What is Decorative Plaster?

Enriched Decorative Plaster

We understand that many of our customers will have questions about our work and the manufactured materials and products we use to prepare both functional and ornamental pieces for their owned and managed properties. For some, this may include the question “What is decorative plaster?”. In order to answer this, we have provided a guide on decorative plaster, its history, and how you may expect it to be used in the interior or on the exterior of a property.

Read on to learn more, before contacting us to start discussing the needs and requirements of your own building or restoration project.

What is Decorative Plaster?

Decorative plaster, which may also be called “plasterwork” or “carved plaster”, is a technique used in ornamental finishes for properties, particularly older or grander builds from centuries past. However, it is also perfectly possible to apply finishes and features to newer builds as well, and these are often applied to offer the same exquisite finish as would be expected of an older property.

To carry out an application, a master craftsman or plaster specialist will use a plaster building material to sculpt features, designs, and fine details into interior or exterior walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. Almost any kind of design is possible for a skilled plasterer, though it is more common to see decoration for plaster walls and plaster ceilings than any other variety.

Materials Used in the Creation of Decorative Plaster

It is possible for decorative plaster to be manufactured from a range of material types, including stucco, natural stone plaster, lime plaster, and clay plaster. Other ingredients and materials that feature in the work will vary, depending on the plaster type chosen and the project the property owner or manager wishes to see completed.

In our own work, we will most often carry out the production of fine interior and exterior pieces using fibrous plaster, or jesmonite and glass-reinforced concrete (GRC).

The History of Decorative Plaster

Decorative plaster moulding and toolsMany historians have offered suggestions as to the origins of decorative plasterwork, and have identified certain locations as containing the oldest examples. Most suggest that the popular practice of applying decorative plaster dates back to the Roman Empire, and examples of the work created in this time period may still be seen across the world in museums and on historical sites. However, some examples of gypsum plaster have also been found which are said to date from the time of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, which would make these the earliest records of the practice in existence.

Decorative plaster fell out of favour sometime after the fall of the Roman Empire, and its use dwindled for a millennia in this period. The practice was only revived when it experienced a surge in its popularity in Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries, and remained mostly unchanged until newer techniques were developed for its manufacture and application in the 19th century. For some building work, the material was even replaced entirely at this time by faster setting alternatives, including sand and cement-based renders.

In the modern era, the techniques used in the application of decorative plaster remain much the same as before, with differences only occurring in the types of designs now available. These are the result of the introduction of modern materials, which may offer a more durable finish or more dramatic, ornate features when applied.

Applications of Decorative Plaster Finishes

Decorative plaster techniques and finishes may be applied in an interminable number of ways. Each of these can be carried out to suit the specific requests of a property owner or manager, or may need to be done in a particular fashion in order to best achieve the restoration and repair work required by an older property. As such, all applications may have a result that is as unique as the properties themselves.

Certain applications of decorative plaster, such as sgraffito or roughcast (which is often called pebbledash when used as an everyday term) have been in use for wall and ceiling decoration and designs for centuries. With the development of contemporary materials and more advanced technology used in the manufacture of plaster, you may also come across design applications that have not been in use before the present day. Some of these make use of metallic pigments or textures that offer a greater “flair” and ultramodern appeal to an interior or exterior location.

What is Decorative Plaster Moulding?

While decorative plaster is most commonly used to refer to the technique as a whole, it may also serve as an umbrella term for one particular application type: decorative plaster mouldings. So, what is decorative plaster moulding?

Traditionally, these will have been moulded to create aesthetically pleasing room decorations or to act as covering features for the edges of surfaces (such as the points where ceilings meet walls). Some varieties may also create the illusion of space in a room, particularly when installed above or around windows and doors.

As part of our services, we are able to produce a fine selection of decorative plaster mouldings for ornamental use in properties. This includes manufacturing bespoke pieces that we have been commissioned to make, either to fulfil the requests of the property owner, or to replicate the distinctive patterns or designs only found in a property in need of restoration. We have listed the types of plaster moulding you may wish to consider for your own property below:

The Conservation of Decorative Plaster

In the UK, the most destructive element involved in the damage and decay of decorative plaster is water. Depending on the type of plaster used in the construction and decoration of a property, it may gradually soften until it begins to degenerate and fragment. Even if the plaster itself is not affected, many of the materials it will be applied to may be more vulnerable to water damage from the issues we have listed below:

  • Leaks
  • Penetrating damp
  • Rising damp
  • Frost
  • Erosion
  • Overgrowth of flora
  • Poor general maintenance

When attempting to restore an older property to its golden age, it is vital to the preservation of the plaster that the cause of any water problem is identified and repaired as soon as possible. It is also important that any restoration work on the plaster is carried out by specialist craftsmen and professionals with years of experience in its application. This ensures that the work is completed to the standards that will be most beneficial for the property.

The Benefits of Decorative Plaster Applications

decorative plasterTechnically speaking, decorative plaster has little structural use beyond ornamental purposes and enhanced aesthetic appeal. Therefore, its primary use and its primary benefit is that it beautifies the space it is applied to. As such, once it has been professionally installed in the interior or on the exterior of a property, it should offer the sense of majesty, awe, and impressive detail that the property owner is expecting of the project once it has come to its conclusion.

While the beautification of a space is the primary benefit of decorative plasterwork, there are also some secondary benefits that you may wish to take into consideration for certain finishes and products. Decorative plaster may be of little structural use, but this does not mean that it offers no benefit at all. If applied in the correct manner as a final coating, for instance, it may offer a slightly stronger and more durable finish than regular drywall. Studies and inspections have also suggested that plaster is more fire-resistant than other building materials, and offers greater soundproofing abilities.

If you are concerned with the length of time it will take to finish your planned project, you may also consider using plaster due to the fact that it may offer a swifter, more simple installation or application than other materials. This ease of application is even relevant in terms of moulding decorative pieces, as the material may be sculpted to suit the specifications of your project precisely, with little to no difficulty if the work is carried out by a skilled craftsman. In turn, this may then ensure that your planned repairs and restoration work are completed to your chosen deadline.

To Receive a Quote on Fine Plaster Repair and Restoration

If you have been searching for an experienced firm staffed by specialist craftsmen to carry out the manufacture, application, or installation of decorative plaster finishes and pieces, Artisan Plastercraft is here to act as your solution.

We are more than certain that we can provide the restorative plasterwork any older property needs to reinstate the aesthetic appeal once worn away by time or neglect, or that any newer build requires to achieve its full ornamental potential. We have already done this for some of the most famous and prestigious landmarks across the length and breadth of the UK, so we already understand the care, attention, and precision that your own work will be owed.

Our staff will be prepared to speak to you about the needs and specifications of your own planned project from the moment you contact us on the phone or send us an email. They will also be able to offer you a free quote for the work that will need to be carried out on your project.


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We understand that choosing the right company for your project is important for project success, budget efficiency and your reputation.  We manufacture and install superior custom plaster mouldings, we re-create period plaster features as well as offering traditional lime plastering & lath and plaster.