Had great fun over the weekend plastering my shower with this amazing stuff called Tadelakt. Tadelakt is a traditional Moroccan plaster, a lime-based, polished waterproof plastering technique. Originally used for waterproofing cisterns, and then used for public bathing houses, Tadelakt had almost disappeared from use before being rediscovered and there is currently a revival in its use. The real Tadelakt is produced from a specific lime found in the foothills of Marrakesh, but something almost as good can be produced from limes found here too. Clearly importing plasters half the way around the world is not the greatest use of finite fossil fuels (nice of the IEA by the way to inform us last week that the peak in conventional oil production happened in 2006 after denying the very idea for years… anyway I digress…), so it is good to know we can get by with a more locally-made version too.
So, I am redoing my bathroom. When I moved into my current house, we inherited a bathroom that almost certainly wasn’t even fashionable when it was installed in the early 1970s, but certainly pale blue bath, toilet and sink and brown tiles with gold flower motifs don’t really do it for me. Anyway, that certainly isn’t sufficient excuse to toss out a functioning bathroom, so it was only when the bath sprung a leak, the toilet sprung a leak in sympathy, the sink came away from the wall, the toilet seat broke free from its moorings and the floor started to go rotten that we decided it was time for a change.
After a couple of weeks of stripping the last section of woodchip wallpaper left in the house (we have stripped acres of it since we moved in) and smashing tiles off the wall, we finally got back to the bare bones of a bathroom. Most of the room I replastered with a lime plaster (gorgeous, and bought ready-mixed, a revelation!), but around the shower we had a choice. Did we do tiles, which are a lot of work, easy to get a bit wrong so that water gets in behind them, and often not that nice, or did we perhaps do something else?
A couple of weeks ago I went round to my friends Paul and Ivana round the corner who are building the most gorgeous cob house in history, and checked out the bathroom they had just finished, and it blew me away. They had rendered the whole room with Tadelakt, and it looked and felt like the inside of a glazed pot. It was warm, curvy, beautiful, with a gorgeous lustrous shine to the whole thing. “That’s what I want” I decided… Luckily, after I had dragged my family round to see it, they agreed too.
I ordered 20kg of it from Mike Wye Associates who are suppliers of natural building stuff here in Devon. They supply Tadelakt mixed to one of 54 colours on their lime pigment chart. It comes as a powder which you mix up to the consistency of stiff icing in the tub, using a plasterer’s whisk. Paul (he of gorgeous cob house fame) kindly came round to give me a hand on Saturday, and so, with Man Utd against Aston Villa playing on the radio, we set to work. The plaster went on easily enough in two layers, the second of which we trowelled as smooth as we could with a plastic float.
When the second layer had had a day to dry, I applied a Moroccan Black Soap and rubbed the wall up with a smooth stone, which compacts the surface. It is hard work, very physical, but it is the energy you put into it that gives it the finish it is famed for.
I still need to give it a couple more layers, but already it is looking gorgeous. Much nicer than tiles. But can it really bear up to the wear and tear of being the shower for a family of six? Time will tell, but I have to say it is far more enjoyable to put in place than tiles, far more beautiful, and has a quality to it that is really very special. It already feels like stone, with a lovely irregular patterning to it. I’m hooked. No more tiles for me….