An inexpensive way to start thinking about wall finishes is to see what you can do using your existing structural materials.
Shuttered concrete is a relatively inexpensive option but it will cost more than putting up some simple blockwork and will need protecting during the construction process. Discuss this option with your designer early on as it throws up all kinds of junction issues and finishing detailing that will need careful thought before you start the build.
Exposed brickwork can work well for the odd feature wall to give an instant ‘olde-worlde’ or farmhouse look. Bricks ‘slips’ that are a fraction of the thickness and weight and simple to install (a bit like tiling). On completion, use a suitable sealant so the brick dust doesn’t rub off on people’s clothing. Be prepared to vacuum the surface every few months with a soft brush head as brick and stone finishes seem to be dust magnets. Exposed stone is more expensive but can be great for a feature or fireplace wall.
Cheap and cheerful are sand and cement finishes, often called ‘plaster’ even though it isn’t gypsum plaster. It takes paint well but it is very hard (unlike plaster), so when hanging anything on it every hole must be drilled and plugged. If the trowelled finish on your walls is good enough (perhaps after some additional rubbing down) you can leave gypsum or lime plaster as a finish in its own right. A more expensive variant is polished plaster, from highly-polished Venetian plaster to various textured finishes. Some of them resemble polished marble or travertine.
On cement and gypsum plaster there are numerous possible coatings, from transparent sealers to normal paints. A note about paint; if you’re decorating a whole new build spraying is worth considering. Professional painters aren’t as dear as they used to be. Today’s multi-surface formulae allow you to paint on metal, wood, plaster and masonry. A recent development is graphene paint which is harder and provides better coverage.
A step up from using the wall surface as-built is microcement. This is an expensive but stunning finish suitable for contemporary designs, both on walls and floors. It can be applied very thin (3-4mm) so doesn’t change floor-screed heights or alter the heights of fixtures. It can be applied almost anywhere around the house but is popular for bathrooms, wetrooms, kitchen floors, kitchen worktops and feature walls. It is very hard, flexible, waterproof, has a good grip on almost any surface, and is very thin. Because it’s so thin it’s vital to prepare the underlying surface very carefully indeed. This can add to the already high cost.
Wallpaper creates an instant finish that is usually straightforward to achieve directly onto a plastered surface.
Wallpaper creates an instant finish that is usually straightforward to achieve directly onto a plastered surface. When buying, be sure all your rolls are from the same batch or there could be tricky colour problems at joins. Cheap wallpaper is often thinner and much harder to hang. If the wall surface isn’t that great to start with, use a strong lining paper.
Almost any timber can be used for panelling but it’s sensible to take advice from your supplier. If you use softwood panelling, this can be painted in the normal way. Be sure to cover the back of such timber with at least two coats of paint. This prevents moisture ingress and thus warping. Solid timber can warp easily in centrally-heated homes. Fixing most timber panelling involves first battening the wall, then fitting the strips or panels to the battens. This means timber panelling is pretty expensive but for a feature wall the cost can often be justified. Matching your doors to your timber panels is a luxury but looks great.
The choice of tiles, be they porcelain or ceramic, is truly dazzling. In general, porcelain tiles are heavy and best suited to heavy traffic floors but can used on wall if they’re strong enough (this usually means masonry or a backer board). Simple tips include making sure to get at least 10 per cent more than you need for cuts, breakages and replacements in the future. Many grout colours are available and careful colour choices can make all the difference between a good enough job and a brilliant one. If your wall area involves lots of tile cuts, use a smaller tile, or even a mosaic.
Words: Andrew Stanway