Move Over, Murals! These New Takes on Old Paint Techniques Will Totally Transform Your Living Room and Beyond

updated Mar 6, 2021
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Limewash paint over a fireplace in a living room by JH Wall Paints

Isn’t it always that we want what we don’t have? I grew up hating my incredibly curly hair, despite the jealousy of friends who were perming and crimping their coifs to achieve the same look. All I ever wanted was pin-straight locks, which I presumed also came with notes in my locker from secret admirers, a starting spot on the soccer team (my effortless ponytail swinging behind me as I scored a goal, natch), and perhaps even a date to the eighth grade formal. I’d heat-style my hair into submission most days, but I’m thankful to say that, decades later, I’ve left (nearly) every product and hot tool behind in a radical act to — get this — appreciate what I was born with. 

Just because I’ve come to terms with my curls and aged out of my angsty, pre-teen phase doesn’t mean I’m not immune to the “grass is always greener” effect elsewhere in my life though, especially when it comes to my home. Take plaster walls, for example. They’re a mainstay in our new-to-us 1820s colonial home, and, in the four short months my husband and I have lived here, they’ve sort of become the bane of my existence. You can’t hang anything without cracking them or creating mountains of dust. There’s not a spot on them that is smooth, and hairline cracks are a dime a dozen. I’m still working on coming to terms with appreciating their uniqueness while working around their difficulties.

Yet, in 2021, textured walls — at least the appearance of them — are everywhere. From limewash techniques to mineralized plaster applications, specialized paint companies are helping homeowners with boring old drywall (sigh, I wish!) achieve the coveted movement and texture I’ve been struggling with all along. The result? Rooms are getting totally transformed with just a little bit of textured paint, and even accent walls are beginning to whisper in tone-on-tone palettes alongside the bolder Instagram-friendly painted murals and arches that reigned supreme last year.

Maybe it’s just yet another case of what’s old is new again in the design world. “Techniques like limewashing have been used for centuries — it’s actually one of the oldest paints known to man,” says Burju Garnier, who owns the San Francisco-based paint company Color Atelier alongside her husband, Olivier, a former paint chemist. “Essentially, it’s a natural mineral-based paint that is breathable, durable, healthy, and environmentally-friendly. It can help you achieve that coveted textured appearance with natural color variations, and although considered an ‘ancient’ paint, it’s making a welcome comeback to the design scene as more and more people appreciate its aesthetic and natural qualities.”

“Limewash creates a gorgeous mineral matte finish with soft tonal variations and velvety dimension,” adds Michele Harnish, who owns JH Wall Paints alongside her husband, Jeremy (Sidenote: Can we hear it for design power couples owning paint companies together?). “It’s similar in aesthetic to plaster but much easier to apply. The end result is so stylish, adding a soft patina and luminescence to every space. Since limewash refracts light, it has a distinct glow and unique beauty that cannot be duplicated by traditional paint.”

One of the best things about these new-old paint techniques is their versatility. For starters, a myriad of companies to shop (like Color Atelier, JH Wall Paints, Portola Paints & Glazes, and Limestrong Artisan among them) means there’s a technique, color, and finish out there for truly any style or vibe. Add to that the virtually goof-proof application methods, and you’ve got all the makings of a weekend DIY project that can totally transform a living room, bedroom, bathroom, or even kitchen. Applied using a brush, you simply go to town making strokes of your choice, though many companies recommend an “X-like” application pattern. There is no right way to create the texture you’re looking for, so you can play around to achieve as little or as much movement as you’d like for a given space. 

Plaster, which is seen in the subtly colorful bathroom designed by Journey + Jacobs above, can be a little trickier. So if you feel like you need a helping hand, you can always hire a pro for this kind of application (the work of Lance Limanti, of Classic Finishes, is pictured here) or even get some guidance in limewashing, if need be. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube, and you can get info from the websites of the individual paint companies listed above.

So what type of homes is this technique right for? Well, in short, any kind. “Limewash has traditionally been known to produce an old-world look, but it can truly be done in any style of home,” says Harnish. “For modern homes, white, gray, and black limewashes are popular, and applying the limewash in a vertical pattern instead of the traditional method of crisscrosses [or x-shapes] creates a great modern finish.” Basically, whether you’re looking to accentuate the well-worn feel of your centuries-old farmhouse or bring some dimension and life to your brand new modern loft, textured paint may be just the thing you need. If you look at the image at the top of this story, textured paint can certainly hang in a colorful boho or mid-century modern infused space as well, at least, if that pink hearth wall by JH Walls is any indicator. You can even limewash brick. Perhaps that’s what’s so great about this trend: You can use it for small accent walls or entire rooms and try it with very light neutral colors, bolder brights, and even dark, sophisticated hues.

Spoiler alert: After writing this article, I have since ordered paint samples from several vendors to try out in our primary bedroom. It’s a newer addition to the home and the only room with drywall, and for some reason, I’m just craving the movement and warmth of textured walls. Who would have thought, huh?