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What's the difference between Venetian plaster and faux finish?

Updated: Mar 29

Living room with Venetian plaster

Image: Carmen Ture

Venetian plaster has been making a resurgence and cropping up all over in the interior design world on sources such as Instagram, Pinterest and design magazines, so we thought it would be helpful to share some of the differences between a faux finish and true Venetian plaster.

Not familiar with these decorative wall paint techniques, well we’re going to give you the rundown! First let's talk about faux finish. The term faux is the French word for false. Faux finish is used to describe decorative paint finishes that replicate the appearance of materials such as marble, wood or stone. What's the difference between faux finish and Venetian plaster? Faux finish products are typically just a thick acrylic paint, designed to be applied using simple techniques which require no special training. Some techniques utilize sponges, rags or just dry brushing. These faux finishes attempt to create the appearance of marble and stone but fall short of the rich look and feel of true venetian plaster. I happen to know a very talented Venetian plaster artist who was trained in Italy, and she told me that when she came to the United States, she had no idea what faux finish was.

Don’t get us wrong some of the faux finishes can be lovely but we’re here to make sure you understand the differences so that if you are looking for a true Venetian plaster you don’t wind up with a lesser dupe!

Much like faux finish Venetian plaster is a wall and ceiling decorative paint however the composition and application technique is where it differs. Venetian plaster is made by mixing plaster and pigments with either crushed limestone or marble dust. The making of, and application of, Venetian plaster has been passed down from generation to generation. The traditional process is to apply layer after layer of the plaster, allowing it to dry between each application. The layered application process using specialized trowels, combined with the crushed limestone and polishing, creates an iridescent finish giving it the appearance of movement and depth.

Neutral venetian plaster

Image: Carmen Ture

True Venetian plaster can be used both indoors and outside due to the layering process which makes it highly durable. As early as the 4th century there is documentation that a Roman architect, Vitruvius, used a decorative compact lime finish. In the 15th century a lightweight solution was needed for Venetian noble buildings as the city was built on water and homes were constructed on stilts and Venetian plaster was the solution.

Marmorino is similar to venetian plaster and utilizes crushed limestone except it includes ground marble. Marmorino can be finished via multiple techniques with lusters ranging from matte, satin and high gloss.

Modern kitchen with Venetian plaster

Image: Carmen Ture

Venetian plaster can add so much character and interest to walls that minimal artwork is needed as they are already beautifully decorated. Depending on the pigments and luster you choose it can easily go from modern to transitional or traditional. Whatever your choice Venetian plaster will add charm, sophistication and elegance to your space.

Dining room Venetian plaster

Image: Carmen Ture

If including Venetian plaster or marmorino in your interior design, be sure to thoroughly vet your artist and ensure you are getting the real deal if the goal is to achieve the multi-dimensional beauty of a true venetian plaster

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