Long before the turn of the century and as early as the ancient Egyptians, the use of plaster in ornate designs was a common decorating solution to plain walls and ceilings.
At the turn of the century, in the United States and abroad, Cast Plaster Ornamentation and Raised Plaster Stenciling were used to add architectural beauty to stately homes and government buildings. You can still see it in homes such as the “Biltmore” mansions, fine hotels and various downtown structures all across America and in Europe and France.
The Vatican is well known for its grand use of cast plaster ornamentation, with elements dating back to its construction still gracing walls, pillars and ceilings.
Cast Plaster Ornamentals faded from their once “stylish” popularity around the 1920’s and 30’s except in more high end homes and mansions. It is my feeling that this was partly due to the economical downturn of the war years and home builders switching to more cost effective building styles. Since then, this form of decorating has rarely been seen in the common decorating market. That is, until now.
As I watch manufacturers and high end home builders of today re-incorporate the look of carved moldings, ornate ceilings and ornamentation on cabinetry, furniture and even tile, it’s obvious that there is a resurgence of interest in high profile ornamentals in the home decor industry.
With Raised Plaster stenciling now being featured in magazines articles, home decorating shows on television and at numerous home decorating fairs across the nation, cast plaster is quickly following suit.
Due to this re-invention of 3-D decorating; even wallpaper manufacturers have begun to bring back the old “Embossed” wallpaper to get in on the decorating band wagon.
What is “Cast Plaster”? That’s simple:
Cast plaster is simply pouring common Plaster of Paris mixed with water in to a mold that has been sprayed or brushed with any release agent (such as cooking oil, mineral oil or mold release) and allowed to harden.
Once the piece is hard, you simply turn the mold over, pop out the plaster piece and it has taken on the shape and design of the mold exactly.
The application to walls and ceilings is simple.
Firstly, before plaster pieces can be applied to walls or ceilings, they must be bone dry. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on the density of the design.
The application is easy!
Standard “joint compound” is available in every home and hardware store across the nation. Simply spread a thin layer of joint compound (about 1/4″ thick) over the back of the cast plaster piece, hold it to the ceiling or wall for 30 seconds to 1 minute (depending on how large the piece is) and it becomes permanent. This is the precise way the Victorian’s applied their wonderful ceiling and wall designs, except that they applied actual plaster to the piece as its adhesive.
Heavier pieces are applied the same way but with small pilot holes drilled and finishing nails gently tapped in to place to hold the piece firm as the joint compound dries.
Masters of plaster design create dramatic effects using cast plaster designs on ceilings and walls of the very wealthy. You can see examples of this beautiful treatment all over the internet. Simply search “Victorian Plaster Ceiling”.
Many of these ceiling and wall designs cost literally thousands of dollars when created by a pro; but you don’t need to hire a master to create this beauty in your home and it doesn’t have to cost you an arm, a leg and your first born!
Plaster of Paris is very inexpensive. From just one 25 lb. bag (about the cost of a simple lunch at “McDonald’s”), you can yield as many as 50 small pieces which is more than enough to create a 5 foot medallion around your light fixture or a stunning repeated border of molded plaster.
To find plaster molds, simply search the term on the internet and appropriate sites will come up. Any mold can be used to create designs. Molds made for candy, candles, soaps or more detailed architectural molds can be combined in various ways to achieve a myriad of possibilities.
This past fall, I created a 5 x 3 foot, very ornate, cast plaster frame around my dining room chandelier. It took me a few hours to cast the plaster pieces and only 1 hour to put the design in to place. The look is expensive, professional and adds value to my home.
You too can achieve these looks with little effort, little expense and no experience what so ever.