If you managed to survive the faux-finish craze of the '90s, there's a chance that the phrase "textured walls" immediately sends a shiver down your spine. But like cell phones and certain sitcom stars' hair, specialty paint finishes have gotten considerably more sophisticated over the past twenty-odd years.
For proof, look no further than Los Angeles-based , a designer favorite offering both traditional paints and a line of specialty textures, including the bestselling Lime Wash and plaster-like Roman Clay. "That old-world, chalky patina you find on buildings in Europe and South America is what originally sparked our love of paint," says co-founder Jamie Portola. "For years, people had been trying to replicate that with faux-painting, but we wanted to create a product that actually was the real thing—you just don't need a master Italian plasterer to get it."
Unlike traditional plaster, which requires an expert hand for on-site mixing and application (which also makes it very pricey), Portola's Roman Clay paint comes pre-tinted and pre-mixed; just apply two or three thin layers using a putty knife or spatula. "There's some level of understanding involved in applying it, but it's not terribly involved," says Portola, whose company offers workshops and can recommend local painters. "Depending on how much pressure you use, the product gives these natural highs and lows, so it can be smoother and more modern-looking, or highly-textured."
For a more rustic look, Portola recommends the Lime Wash finish. While traditional lime-based paints could only be used on raw plaster, stucco, brick or cement, Portola developed an undercoat that allows it to be applied to drywall or existing painted walls. After the primer dries, the lime paint is brushed on top; the lime reacts with the base and "blooms" to create its signature weathered appearance.
Santa Fe designer Heather French suggests clay- and marble-based paints from local company , which have a gritty texture that mimics the region's traditional adobe mud walls. "It has soul and a great depth to it," she raves. The self-priming formula couldn't be easier to use: paint two coats on top of existing paint, drywall or masonry, and let dry. (Just steer clear of using in high-impact areas or rooms that receive regular water exposure, per the manufacturer.)
Another material having a serious renaissance at the moment is concrete, which counts designer and Restored by the Fords host Leanne Ford as a devotee. Her pick for getting the look is a product called . "I started using it four or five years ago when I was looking for a warm and budget-friendly but waterproof alternative to tile in a shower," she says. "I loved the look of it so much that I started using it on any wall I could find, especially when I have plain old drywall that needs a little texture and oomph."
Similar to Portola's Roman Clay, the SureTex can be spread on top of drywall, tile, brick or just about anything else using a drywall knife. (Check out Ford's blog for an .) Add a concrete sealer, and it's virtually waterproof, making it one of Ford's go-to picks for shower walls and kitchen backsplashes. While it can be painted over, the designer generally prefers to leave it blank; "I always come back to white because it's so darn beautiful!" she says.