I have a very creative friend in designer Brooke Phillips - thankfully - who dreams big and then asks me if I'd like to be a part of the actual finish work. Glutton for knowledge and experience as I am, I rarely say no! Currently my parents are living in my home while we renovate almost every square inch of their house. About a month ago when we went to order kitchen cabinets my father was amazed at how expensive the range hoods cost, yet that was something he really wanted to have instead of a microwave at eye level. Brooke merely mentioned that she loved the look of the plaster hoods as opposed to the painted wood, and since the house is under her creative direction I agreed to do the necessary research and make a plaster vent hood possible. What I did not expect was for my first attempt to be in a customers house instead of my parents - GASP! My nerves were frazzled not in fear that I wouldn't be able to accomplish said task, but the possibility that the products I chose weren't the best option possible for long term use. But hey, if the Romans could use slaked lime plaster on the wonder that is the Pantheon and it's still around to be admired, how wrong could I be to use it on a couple vent hoods?!
There is shockingly little information online about plaster vent hoods (as opposed to the plethora of images of such on Pinterest) and how to go about building and finishing them, so I decided to document my process for anyone else who may have the same desire. This blog site only allows me to add a few images, so a full viewing will be on my Facebook page, please check it out! I apologize if I end up wordy, it is only my intention to cover as many aspects of my experience as I possibly can, and believe you me, I felt like I was floundering there for a bit!
YouTube was the easiest place I could think to begin understanding the application of plaster. My only problem was that where there are several DIY vent hood builders allowing viewers to experience their work, there was only one single vent hood with a plaster application from a design company NeilWWilliamsStudios. His vent hood was pre-existing and needed to be stripped down to the substrate and built back with a more elegant look in mind. Unlike my vent hood, his was outdoors which needed special preparation that mine did not. I did note and keep in mind the process he used for filling all voids, sanding edges and generally making sure the substrate was as smooth as the finish coat needed to be.
So then the only question was how to make lime putty, and where in the world should I go to purchase it?! I first looked into art supplies: artists have used lime plaster and lime wash for centuries and there are several still in existence to this day. Considering that particular putty was not as descriptive to a novice as I needed and did not have the finish options I was looking for, I moved on to the general suppliers. I ended up at Benjamin Moore, they have always been helpful when I have projects and I am trying to understand the actions and reactions of products...only this time the fella was anything but helpful. He laughed at me when I asked about Venetian Plaster. It seems that both Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore stopped carrying their ready-made product once the mad craze for faux finishes died down. He informed me (with his nose in the air) that it was a devil to get the colors to mix. Lowe's, however, does still carry a ready-mixed Venetian Plaster for about $50/gallon only here's the rub: they only allow you to purchase it in about 7 colors and if you're wanting white (like I was) they absolutely will not let you buy it that way. Believe me, I ragged the guy for about 5 minutes just to see if he'd relent...he didn't. As much as I dislike ordering online, it looked like that was the only way availible.
At first I was made aware of the difference between European and American products. I can understand and appreciate the superior knowledge Europeans have gained over hundreds of years of manipulating many mediums, but I didn't want shipping to knock me out of the running. I did, however, glean some amazing background information on Roman specifications, how Lime Plaster works on a chemical level and was enthralled by everything I discovered. I will never be the Chemical Engineer my father is, but one tiny gene must have passed my way in relation to understanding how natural pigments, sizing, etc. combine for artistic use. It was on one of these sites that I began to understand that the Romans preferred a three year slaked lime putty for longevity: when combined with water, the lime and marble dust begin to create a crystal chain (around the second year I believe) that produces a stronger bond in the finished product. Traditionally hair can also be used for strength, sold in perfect length bundles that I didn't feel that it would add to my project. After tucking this new knowledge under my belt, when I looked back to the product page I realized that all the two and three year slaked lime was completely SOLD OUT.
Not one to be easily daunted, I began to search for information on three year putty and landed on a blog that was extremely helpful to me. Where I didn't need to use a few precautions Alex took to complete his plaster repair, I loved how well he documented his process and descriptions of his American made premixed plaster of choice: Master of Plaster. He too was a novice and the finish work was very close to what I was looking for, just a few more questions needed to be addressed and I would be out of the woods!
I stumbled around the website and found a spec page for Master of Plaster's Venetian line which contains marble dust from France. It was more expensive than what they call 'veneer', but with the marble dust it would create the crystal chain I was looking for. I also made a phone call to the rep for Master of Plaster, what questions I couldn't answer from the spec page Lauren easily answered and was so very helpful! She walked me through the steps recommended for a vent hood application with plywood substrate (she preferred hardibacker, but this one was already complete), from the bonding agent, to which self adhesive fiberglass mesh they liked best and possible finishes she had seen used before with positive results.
Last, but not least, I needed to address how I should finish plaster that will be above a cook top with moisture and grease. My search led me to another site with Earth Pigments and natural finishes. I learned about Roman Beeswax Plaster Cream, how to apply it and also that one can mix pigment directly into the wax for a subtle addition of color. Being a girl who loves a little bit of bling, I picked up a 3.5 oz container of Silver Pearl mica and thought it was completely beautiful even in the container!