Design studio Form Us With Love has created unique wall tiles using a material called wood wool. This material, also known as excelsior, is usually used for such things as packaging, cushioning and even toy stuffing. Now it is turned into an interior design that not only looks good but is also sound absorbent moisture and fire resistant.
Creating beautiful visual patterns on walls, this product can be used in music studios for its sound dampening qualities and the product is also eco-friendly! Scroll down to see how it looks yourself!
Plaster has been a go-to construction material since, at least, the time of the ancient Egyptians. In more modern times, it featured prominently in residential construction in the United States before World War II. Its popularity across human history has been driven by how easy it is to manipulate—and its incredible durability. Plaster produced perfectly flat, uniform walls before the dimensions of lumber were standardized in 1924.
As the saying goes, everything old is new again: Plaster wall finishes have quietly become the preferred choice for high-end home renovations, replacing other options like paint, wallpaper, or exposed brick.
Plaster wall finishes have popped up lately in projects by influential designers and architects across the country, and we’ve seen homeowners showing off their newly renovated plaster wall finishes on Instagram. The plaster finishes in the renovated Pennsylvania farmhouse recently featured in Curbed’s House Calls column give the walls a coarse texture that matches its rustic feel. We sought to find out what’s driving this trend.
With technology advances and experimentation giving plaster color palette and texture options as broad as paint, plaster is helping designers and architects break the dull uniformity of walls—the thing that plaster made possible in the first place.
“What’s attracting people to plaster today is the ability to have a little bit of surface variation, to have more character in this otherwise flat surface,” said Los Angeles architect Emily Farnham. “It’s one of the things that I think people have a hard time with in new construction; the whole cold, clean regularity of all of the surfaces.”
Plaster is typically made from limestone (calcium carbonate) or gypsum (calcium sulfate). It’s mined, cooked, and ground into a powder. Different additives, like sand or marble, are added to the powder to give the resulting plaster different textures and colors. After mixing the powder with water, it’s coated onto a wall or board using a trowel.
Because it’s so durable, designers and architects can use a plaster finish on interior andexterior walls, giving a home a strong connection to the outdoors and a cohesive and holistic look throughout.
There’s also an artistic quality to a plaster wall finish: It is hand-applied by an artisan, which can leave traces of brush strokes and variation in textures. Venetian plaster, which is a polished-plaster mixed with marble dust, gives a wall the illusion of depth on a flat surface.
“With Venetian plaster, there’s a method of painting where you get a much more rich finish throughout your whole place,” says Saoli Chu, lead designer at Block Renovation. “You can add more pigments and different sheens to get an overall look. The people who go for it often times do enjoy the more artisanal experience.”
Plaster is also an eco-friendly product that doesn’t emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are bad for air quality, like some paints do. It can’t support the growth of mold, and it has no impact on a landfill. The underlying material of plaster is naturally occurring limestone and gypsum, so a plaster wall finish is, quite literally, a coating of earth for your walls.
Plaster wall finishes generally last longer than paint jobs or wallpaper do; after plaster dries, it hardens, stone-like, similar to its original form as raw limestone or gypsum. In addition to wall finishes, plaster today is often used to construct surfaces that need to be hard, such as a squash court. It’s also used in curvilinear design and for ornamental moldings. If a building needs to be quiet, like a library, architects might use acoustical plaster walls because they absorb sound.
“It’s a healthy interior environment,” said Foster Reeve, whose company, Foster Reeve and Associates, does plaster wall finishes and moldings, among other things. “There’s no mold. Installed properly, it is forever. If I put a molding up … it won’t move. It can’t move. It’s stone.”
Before World War II, most homes had interior walls made of plaster, constructed using the now obsolete scratch-and-lath method, where coats of plaster are applied to a board made of horizontal strips of wood. Because they comprised layers of dense plaster, pre-war buildings tend to have rock-hard walls, as anyone in New York City who’s tried to hang art or a mirror in one can attest.
But building a plaster wall or applying a plaster wall finish is a labor-intensive process, and when World War II started, labor was scarce. At the same time, the invention of dimensional lumber led to the arrival of wall paneling—first button board and later drywall, a panel of gypsum covered in paper. When the post-war home construction boom hit, builders chose drywall; it was quicker, easier, and cheaper to install. Walls made of plaster became a feature exclusive to older buildings..
What was gained in the speed of construction was sacrificed in quality. Drywall is flimsy enough that you could punch through it with your hand. Trying that on a plaster wall would shatter someone’s hand. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, The Atlantic noted that the city’s historic Pitot House remained almost entirely unscathed; among other factors, its walls are made of plaster.
The plaster walls in today’s newly renovated homes aren’t many inches thick, as in the days of scratch-and-lath, but the product’s time-tested durability remains. This durability takes patience: Where painting a wall may take 30 minutes, a plaster wall finish might require multiple coats that take up to four times longer, not to mention the time it takes to wait for each coat to dry before applying the next one—as long as 10 hours. Plaster wall finishes are also messy, as they require water onsite to mix the powdered plaster.
The additional labor means additional cost, so in residential use plaster finishes tend to be limited to high-end renovations for wealthy customers.
But as plaster has become a more popular choice for wall finishes, new companies have sprouted it up to meet the demand by offering a variety of new finishes and applications. Chu, who works primarily on bathrooms and kitchens, uses a plaster called Tadelakt from Morocco because it’s thicker and more water-resistant than a standard plaster finish.
Browsing through the different finishes on the websites of companies like Texston and TerraBriosa can be confusing and intimidating, as names like “Frascatti Artisian plaster” and “Marmorino lime” are more word salad than clear and intuitive naming device.
Leigh Herzig, an interior designer based in Los Angeles, says consumers should ignore the names, choose one on the basis of its aesthetic, and then let the architect or designer tell you if your chosen option will function properly in the room.
“There are other plasters out there, but 90 percent of the market is based on the lime plaster,” she says. “The plaster that we’ve been using for centuries is lime plaster. Whatever is added to it is what distinguishes it.”
Brighten the outlook of building occupants and reduce lighting costs by bringing natural light inside.
By Jody Andres, AIA, LEED AP From the April 2019 Issue
In today’s climate of sustainable design, it’s rare that a newly constructed facility or one being renovated does not include some level of eco-friendly features. Overlooked in the past, daylighting is one of those features and is no longer an afterthought. It could be argued that how to best use natural light should be a primary consideration in the design of any new facility. But why is it so important?
The Physiological Perspective. The bottom line—daylight is good for us. Research has demonstrated the positive effects of exposure to natural light. Daylight has been shown to combat the effects of depression. It can help improve a person’s mood and maintain a calmer disposition. In addition, exposure to daylight is one of the primary ways we can get and maintain healthy vitamin D levels in our bodies.
When we incorporate windows and natural light into facilities, we’re helping fulfill a basic desire for a connection to light and nature. The biophilia hypothesis—introduced by Edward O. Wilson in his book, Biophilia—proposes that humans have a desire to seek out connections with nature and other forms of life. Biophilic design and planning increases access to nature, light, and biodiversity to reduce stress, promote healing, foster creativity, and improve cognitive function.
The Productivity Perspective. In the workplace, daylighting is a critical design element for employers and their facility planners to consider. Not only does daylighting and controlling artificial lights in the workplace save money, but it’s been proven to help create a more comfortable work environment and make employees more productive.
“Daylight and Productivity—A Field Study,” a study conducted by Mariana G. Figuerio, Mark S. Rea, and Anne C. Rea of the Lighting Research Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Richard G. Stevens from the University of Connecticut Health Center, Department of Community Medicine, explored the occupancy rates, amount of time subjects spent on work-related tasks, and electric lighting operation in daylit and interior offices. They found that people located in windowed offices spent considerably more time (15%) on work-related tasks compared to employees in interior offices. These results matched their hypothesis that people who work in interior spaces would spend less time in their offices and be less productive than people working in windowed spaces.
When it comes to educational facilities, consider the results of the Heschong Mahone Daylighting Study (conducted by Heschong Mahone Group), which involved more than 21,000 students. Study results presented a significant correlation between learning spaces with natural light and student performance, finding that both reading and math scores improved for students in spaces with abundant daylight. Additionally, there was a 20% faster progression in math and a 26% faster progression in reading.
Meanwhile, school administrators are continually seeking the means to retain the best faculty and staff. Abundant daylight in well-designed work environment is sure to be looked at favorably by current and potential employees.
The Economic Perspective. While there are a bevy of health and production-related reasons to incorporate daylighting, we shouldn’t lose sight of the financial benefits. More natural light means a decreased need for artificial light. This trade-off reduces a building’s power consumption. Additionally, latent (passive solar) heat in the winter decreases the demand on heating systems.
EXAMINING DAYLIGHTING STRATEGIES
Whether in a school, office, or senior care facility, natural light can benefit building occupants by providing a healthier, more interesting, and dynamic environment in which to learn, work, or live. So, what are some of the best strategies to utilize when incorporating daylighting?
In the case of new construction, orientation of the building is critical. Siting the building on an east-west axis, with south- and north-facing windows is a key design strategy. And with technological advances, windows can be altered to control how much daylight will enter the space. When planning areas that will contain display equipment, such as high-definition televisions and whiteboards, the design team should take special care with window placement to control lighting levels and to prevent glare or blinding conditions in the space.
Daylighting and control options that are becoming standard design elements include sun control and shading devices, light shelves, clerestory windows, tubular daylight devices, and translucent skylight systems. In the case of a renovation, the use of natural light can be further enhanced by using window films to contain glare. While timers and motion sensors designed to reduce light levels are not new, the next wave of sensors actually measures daylight levels in a room (or portion of a room) and adjusts accordingly.
Although at first mention it seems counterintuitive, artificial lighting can contribute to a good daylighting strategy. A popular design element is the installation of direct-indirect lighting fixtures. With these, more than half of the light generated can be directed upward, reflecting off of the ceiling and other surfaces. This results in reduced glare, a more uniform ambient light level with fewer “hot” spots, the need for fewer artificial lights, and decreased energy use and costs.
MODELING AND ASSESSMENTS
Energy modeling and computer generated building models can be extremely helpful evaluation tools when determining daylighting strategies. Using these, facility owners and maintenance staff will not only be able to observe how natural light and views will exist in their building, but they’ll get an understanding of how much energy—namely in lighting and cooling—can be saved. Whether new construction or renovation, modeling should be incorporated to inform the design effort and guide decision-making. As early as possible, the project team should evaluate the most appropriate ways to bring daylight and views into a facility and how these will be integrated with artificial lighting and controls. As more design and product options are entered into modeling software, facility planners are able to make informed design decisions.
Another critical element to consider when pursuing daylighting is assessing lighting quality and levels compared to the visual tasks being performed. Not to be overlooked is controlling glare in environments awash in daylight. Building occupants will close blinds and shades if they decide too much daylight is obstructing their view. This not only removes views to the outside, but may also necessitate use of artificial lights.
When using natural light to help achieve lighting levels, the selection of window glass (based on the orientation of each window) is vital. While spaces that are over lit waste energy and money, occupant productivity may be negatively impacted by inadequate or poor quality lighting. As a guide for determining a good lighting level for most offices or educational spaces, daylight balanced with an average of 40 to 50 foot-candles of artificial light capability is ideal. (A common unit of measurement in the lighting industry, foot-candle is roughly defined as the amount of light that actually falls on a specific surface.)
The benefits of daylighting are numerous and should be enjoyed. When planning your next project, discuss potential strategies with your design team to create an environment where occupants can thrive.
Andres is a senior project architect and the K-12 market leader at Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction, Inc. in Appleton, WI. He is a LEED AP, past President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Wisconsin, and the regional representative to the AIA Strategic Council.
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