Author

SU

ANCIENT WHITEWASH FOR MODERN HOMES

Here is the thing about whitewashing - it is that it is hard to do, it has to be retouched every few years and it is absolutely fantastic - for health, for aesthetics, for the sheer pleasure of the human soul!

Here is the thing about whitewashing - it is that it is hard to do, it has to be retouched every few years and it is absolutely fantastic - for health, for aesthetics, for the sheer pleasure of the human soul!

It is important to note that there are conventional paints and stains often sold as whitewash, but that is just marketing nonsense. True whitewash has absolutely nothing to do with paint. There are no solvents or pigments or oil or latex bases. Whitewash is properly called a limewash and it is simply natural lime particles suspended in water. Nothing else.

*In this article we use whitewash and lime wash interchangeably.

Here is the thing about whitewashing – it is that it is hard to do, it has to be retouched every few years and it is absolutely fantastic – for health, for aesthetics, for the sheer pleasure of the human soul!

Our first attempt at implementing it was serendipitous – it was requested for home in the Catskills, built on top of the stone foundation of a 120 yo barn, just as we were pondering its potential use in our design practice.

That foundation – dry stack fields stone walls – one of the reason the owner had bought the house, the other being a red-bricked foyer with a green tin ceiling .

Needless to say, we approached the project with trepidation and a heavy dose of excitement – after all, how often does one get to deliver whitewashed walls in the North East?

Concrete, concrete parging and otherwise building with cement is fairly common in the South West, and Southern California in particular, but even there whitewash is rarely, if ever applied as a wall finish. Concrete walls, depending on the finish and the skill of the mason, are often left without any additional layers, except for the occasional stain. But whitewashing is something else altogether.

When I was a child visiting my grandmother at her old farm in Northern Greece, I always admired the contrasting harmony of the dark lumber and the crisp white walls it framed. It gave me such comfort, that repetition of light and dark, light and dark, only rarely punctured by a pot of pelargonium.

When my grandfather Alexander read to me Andersen’s fairy tale about the Snow Queen, Kai and Gerda, I always imagined those were the very walls and dark woods where they lived and played, and just the same red flower pots as the pelargonium I loved so.

Years later, when I first started to look at interiors and house design with fascination and awe, my mother Nellie often spoke about how much she loved the look of whitewashed walls. She’d describe the consistent of the mixture, its purpose, its application and the the goals of using it in farms. She said she hated the labor intensive work, but loved the smell of fresh lime, the softness it imparted on the walls, the crisps whiteness that whispered comfort, sunshine and happiness.

So here we are, many years later. Project at hand. Trepidation in heart. Excitement palpable.

The walls of the space were dry stack field stone on three sides and cinder block on the forth, where the old barn had had large sliding doors, now replaced by multiple windows set in the blocks.
The cinder blocks were bare, as was the opposing wall. The two other walls, the long walls of the rectangle space, were parged long ago ( the dry stack was coated with a cementitious mix). That coat was now cracking here and there, and there old layers of old greenish paint that were almost all sloughed off. These long walls would need a good washing, but the other two needed lime mortar, also known as Roman mortar, parging. Because whitewash is lime suspended in water, it doesn’t cover holes, dings or imperfections very well – that is imperfections that are beyond wall texture. For the cider block we also needed parging because cinder block is not visually pleasing, especially in an environment that benefits from the inviting aesthetic of natural stone.


So, the two short walls were parged – we will cover the process in a separate article – and we prepped the space for the whitewash. The long walls were hosed down and scrubbed.

We prepared the whitewash mix which needs to cure for 24hrs.

When it was ready, we hosed the walls down again. White wash can only be applied to wet substrate, because it needs to be absorbed within it. In the space we worked in, hosing down was not an issue, because the floors were polished concrete with drains. In a home with wooden walls, we make sure plastic is solidly taped down and then covered with painting canvas before the walls are sprayed down.

It is important to note that whitewashing is a summer job and humidity is its best friend. No fans, no heaters no direct sunlight while it is being applied and keep spraying. To paraphrase that famous poster –
Keep Wet and Whitewash On.

Whitewashing brushes are like small brooms – one doesn’t paint as much as slop the mixture on. And on, and on. Spray the wall, slop on some whitewash, move over, spray the wall, slop on whitewash, move over…

After application, whitewash has to carbonate for about a day to reveal its true brilliance. At that point, technically more whitewash can be applied but it becomes distinctly trickier, a the newly slopped on wall must be thoroughly wetted down again.

They’re a re companies, such as St Alstier, that sell tinted whitewash – or rather tinted lime wash, which is the proper name for the lime mixture. However, the reason why whitewash is so wonderful as a wall finish is that emits no VOC or any harmful fumes, so it seem unnecessary to add another element that may or may not be natural. The fairly complex limewash application ( compared to regular paint) is a tiny price to pay for gorgeous, healthy, safe and natural walls and home.

Another important distinction for limewash is that always rubs off lightly if touched. This is just the nature of a natural pigment. It is also always matte.

Whitewash also has anti-microbial and anti-mold properties. It sanitizes surfaces without any harm to occupants or animals.

As one steps back and admires freshly whitewashed walls, One can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and connection to generations before. Just like those walls from my childhood, newly whitewashed surfaces whisper stories of simpler times, when natural materials and time-honored techniques reigned supreme.

The process was indeed labor-intensive, but every moment was infused with a profound sense of purpose – to recreate that feeling of warmth and embrace that we seem to miss in our modern lives. With each slop of the brush, we were transported back to an era where such traditions were not merely aesthetic choices, but a way of life.


As you run a hand along the velvety texture, already developing a gentle patina, you feel a deep connection to the generations that came before, a tangible link to a time when beauty and function were seamlessly intertwined. In this modern age of synthetic materials and mass production, whitewashing stands as a defiant celebration of our natural heritage, a reminder that sometimes the simplest techniques can yield the most profound and lasting beauty.

RADISHES WITH FRESH BUTTER

Years ago, my mother Nellie taught me the most important thing in cooking – the best dish is the simple dish – minimal ingredients prep, least heat treatment, uncomplicated spices, less touching and arranging.

This French dish embodies this principle of minimalism in cooking!

WHAT YOU NEED:

Radishes
Sea Salt
Fresh Farm Butter

HOW TO PREP

Wash radishes, pat dry.
Slice in a dish.
Add a dollop of butter.

Salt as needed!

Voila!

Beautiful, simple, amazing!

SIMPLEST SOURDOUGH BREAD

This hardly is a recipe of my invention – I am not a baker at heart anyway, but it is a recipe I love and have made many times – the famous Jim Lahey no knead sourdough, adapted here by one of my favourite chefs, Mark Bittman.

Most of the times when I have baked this gorgeous bread, I have served it two my friends three ways always hot off the Dutch oven –

1. With just churned butter from the (famous for its lovely pies!) Mennonite farm in Honesdale, PA, sprinkled with my dad’s favourite condiment, the Dalmatian Coast’s wonder salt Vegeta.

2. With roast bone marrow.

3. Or homemade Macedonian ajvar, the way my grandmother Maria made it! – mashed up fire roasted peppers, tomatoes and a little carrots (my mother thinks the carrots add sweetness).

WHAT YOU NEED:

• 3⅓ cups/430 grams all-purpose or bread flour, plus more for dusting
• Generous ¼ teaspoon/1 gram instant yeast
• 2 teaspoons/8 grams sea salt
• Cornmeal or wheat bran, as needed

HOW TO MAKE:

STEP ONE
– In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt.
– Add 1½ cups/345 grams water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky.
– Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.


STEP TWO
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.
– Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.
– Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

STEP THREE
– Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball.
– Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal.
– Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours.
When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.


STEP FOUR
– At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees.
– Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats.
– When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven.
– Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is OK.
– Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
– Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned.
– Cool on a rack.

STEP FIVE

STUFF YOUR FACE! 😉

ROASTED MARROW BONE AND BLACK GRAPES

There aren’t many dishes that are simpler and more fragrant, gorgeous, and delectable than roasted bone marrow. My mother Nellie – an absolute genius when it comes to roasting whole animals and organ meats – made it only rarely but it left an indelible mark on my palate and my consciousness.

I make it often in the winter, and when I bake a nice loaf of sourdough (always the NYT recipe) the two are a rare feast indeed.

I use my large red dutch oven (present from mom!) to cook the bread and a copper skillet to cook the bones with spices and occasionally – one of my favorite side dishes/flavours/textures – roasted black grapes. When both come out of the oven – oh my god! It is pleasure and nurture and contention all rolled into pure joy of being alive and happy. Especially on those romantic Upstate NY days when daylight is short, snowflakes fly in the air, the light globes inside are golden warm, the woodstove crackles… And you know Christmas is coming!

ROASTED BONE MARROW WITH CINNAMON, BLACK PEPPER & BLACK GRAPES

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • 4-6 marrow-rich bones – split long ones or smaller round pieces
  • Ground cinnamon, to taste (I use lots)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste (same)
  • A hint of cumin (if you want)
    All of the above spices can also be replaced by Ras Al-Hanout
  • Black grapes – as many as the heart desires, but they are just for flavour really (btw, any grapes will work, I just love black grapes!)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil – Extra Virgin, Unprocessed
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Slices of crusty bread (toasted if desired, but I prefer fresh to dip in the fat!) for serving.

HOW TO COOK
1 Preheat your oven to 400°F.

  1. Put the grapes in a skillet that has enough room to add the bones, sprinkle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (lighter on the olive oil) and roast for about 25-30 minutes.
  2. After25-30 min, add the bones to the skillet, sprinkle with spices, save salt.
  3. Roast all together for about 20 minutes more or until marrow sizzles.

To serve, place everything into a nice serving platter, invite friends to the table, pour some red wine and start eating while hot/warm!

Scoop marrow and roasted grapes onto toasted bread, sprinkle with a pinch of coarse sea salt, or scoop the spiced marrow fat with tasty bread chunks, and savor the melty, fatty delight!

Here is a pic of the NYT recipe bread, right outta the oven!

CRISP WHITE WALLS & AGED WOODS

Whitewashed walls and aged woods evoke a captivating aesthetic that revels in the beauty of simplicity and nature. This approach is deeply rooted in the philosophy of wabisabi, a Japanese concept that finds perfection in imperfection.

Whitewashed walls, with their clean, serene appearance, create a sense of spaciousness and purity in a space. Not only are they a richly textured canvas but also evoke a sense of calm, tranquility and love.

Design by Darryl Carter.

The weathered, worn appearance of old wood pieces re-tells a story of their journey through the elements, imparting a sense of history and character to a space. Aged wood furniture and decorative elements, with their uneven textures and natural forms embrace the imperfect and transient nature of existence.

Wabisabi captures the idea that true beauty lies in simplicity, in the harmony between the man-made and the natural, and in the acceptance of the impermanence and imperfection of life.

It appreciates the subtle, the muted, and the authentic, emphasizing the value of the handmade and the elements that bear the marks of time and experience.

Whitewashed walls and aged woods create spaces that inspire reflection, mindfulness, and a deep connection to the natural world.