Surface Materials and Textures, Textures, Alison
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Module 1: Surface Materials and Textures

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Creating texture using paint, wallpaper and other materials
There is no way of avoiding texture, when planning a space. Even if you decide to use exclusively “smooth” surfaces, you have still made a decision! In this sense, texture is like colour. A “neutral” approach creates its own aesthetic and mood. Along with textiles and furniture, which are addressed separately in later modules, designers make use of wall and ceiling finishes to create visual and tactile interest.
The most common varieties of paint
Before looking in depth at how paint and wallpaper can be used to create texture in a space, it is useful to gain an overview of the most common types available. When it comes to painting a wall or ceiling, the application of a base coat or undercoat is the first step. They are used to fill in any small cracks, so that the paint will go on more smoothly. Some are specially designed for particular kinds of surfaces, such as wood or metal. Once the surface has been adequately prepared, the next stage is to apply paint in the client’s preferred colour. For most walls and ceilings, matt emulsion is the best option. It goes on smoothly, is straightforward to apply and is available in a huge range of colours. As the name suggests, it produces a shine-free finish that does not draw attention to any underlying surface flaws.
There are several options available to those who want to create a low or high-gloss finish. Silk emulsion gives a gentle sheen, whereas eggshell paints yield a somewhat shiny finish that is noticeable but not overbearing. It is particularly well-suited to wooden surfaces, but it is also suitable for use on most walls. If you want to create a high-shine finish, gloss paint is the best option. It is also highly durable, easily cleaned and works well to create accents on wood and metal. A satin finish gloss paint is a softer version. It reflects light to a lesser degree and therefore, provides a subtler result. Major paint manufacturers produce lines specially designed for specific rooms and areas. For example, bathroom paints are more moisture-resistant than standard paints and some lines have been developed to provide a wipe clean finish that makes them a practical choice for a child’s bedroom or a kitchen. There are also special paints for metalwork, woodwork and radiators. Finally, there are also ceiling paints available. These are less liable to drip than normal paint, making the process of decorating a ceiling easier.
The most common varieties of wallpaper
When most people think of wallpaper, they think of traditional cellulose-based wall coverings that can be used in most rooms of the house. Standard wallpaper is made up of one or two layers. The cost of papering a space will vary depending on the brand, quality and finish of the product, but it is generally regarded as an affordable option. It is also easy to acquire, as it can be found in any department or homeware store. The disadvantage of wallpaper compared to paint is that it is more likely to fade if exposed to strong sunlight on a regular basis. Wallpaper can also be difficult to hang correctly, particularly if it is patterned in such a way that any misalignment would be obvious. Traditional wallpaper is generally unsuitable for kitchens and bathrooms, because it is easily damaged by moisture. Before hanging traditional wallpaper, it is necessary to apply a plain “lining layer” underneath. Some wallpapers are embossed, which can be used to add texture to walls. These can be ridged, flocked, partially raised – if you can imagine a texture, you will be able to find it!
For a tougher, moisture-resistant wallpaper, fibreglass-based papers are another option. They are fire-resistant, strong, lightweight and can be used to cover cracks or other flaws on surfaces. However, it is expensive. Non-woven wallpapers are a good alternative to fibreglass-based papers, if moisture resistance is a key requirement. These papers are made from a blend of natural and artificial fibres, allowing moisture to escape. They are also easy to install, tear-resistant and can be painted over if required. If you are looking for a modern and ecologically sound wall covering, bamboo-based papers may be an appropriate choice. They are made from sustainable bamboo and have a “natural” appearance that some people find aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, these papers are not moisture resistant and are hard to clean.
One of the most common choices is vinyl wallpaper. They are composed of three layers – a backing layer, which is applied directly to the wall, a fibre or paper core and a plastic coating that is visible when the paper is stuck in place. They are relatively inexpensive, durable and available in numerous colours, patterns and special effects. They are easy to clean and do not fade when exposed to strong sunlight. This makes them suitable for kitchens, bathrooms and other high-traffic spaces. However, they should not be hung in spaces with poor ventilation and some varieties are thought to emit toxic fumes.
Creating a sense of texture in a space using paint
Wallpapers are a popular method of creating a sense of texture, but paint is another essential material in adding depth and visual interest to a surface. Common finishes that a designer may accomplish via the use of paint include the following:-
Colour washing: The first step in colour washing is to apply a layer of solid colour to a surface, as usual. Next, paint is mixed with glaze so that it is watered-down, or “thinned”. This mixture is then applied using a large cloth or sponge. Application should be done using a circular motion. The result is a unique swirl-like effect.
Crackle effects: A crackle effect gives an aged appearance to a surface. The end result resembles cracked eggshells. First, the dominant colour (i.e. the colour that will be visible through the cracks) needs to be applied to the wall in the usual manner. The second step is to apply two layers of crackle glaze. Finally, a non-glossy colour is applied on top.
Chalkboard paint: This type of paint turns any surface into a chalkboard. Its irregular texture and the chalk that can then be applied to its surface can create a point of visual interest in a space.
Striae: This technique, executed with a specialist striae brush, results in a surface covered in small vertical or horizontal stripes. Typically, it is executed using two tones of a single colour, or a colour paired with a neutral hue. When used vertically, it gives the illusion of extra height. When the stripes are positioned horizontally, the space may feel wider.
Sponging: This simple technique entails applying a top coat of paint with a sponge. This gives a more interesting finish than a standard application. Depending on the way in which the sponge is used, the paint can be made to look dappled or “stippled”.
Ragging: To rag a surface, you need to find a clean cloth that you can either scrunch into a ball or roll up neatly. The cloth can then be used to apply a thin layer of paint or glaze to a surface.
Dry-brushing: Dry-brushing entails using a dry or nearly-dry brush, lightly dipped in paint, to “scratch” over a painted surface so that some of the underlying paint still shows through. Depending on the size of the brush and the degree to which the paint contrasts with that beneath it, the effect can be subtle or striking.
Using textured paint: Whilst not technically a technique, this approach warrants mentioning, as it has become increasingly popular in recent years. Paint manufacturers now offer high-end paints that imitate the look and feel of leather, velvet, suede and other materials. When applied to just one section of a wall, they can provide a focal point or a touch of luxury.
All of the above methods elevate a surface from a simple, potentially flat-looking plane of colour, to an intriguing and textured visual element within a larger space.
Activity: What Paint Finish Would You Recommend?
(Time: 5+ Minutes)
Imagine that a client has hired you to redesign their bedroom. It is a large room that receives plenty of natural light. The client is open-minded when it comes to colour and style, but says that they would like the room to feel “relaxing, but not boring”. Which of the paint finishes listed above might you consider incorporating into your design and why?

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