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Remodeling 101: Limewash Paint

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Oct 03, 2014 01:08 AM
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by Janet Hall last modified Oct 02, 2014

When it comes to paint, do the Belgians know best? Mineral-based, natural limewash is a Belgian basic with a chalky, nuanced texture that only gets better with age. Environmentally friendly and used for centuries, limewash is one of the original house paints. Should it be on your short list?  Above: A limewashed wall in a room by Axel Vervoordt . See more of the Belgian design impresario's work in our post about the Penthouse Suite at New York's Greenwich Hotel that he designed for Robert De Niro. What is limewash? An ancient house staple dating back to Roman times, limewash is made from limestone that's been crushed, burned, and mixed with water to make a lime putty. The putty is aged and then thinned with water and colored with natural pigments. Limewash creates surfaces that are mottled and matte with a chalky texture something like suede. It lends a depth and luminosity to flat walls.  Above: Limewash creates a textured, shadowy effect. Photograph via Kalklitir . Is limewash environmentally friendly? Free of solvents that have pushed paints to the top of the household environmental hazards list, traditional limewash is made from natural lime and natural pigments. Even some modern varieties that contain additional binding agents use mineral additives that keep the environmentally-friendly attributes intact.  Lime's high pH level means microorganisms can't survive, which adds a hypoallergenic quality. Proponents also argue that limewash has a chemical makeup that removes odors (and harmful CO2), improving interior air quality.  Above: Light-colored limewash walls at the  Moka & Vanille Bed & Breakfast  in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. Where can I use limewash? Limewash can be used indoors and out. Unlike most house paints that sit atop surfaces, limewash sinks in, so it's best applied to porous surfaces, such as plaster, stone, and brick. That said, limewash (especially premade, modern varieties that may already have mineral-binding additives) can be applied to drywall as long as an appropriate primer is used. The key is to go with a mineral-based primer—such as an acrylic primer (used often under latex paints)—that creates a surface the limewash can bond to. Above: A traditional exterior protective coating, limewash is breathable, allowing evaporation of moisture. Photograph via Leeton Pointon Architecture . What colors does limewash come in? In its base form, limewash is off-white. Color is achieved by adding natural, alkali-resistant pigments, which are available in shades dictated by what the earth has to offer. Browns, grays, and taupes are the norm.   Above: Kalklitir Lime Wash  with natural pigments, before water is added. Photograph via Komedal Road . Keep in mind that limewash becomes much lighter as it dries. It's up to 10 times darker when it's wet; so it's important to test colors. The opacity depends on the number of coats that are applied; typically up to three coats are recommended. This is a paint that requires an openness to chance. Colors vary depending on the pigments used, the composition and porosity of the surface being painted, and the application of the paint. Above: A sampling of premixed colors available from Kalklitir Lime Wash.  ( Kalklitir Sample Cards are available to order from Komedal Road.)  Where can I get limewash? Though much more common in Europe than the US, limewash (with and without colorants added) is available from several manufacturers. Sydney Harbour Paint Company, the North American arm of Australia's Porter Paints, offers Exterior Lime Wash , as well as an interior lime-based, natural paint line called Interno Lime Wash in a wide range of shades. BioPittura is a classic lime paint that can be used indoors and out. New to the US,  Kalklitir Natural Lime Wash  from Sweden is offered in a small but gorgeous collection of colors from Komedal Road  of Bainbridge Island, Washington. Roma  BioCalce Limewash  and Olivetti Organic Finishes Lime Paints  come without color additives. They are specifically designed to be tinted with Natural Oxide Earth Pigments .  Above: White made soft with limewash in a Belgian dining room. Photograph via  Corical Lime Paint . Can I make my own limewash?  Mixing your own limewash is the budget-friendly way to go. It's a simple process that involves making a lime putty from hydrated lime (available at hardware stores) mixed with water, and then gradually diluting the concoction with water until it has the consistency of thick cream. Natural pigments are added for color. See DIY Network's How to Make Limewash Paint for a thorough tutorial.  Above: Creating limewash putty. Photograph via  DIY Network . Above: Adding pigment to limewash. Photograph via  DIY Network . How is limewash applied? Limewash should be applied in several thin coats using a long-haired or masonry paintbrush that creates feathered strokes. Never use a roller.  Kalklitir  of Sweden's "How to Apply Lime Color to a Wall" Video  details the application process and shows how the paint soaks in and dries. Above L: A  Raffia Limewash Brush  (which could perhaps do double-duty as a cleaning brush); £15 (USD $24) at Saudade, in London. Above R: The Liquitex Freestyle Giant Block Brush  is $36.50 at McCollum Interiors. How do I clean my limewashed walls? Cleaning limewashed walls is not recommended, nor is it often required: Limewash's mottled, shadowy effect shows much less dirt than standard painted surfaces do. But should walls need a touch up, simply apply a diluted re-coat of limewash.  Above: Limewashed walls work well in a room of grays, silvers, and blues. Photograph via Komedal Road . Limewash Recap Pros: Breathable (no condensation in damp conditions). Natural, solvent-free, and hypoallergenic. Absorbs odors. Naturally bacteria-resistant. Cons:  Limited color palette. Mottled appearance hard to control and not to everyone's liking.  May require several coats to get the desired effect. Not easily cleaned; may require a re-coat. Our resident paint expert, Meredith, presents  All You Need to Know about VOCs in Paint . Considering wallpaper instead? Alexa found a Handmade Wallpaper Inspired by Nature .  See all our  Palette & Paints Features .  More Stories from Remodelista DIY: The $15 Hardware Store Clamp Light Transformed Remodeling 101: Where to Locate Electrical Outlets, Kitchen Edition 5 Favorites: British Boutique Paint Companies






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