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.