We had expected plaster walls in a house built in the late 1920’s but our walls are very, very rough. It almost seemed as if someone had used exterior stucco on the inside of the house. This made painting the walls extremely difficult and I don’t think we lasted an hour before running back to the hardware store for rollers designed specifically for rough surfaces.
We mentioned the strange texture of our walls to an older friend of ours and she immediately recognized it as river sand plaster, apparently very common in the area. Sand was a useful filler and more importantly, it was cheap—all it took was a trip down to the closest creek.
It turns out rough plaster work was popular in early twentieth century bungalows. Rather than using fine grade sand in the final layer of plaster and troweling it smooth, builders used course plaster throughout the entire project, often smoothing the final layer with a broom. I’d like to think it was an aesthetic decision but my instinct tells me it was a decision based purely on economics.
Our kitchen and bathroom were remodeled sometime in the early 2000’s and it’s clear that they took it all down to the laths (and, hopefully, replaced the wiring). The drywall seems oddly smooth next to our river sand plaster. We’re hoping we never reach the point where we’ll have to tear it down—we’d lose so much of the character of our home.