The Art of Plaster

The biggest project in our restoration is repairing the plaster walls.

If you don’t know, plaster is pretty much cement, sometimes held together with horse hair, and laid in layers on top of wood lathes (horizontal strips between the studs). It’s a meticulous and time-consuming process. The end result is a smooth, beautiful, and extremely strong wall.

Repairing plaster is so tedious and expensive, most renovators decide to demolish all the plaster and start new with sheetrock. We were against this decision for three reasons:

  1. Removing the plaster is not a restoration…it’s not preserving the original material of the house.
  2. Plaster is a great solution for making walls even. If we removed the plaster in every room, we’d have a huge challenge making sheetrock straight on old, uneven studs. Remember, this house was built in 1910.
  3. Like I said before, plaster is cement. It’s heavy and dusty, and hundreds and hundreds of pounds would end up in the landfill. What a waste for this house and the environment.

When we purchased the house, several rooms had cracks in the plaster in varying degrees. The approach to repair the plaster is determined by the size of the crack. A structural crack would require tying areas together for a new solid wall. Superficial cracks involve a significantly less amount of material and time.

Following are a few examples of the wall damage.

Hallway that suffered the most damage from water-pipe break.
Front room with a structural crack above the fireplace.
Family room on other side of the hallway.

Some walls were entirely compromised. The hallway downstairs suffered from tremendous water damage due to a pipe break in the bathroom above. The plaster crumbled, so we removed those two walls and replaced them with sheetrock.

Walls in the hallway after the repair.

The biggest pain-in-the-ass for Jennifer and me was removing wallpaper from many of the plaster walls. This had to be done to ensure quality in the plaster repairs. Because plaster layers have moisture, we couldn’t take a chance that the moisture from the plaster would seep under the wallpaper and compromise the integrity of the wall.

Following are some photos of the plaster process.

Plaster professional Fred Baldwin Sr. “tying” two walls together.
Putting on the first coat after the walls are tied together.
Fred Sr. and Fred Jr. perch on wood connecting their two benches.
Early plaster layer connects two old plaster walls. An exterior door used to be here.

This week is our last week of plaster repair. Many things await finished wall repair. Trim carpentry, floor finishing, painting. Because our plaster professionals take over every room with scaffolding and bags of material, no one else can work.

Even though this was the costliest and most time-consuming element of this restoration, it’s the most detailed and impactful. The new homeowners will have the strongest, highest-quality, and period-relevant walls.

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