in cost to you means big bucks when it’s 5000 sq. ft. of work. You’d be surprised at what’s out there or even possible nowadays. The talking points of being authentic & made in Italy just don’t cut it anymore. The experienced end user demands more & with options growing more than ever before it’s a disservice to yourself not to go out and test the market. Not all Venetian Plaster is created equal, so even if it’s authentic it may still fall short of being top dog. Follow these three keys though & you’ll be well on your way to finding the marmorino product right for you.

The Inner Workings of Venetian Plaster by Aalta Design Group, Inc.

Venetian Plaster

When people think about Venetian Plaster it is typically associated with the classic smooth and super high gloss finish plaster. Some maybe even think it’s a product that is sold in a gallon paint can at your local hardware or home improvement store. Then, you have those that have not even heard of it. Although Venetian Plaster has been around since ancient times, it is true that not everyone knows it exists. So how do you sell something not everyone knows or understands? Hello. My name is Ashley. I have spent half my life surrounded by this trade. I worked for one of the first importers in the United States of these types of products for nearly 14 years and over that time I heard numerous consumers’ questions regarding Venetian Plaster. One of my favorite topics was the actual process of making Authentic Venetian Plaster.


The process begins with taking a big piece of lime. You have two options now. The first is to take this big slab of lime and bake it in an oven with high temperatures. Once the baking process is complete the manufacturer will take it and pour water on it causing the slab of lime to melt down becoming slaked lime. They put the slaked lime in a vat. The second option they can go when the manufacturer gets the slab of lime is to crush it into pieces, tiny, tiny, pieces. They take the pieces and sift them through a machine that contains metal nets. These metal nets have different size holes measured in microns. A micron is a unit of length equal to one millionth of a meter, used in many technological and scientific fields. The smallest holes in the nets that they use are equal to 100 micron. They change by hundreds, upwards to 800 microns. The smaller the micron, the smaller the crushed lime aggregate that can fit through the net.


Picture this….if you have ever baked something that requires you to sift flour, it’s the same concept. So when they pour the crushed lime down the machine the smallest aggregates fall through all the nets and gets captured into a big barrel below which is put off to the side to be used later, labeled 100 microns. Next, they use the 200 micron net to sift anything that will fit through from the remaining crushed aggregate. This is captured in a 200 micron barrel at the bottom and set aside for later use. They keep doing this process until all the different size microns of the lime have been gathered separately and put aside for future use. So now you have the melted down slaked lime and you have different lime aggregates measuring in different size microns. Now the scientists make concoctions.


It makes sense if you want a final product to be smooth like the classic high gloss, it will contain the smallest aggregate which would be 100 microns. Let’s say you want a rustic plaster you can do a skip trowel affect with, you would probably want to use the 600 or 700 micron aggregate plaster or maybe even both 600 and 700 microns to have a less consistent look. One of the most popular matte plasters that I have sold was a smooth consistent looking matte plaster containing 400 microns. There is really no limit on concoctions the scientist can make using the slaked lime and mixing it with different microns of lime based aggregates. Before giving the final product to the client the slaked lime must sit and mature for a period of around six months. This makes for a more premium final product.


So now that you know how Venetian Plaster is made in Europe, you can have a better understanding why this is a more premium product than what is sold at your local hardware or home improvement store. In fact, that’s a whole different topic we will cover another time. Instead, let’s go back to the question we asked “So how do you sell something not everyone knows or understands?” The answer is…the best way to sell anything is to know what you’re selling. Product knowledge is the key. The more confident and knowledgeable you are about your field, the easier it will be for you to enlighten your clients and close deals on projects.


Thank you for reading our blog piece and we invite all alike to keep coming back for more educational pieces. We love what we do. We’re good at what we do. We don’t mind helping out others at the same time too. Thanks again and see you next time.


For more information or if you need any collaboration on any projects call us at 305-456-3259.