By Ritchie Po
From luxury stores to government buildings to Las Vegas hotels to your own home, plaster is an unassuming yet versatile building material that has quietly made its presence felt (physically, especially) and grown in use in the last few years. In a recent interview, we sat down with Vancouver-based commercial plaster artist Darrell Morrison, proprietor of Decorative Painting and Plastering Concepts Inc., to describe the growing use of this versatile eco-friendly building material.
Originally of combined Italian and German heritage, Mr. Morrison was born to a family of artisans and trades persons and started his own firm in 2000. “I’m as much of a solutionist as an artist”, Mr. Morrison tells us. With over 500 works during a span of 17 years, Mr. Morrison’s work includes providing bespoke finishes in a luxury residence at The Erickson building in Vancouver's coveted False Creek area, and the free-standing Versace boutique that premiered in December 2015 on Alberni Street. Mr. Morrison gave us an overview of plaster as a material and its use in the construction and interior design industries.
As a building material, plaster in its liquid form is malleable and versatile, with the ability to form and fit most aesthetics. Much like paint but more durable in comparison, the layering starts with a primer base coat, which is then layered over with plaster and sealed with applications such as wax or penetrating sealers to make the material durable and seamless. The layer of plaster, depending on the finish is as thin as 1/8” to 1/16” in thickness, yet its presence is pronounced.
(The four photos below are progress in Vancouver's Versace boutique)
A natural product, plaster in its liquid form is caustic to human skin upon contact, but once it has dried out and hardened, it is a surprisingly eco-friendly natural product that can be easily discarded. Mr. Morrison tells us that plaster is the building material of choice for even sterilized environments such as hospitals. Due to its ecological friendliness, it is often used by developers to obtain LEED certification on commercial buildings, to align with the internationally-recognized U.S. Green Building Council’s environmentally-conscious standards.
As a finished product, the versatility of plaster is ideal for commercial buildings and can be used to create desired aesthetics. Rather than using pure marble or concrete, brands have preferred to use plaster as a breathable, cost-effective alternative. Versace, for instance, has opted for a more uniform minimalist look incorporating waves and clean lines that recall classical Italian architecture, rather than bringing in marble to replicate Italian architecture in their worldwide free-standing shops. Due to its malleability in its purest form, plaster can be used to work around physical impediments such as weight restrictions and to create the “flowing” curved interior design favoured by Versace. The drywall can be manipulated to resemble concrete or the marble looks of Venice or ancient Rome, keeping in line with the Versace aesthetic without having to import actual marble. Other Italian brands that have similar aesthetics such as Gucci and Prada have also used these materials. Shoppers will likely have noticed that plaster use also helps stores and buildings create “flow” that is common to Feng Shui principles, especially noticeable to the “China Rich” shoppers that frequently flood luxury stores.
Since it is durable, plaster finishes have been used in heavy-traffic commercial areas such as luxury Las Vegas Strip hotels due to the ability of target repairs by a skilled installer, preventing the need to redo entire installations in certain situations. Whenever Mr. Morrison tends to one of his projects, the maintenance can be done in very little time for smaller commercial spaces under 10,000 square feet, as opposed to shutting down the store for a week to re-paint, thereby ensuring minimal interruption to business activity. Mr. Morrison even cites plaster finishes in public restrooms as an unexpected example of the little maintenance required for plaster finishing. From a cost perspective, plaster’s low maintenance also needs little additional “hidden costs” to literally keep up its appearance. Other brands in recent years to use plaster for their shops and concessions include H&M, Oak + Fort, OMEGA Watches, Holt Renfrew, Victoria's Secret (New York) and Lululemon.
Plaster is also favoured for long-term projects where the project will be left unaltered for many years. Mr. Morrison’s next long-term project will be working on the interior 5-storey lobby of Vancouver’s ambitious 31-storey The Exchange commercial office tower. “They want no maintenance, and if there is maintenance, it must be very little,” Mr. Morrison said. “They want it to be durable. That’s why they chose plaster because it’s proven over time to be very durable in that situation.” Other Retail projects on the books for Mr. Morrison in Vancouver include Aesop on West 4th Avenue and Hublot luxury watches on Alberni Street.
The work often faces challenges with very tight timelines. For instance, Morrison recalls that Versace gave a tight time frame of three weeks to complete his firm’s work for the Vancouver free-standing store on Thurlow Street, but it was completed in a mere ten days due to round-the-clock work and 16-hour days. This is less of a product challenge, and speaks more to the expediency and skill set of the artist with which plaster can be installed from start to finish.
For more information and to contact Darrell Morrison, visit his website: italianlimeplaster.com