Tadelakt: what is it, and how do you get the look?

Fraher Findlay tadelakt

Tadelakt is hot right now. So whether you’ve been to Morocco or not, you’ve probably seen it. It’s one of the country’s most famous architectural features.

Tadelakt is a unique, waterproof plaster that originates in the Marrakech region and has been popular in its home country since ancient times. However, now it’s also gaining traction abroad. So if you’ve ever been to a hammam, you’ll very likely have seen (and touched) it, too.

It’s easy to see why it’s getting more attention. Not only is tadelakt endlessly practical, it’s also gorgeous in its simplicity. Available in a range of colours, from pretty pink hues to moodier greys or light and airy eggshell tones, there’s something for every taste and style.

Oh, and Moroccan plaster has one big benefit: no grout lines. That’ll make many of us perk up, I’m sure.

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But what is tadelakt, exactly?

Simply put, it’s a surface made from lime plaster combined with black olive soap. This creates a waterproof membrane. So it’s the ideal alternative to tiles for walls, floors, and even the roof, but also baths and showers.  

Mixing in pigments creates a range of colours. And the bonus is that, unlike with some other wall coverings, they don’t fade over time. The colour remains as vibrant or muted as on the day it was installed.

Even better, tadelakt is also naturally resistant to mould and mildew, which makes it ideal for bathrooms.

How do I install tadelakt in my home?

Considering it’s beautiful and natural, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that tadelakt is fairly expensive to incorporate into renovation projects.

That’s also because it follows a very specific pattern of application, which is quite work intensive. After mixing the plaster, it is applied either in at least two coats to minimise the risk of shrinkage cracks.

Then, you have to flatten and compress it – either by using a plastic trowel or via a traditional Moroccan polishing stone.

Finally, the step that sets tadelakt apart from other plasters comes into play. Called burnishing, this is what makes the surface water and dirt repellent. It involves brushing the polishing soap over the dry-enough plaster. After is has been left to dry, the soap is massaged into the surface using the polishing stone again. This is also an opportunity to sort out any small imperfections.

And as the very last step, tadelakt needs to cure for some time. After about 24 hours, your tadelakt will be dry to the touch and it’ll have hardened fully after around four weeks.

So you see – there’s a lot of specialist work going in. While you could apply this plaster on your own, it’s always advisable to get in a professional to do the job for the best results.

What if I can’t afford to use it in a whole room?

You can always combine this material with other plasters. Limit the tadelakt to areas that need to be waterproof – for example, the shower enclosure – and opt for standard lime plaster where you’d normally use paint.

Of course, you can also pair it with tiles, for example pretty encaustic designs with a pattern in contrasting or complementary tones.

And if you don’t want to commit to a whole wall, you can also use tadelakt for elements such as the vanity unit or a bath – or, looking beyond the bathroom, for fireplaces. It also makes for a very attractive, hard-wearing kitchen splashback or a backdrop for open shelving.

Is there anything else I need to know?

While tadelakt is an incredibly hard-wearing material, it needs the right maintenance to keep its waterproof qualities and beautiful appearance.

Luckily, that’s a lot easier than it may sound. The key thing you need to do? Stay far away from harsh chemical cleaners or even bleach. These damage the surface, and you can’t spot fix tadelakt – you’ll need to replace the whole wall or floor.

Instead, clean it weekly with black soap (which may also be sold as black olive soap), a soft sponge and water. A nice side effect is that you’re reconditioning the surface every time you clean it, so it’ll bring you joy for a long time.

Featured image: The owners of this house and founders of Studio XAG called in the help of architects at Fraher & Findlay to link a kitchen extension to a period home. Spread over a series of levels, it features a kitchen-diner and living area, with a playroom separated from the cooking area with a clever peninsula.

Now you know all about tadelakt, but do you know about the other kitchen trends for 2022? If not, then read Georgina’s fabulous piece about them here.

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