In his two decades of specializing in artisan plastering in California, contractor John Bass has discovered it’s hard to beat the beauty of Venetian plaster, and he’s enjoyed the recent surge in interest in the ancient limestone finish.

However, like everyone else who loves the art of plastering, Bass knows it’s pretty easy to beat the high price of this beautiful, but labor-intensive custom finish.

“There has always been a lot of interest in Venetian, but it’s pretty expensive for many customers,” Bass said. “In the last five years new products have been catching up with the market,” giving customers who want a more elegant or high-end finish a lower price tag and more options.

Bass, who started his own firm, Widaka, five years ago in San Raphael, Calif., and still shares a crew of six to 13 plasterers with his father, Phillip’s plastering firm nearby, offers customers a range of custom finishes at different price points.


“I have to offer a full range of products, and the hard part is trying to have a range of products that don’t compete,” Bass explained. His showroom includes a studio in which he works with customers to meet all of their painting needs, whether it is to create unique finishes, such as high-end Venetian, or to merely paint over drywall.

“These are niche markets and they all have their place in the overall scheme of things,” Bass told Walls & Ceilings, noting that he’s always looking for new products to make sure his firm is “ahead of the curve ... We’ve got three or four different types of finishes all at different price breaks.”

Last spring, thanks to an Internet search by his mother-in-law, Bass learned of Spray-Stone, a spray-on Venetian plaster made of limestone and only enough acrylic to allow it to be sprayed. After being sprayed on, it usually is back-troweled and sealed, depending on the desired finish.

“I got some samples and really liked its ease of application. We tried it in the shop first, then started putting it in the hands of clients and it took off,” Bass said. The finish now accounts for between 25 and 30 percent of his firm’s wall-finishing business.

While the product is made of limestone, Bass said it’s not quite the same as Venetian because it has a flatter, more natural porous-plaster look, while Venetian has a high gloss and tends to be “busier.”

Its most unique characteristic, Bass said, is that “It’s a very natural looking, open-pored plaster that has a lot of ‘light play.’ When light hits it, it tends to sparkle and have a lot of liveliness, rather than a surface sheen.”


The limestone in Venetian plaster and his product is key to the luminescent nature of the finishes of both products, according to Spray-Stone founder Bill Filer. “Old World Venetian plasters were made from slaked lime ... With real Venetian and Spray-Stone you have nearly 100 percent calcite crystals. These crystals are very small but they have a character that is a marvel of physics called ‘dual refraction.’ It means basically that twice the light that comes into the crystals goes back out. This is the natural charm of marble, limestone, some granite, and slaked lime plasters,” Filer explained.

Perry Obea, owner of Pro Painting in Loomis, Calif., said he and his 10-man crew have specialized in high-end finishing for years, and agree with Bass that new developments in Venetian and Venetian-style plaster have opened up new markets in recent years.

He said most customers who use Venetian plaster use it as an accent, typically on one wall, while Spray-Stone is usually used on all walls and the ceiling in a room. While it can be tinted with universal colors at any paint store, he said the most popular colors are those that fit the “Old World” theme, in the various shades of yellow, ranging from cream to mustard.

“We were researching different types of plasters and have been using Modern Masters all along.” Perry said. “But we needed to be able to offer more of an “Old World” look for certain customers, and we wanted something that was hand-troweled without the sheen value of Venetian.”

Because it is sprayed on either with a hopper attached to an airless hose, or a hand-held spray gun, labor costs are cut dramatically, as is time spent on-site.