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.