For every five homes taking part in a Parade of Homes in Austin, Texas, Leonel LeBaron estimates his drywalling handiwork appears in three of them. That’s because local homebuilders want to showcase their products with his custom textures, such as Four Seasons, Texas Trowel, Old World, and Safari. Providing unique textures and trying new ideas has expanded his customer base and brought in higher profits for distinctive designs.
“We’re always open to new ideas,” said LeBaron, president of Lego Custom Textures Inc. (LCT) in Leander, Texas. “We’re known for our custom designs, and homebuilders like that, especially on $1-million-plus homes here. We do a variety of finishes to create custom looks, but they’re more expensive than traditional ones.”
New Textures PopularNew types of textures are becoming more popular with contractors, as they look for ways to differentiate their work in a tight market. In some cases, they’re replicating looks from the past to aid remodeling projects, which are gaining ground as homeowners stay put and upgrade or add on. Customers in particular want their additions to match other parts of the house, which may have an older or specialized look.
“We sometimes have customers come in with a magazine page and they want us to match it,” LeBaron said. “We usually can replicate a similar look to give them what they want.”
The designs often can be done efficiently because the mud is sprayed onto the ceiling using spraying rigs. LeBaron, for instance, uses a rig from American Spray Technologies. “We prime the ceiling with the rig and spray up the mud and primer, and it works great,” he said. He’s been using the same rig for about three years, along with three different tips to help create the patterns, which are finished with different tools to produce the unique patterns.
Scott Stocke, president of Stocke Drywall & Plastering in Milton-Freewater, Ore., has used AST’s Kodiak rig for about five years to achieve his custom designs. “I’ve pumped concrete and mud through the rig, and it works well for all types of materials to get it out quickly,” he said. He uses it for a variety of basic textures, such as Fog, Splatter, Orange Peel and hand textures with skip troweling.
Many textures are used nationwide under different names. “We’ve been doing a lot of Buttering, except I didn’t know that was its name until I saw it in Walls & Ceilings,” said Stocke. It is used mostly in upper-end residences and rehab projects, where many of the custom designs receive the most attention, he noted.
A traditional Orange Peel texture is popular for Stocke’s clients, he said, as is Fog-although it uses silicone aggregate that makes it harder to paint. “The bigger textures, like Orange Peel, give better applications,” he said. The familiarity with Orange Peel and its appearance make it an easy sell, he noted. “It’s easier for me to sell a true Orange Peel rather than something different, like Fog or Splatter.”
Stomp and KnockdownGary’s Drywall in Axtell, Neb., uses Stomp a lot, in which the mud is sprayed on the ceiling and then slapped with a brush. “There are other ways to do it, particularly with a roller, but we use a brush on a pole,” said Gary Trompke, president. Thick areas of mud can be slapped into thinner ones to even it out, he noted, “but the sprayer keeps it pretty consistent.” It’s primarily done for lower-end homes, he added, as well as in garages on higher-end homes. “We use it a lot,” he said.
Knockdown is his one-step-up option, created by essentially knocking the tips off the peaks of the sprayed mud. “It creates more of a stucco-like look on the ceiling. It looks better than Stomp, and people go for that. But it’s a little more expensive, since we have to go back and touch the ceiling.”
John Williams, president of Williams Enterprises in Miami, Fla., uses Knockdown as his standard texture, due to its popularity. It’s particularly popular with homeowners looking to update their homes to get rid of the Popcorn texture that was popular several decades ago. “They find it’s hard to keep clean, and they want a new look.”
After evaluating several options, Williams bought an AST sprayer with a 20-cfm compressor. “I originally tried a 9-cfm compressor, but it didn’t give me the pressure I needed,” he explained. “With the 20-cfm unit, I can spray it like with a big rig, and it’s still portable.”
Knockdown is requested, he noted, because homeowners think that’s the traditional texture for ceilings today. “They see it in other places, and they don’t know any others. They don’t realize it was essentially put in to hide the drywall defects. They just like it and want that style.”
Convincing customers to try new textures requires education and samples, contractors agree. “I’m a plasterer, so my designs look a little different from drywall contractors, because they use a broad knife rather than a trowel,” Stocke explained. “Many times, people don’t realize what you can do with mud until you show them. They’re accustomed to a basic spray job. I spend time educating my customers before I bid any job to let them know they have options.”
Trompke created 2- by 2-foot sample boards showing his designs, which include the recently added Blob Knockdown. It’s produced by taking a round piece of plywood with fiberglass insulation attached to it, and wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap. A handle then is attached to the back of the board, and the applicator is dipped into an 18- by 24-inch tub of mud. The applicator is touched to the ceiling three or four times, and then it is re-dipped and the process starts over. “It creates a really thick finish, after which we knock it down.”
Showrooms and SamplesLeBaron shows off his textures in his showroom, which is outfitted to provide an array of vignettes with different textures. He also sends customers to view his handiwork in a local hotel, The Four Seasons, from which he derived the name for his Four Seasons hand-troweled finish. It features a few waves and pitted areas together. “That was the first place we used this texture, so whenever custom homebuilders ask to see a sample of it, we send them to the hotel so they can see it on a large ceiling.”
He also offers Texas Trowel, which creates some pitted areas, and Old World, which produces waves through the mud. Safari then combines all three of the other textures into one look. “We use the sprayer for all of these, because it covers a lot of square footage quickly, and then we trowel it afterward. That’s what makes it interesting.” He uses four different hand trowels to create the textures, varying the amount of mud that is sprayed by using different tips.
Trompke keeps his eyes open for new ideas, like the Blob Knockdown, but he also limits the choices he offers. “We don’t often add a new texture, because we don’t want to provide too many options,” he said. “If you show the customer too many, it takes forever for them to decide. Then you’re waiting on them for a selection when you need an answer to get going.”
Adding a new texture takes time, he added. “When we added the Blob, it wasn’t very popular to start out. But as more and more people saw it, they liked it.” To some extent, they liked it because it was different, he pointed out. “If everyone starts to get it because it’s different, it’ll get too popular and we’ll have to move onto something else.” LeBaron agrees. “We first added Texas Trowel and then expanded to add Four Seasons. But Texas Trowel is getting a little too popular, so I may have to add something else.”
Spraying a ceiling speeds up the process, noted Williams. He typically can spray a 1,500-square-foot house in under an hour, having his finishing crew follow behind him in each room at a 10-minute interval. He uses a pistol-grip sprayer that works well to speed up applications and provide a different texture when needed. He also has several extensions, which he uses for 12-foot ceilings to avoid erecting scaffolding.
Ceiling CreativityHigh ceilings are a prime spot for custom looks, noted Stocke. “You have to take ceiling height into consideration and learn what décor is being used,” he stressed. “Wood or metal accents may not work with a lot of textures. You have to talk with the client to find out what they’ll be doing with the room and what they want it to look like. Tall ceilings always need something to add dimension and texture.”
Some of the custom textures take some time to perfect, contractors admit, but crews seldom have a problem picking them up. The key to new ideas is in the creation and tools rather than any specialized skills for the application.
New options can be created with the sprayer using different motions and adding air to break up the pattern, Stocke said. His current challenge is determining how to create the Blob Knockdown using the sprayer. “The sprayer helps us a lot with the other textures, but we haven’t figured out how to make it work for that one.”
More looks will be added as existing ones become more commonplace. Other techniques also are being used. LeBaron, for instance, has begun asking his supplier to tint his mud to avoid having a pure white appearance. “I use a strong yellow tint mostly, because when I apply it, it creates a warm color for the room,” he explained. “It helps a lot in a new home that hasn’t been painted yet. Customers come through and think the home has a nice, warm glow, and it isn’t even finished yet.” The company provides the tint for free, he added, helping him stand out and add value for customers without costing him anything.
Such creativity helps differentiate contractors and keeps them at the front of the pack when times are difficult. Particularly with custom homebuilders continuing to build while larger homebuilders see sales drop off, providing high-end textures that make a home look special can keep builders knocking on the door. W&C