If you aren’t a fan of rough grout lines in your bathroom, the tadelakt plaster technique could be the answer for your shower walls and backsplashes.
“Tadelakt is almost always very smooth,” notes Ryan Chivers, founder of Limestrong, a Utah-based plaster manufacturer. Not shiny and reflective, tadelakt has a silky finish. Its appeal stems from its organic, earthy feel and old-world warmth. “Authentic tadelakt has a handmade allure and elegance,” he adds.
In addition to its visual appeal, the Moroccan plaster process is eco-friendly and touts both resilient and hydrophobic properties.
The plaster’s seamless surface makes tadelakt easy to clean and maintain, particularly in showers. Despite its reputation as a high-end (and high-budget!) technique, tadelakt has begun to garner attention from homeowners of all budgets seeking a modern yet timeless aesthetic.
To learn about the Moroccan plaster technique and how it’s trending in U.S. interior design, we interviewed Mistretta and Chivers, two of the top U.S.-based tadelakt artisans.
Mistretta credits Chivers for adapting the tadelakt method to the United States. Chivers had traveled to Marrakesh and started experimenting with an American version of the lime. “He had three or four years of a head start on me with the formula,” recalls Mistretta, who has been practicing the tadelakt craft for over 15 years himself.
Tadelakt’s rise to fame
Tadelakt is a plaster technique that dates back thousands of years, originating in northern Morocco. The name derives from the Arabic word dlek, which means “to rub in,” a nod to the smooth river stones used to rub and polish the plaster.
Mistretta stresses that tadelakt isn’t a product, but a technique, a multi-coat plastering process that uses lime and aggregate materials such as sand. An alchemy of olive oil and cured lime gives the plaster its water-resistant attribute.
Tadelakt is a craft that was handed down over generations, from artisan to apprentice, through oral tradition rather than the written word. Both its unique history and distinct process differentiate tadelakt from other types of lime-based plaster.
Some purists believe that to be considered tadelakt, the plaster must originate from Marrakesh. But Mistretta has a different philosophy. He separates tadelakt as a plastering process and Moroccan tadelakt into two distinct categories. The latter must use lime from Marrakesh, a smooth river stone to compress the material, and soap made from black olives. In contrast, any craftsperson who follows the essential steps and process of tadelakt without these elements can label the end result as tadelakt — just not Moroccan tadelakt.
Chivers warns that some manufacturers call their plaster products tadelakt when the products are essentially just sealed cement plasters. “True tadelakt must be a pure lime-based finish that uses olive oil soap to seal and finish it,” he notes.
Recently, tadelakt has seen steady growth in interior design circles around the globe. The tadelakt hashtag has garnered more than 30,000 Instagram posts and continues to grow. Architectural Digest has featured the plaster technique as a minimalist designer’s dream and green building technique. The plaster technique that originated in Morocco has recently found its way into celebrity spaces as well, such as Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul’s Idaho retreat and celebrity chef Rachel Khoo’s London studio bathroom.
Tadelakt for your home
What makes tadelakt so appealing? It’s eco-friendly, long-lasting, and water-repellant. Designers love tadelakt’s versatility as you can incorporate this high-end look into virtually any architectural and design style.
Tadelakt may sound like a no-brainer, but is this plastering technique the right choice for your home? Here are the essentials you should know before calling your local tadelakt professional.
Tadelakt is considered a high-end design finish. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll probably want to reserve it for the areas of your home where tadelakt truly shines — like the shower. Tadelakt’s smooth-as-silk texture and seamless soft gloss transform a shower from an everyday routine to a luxurious ritual akin to bathing in a Moroccan hammam. The shower is also the space where Mistretta most frequently installs the plaster. After all, tadelakt’s water repellency makes the finish a logical choice for wet areas.
Besides the shower, you can use tadelakt in these areas of your home:
- Kitchen backsplash, similar to actor Aaron Paul’s Idaho cabin
- Living room walls, as featured in the Bulgari family’s Marrakesh retreat
- Fireplace surround, shown in actor Rainn Wilson’s collaboration with the Scott brothers of HGTV fame
Because of its durable nature, homeowners can get creative when designing with the plaster technique. “You can put [tadelakt] anywhere … I mean, I put it in a Sprinter van,” says Mistretta. “We did a backsplash out of it.” You just need a solid substrate, or underlying layer (such as cement board), he stipulates.
While Chivers notes that tadelakt traditionally suits a Mediterranean look, he says that the technique works well with a variety of styles. “It lends itself really to all types of architecture,” agrees Mistretta, who describes working on a tadelakt project for a traditional Craftsman home built in the early 1900s.
Artisans can shape a tadelakt surface to accommodate sharp lines and angles, making it an attractive choice for a modern minimalist style. “Crisp, square edges seem to really be in vogue right now,” notes Mistretta. The absence of grout lines also appeals to designers and homeowners, he says.
“That’s the number one thing I hear … [People] love just how organic it looks and how it is just completely seamless.”
Chivers says homeowners can expect to pay $30 to $50 per square foot for professional installation in wet areas. Where water repellency isn’t a factor, installation may be less — between $15 and $20.
Mistretta echoes Chivers’ estimate of around $50 per square foot for professional installation, which includes hanging and prepping boards before adding plaster coats.
If you’re on a tight budget or can’t find a tadelakt specialist in your area, Mistretta encourages you to try your hand at DIY tadelakt. “I get calls multiple times a week from folks that really want to,” he shares.
And DIY applications are more than doable for those on a tighter budget, costing approximately $5 per square foot, according to Mistretta. He recommends the Limestrong tadelakt system, developed by Chivers, to get started.
“Folks that are newcomers [to plaster installation], I honestly find, have the best luck with it,” he says. That’s because a novice is more likely to work with the material, allowing the shape to form organically instead of fighting with it. “The mud’s in charge.”
Mistretta even mentored one person through the tadelakt process over the phone. “By the time it was done, I mean it was immaculate. It was beautiful.”
But Chivers cautions homeowners against self-installing tadelakt in areas where water repellency is crucial. “The craft takes years of practice to perfect,” he notes.
Care and maintenance
With its durable nature, tadelakt requires little care beyond regular cleaning with soap and, in some cases, reapplying a wax finish every few years to refresh the surface.
The finish can last indefinitely, notes Chivers. He recommends cleaning tadelakt with a dilution of mild, non-acidic soap. Mistretta recommends cleaning tadelakt surfaces with olive oil soap. He prefers Moroccan olive oil soap derived from black olives but also uses Kiss My Face® soap. Mistretta grates the bar soap with a cheese grater, boils it, and dilutes the solution with water before polishing the surface.
Whatever soap you choose, avoid acidic cleansers at all costs. Lime is a basic pH, Mistretta explains. “If you put something acidic over the top, you’re going to have a big problem … It literally just etches right into the material.”
And if you’re intent on keeping your tadelakt shower in top shape, Mistretta suggests using a squeegee on the plaster after every use.
Tadelakt is primarily featured in high-end home design — for now
Today you’ll find tadelakt most frequently in high-end homes, but that could change as more designers and homeowners learn about this durable and eco-friendly method. Mistretta has seen growing demand for tadelakt in the U.S. “[In] the past few years, I’ve seen it really gain some momentum,” he comments.
So if you’re looking for a novel designer finish that makes you the envy of the neighborhood, tadelakt could be your ticket. It’s a feature that lands you in a relatively exclusive group, at least for now. “If you have a tadelakt shower in your home, you’re a minority in the world of interior design,” Mistretta notes.
Header image courtesy of New Age Artisans