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Distressed surface techniques you can use to create a stylish look

Distressed surface techniques used on walls and ceilings perfectly mimic the appearance of worn, older surfaces and bring character to a space.

When designing shabby chic and industrial-type spaces, making walls and ceilings look antique is not a new concept. This has been done since the 90s. But the techniques involved have improved and there are new products to facilitate this.

We’ll explore these techniques in greater detail below.


The cheapest way to bring a distressed surface texture to walls is with special printed wallpaper. This is effectively a photograph of a real distressed surface but blown up and modified for walls. It mimics cracked and worn plaster or concrete and performs a surprisingly convincing job when observed from 2.5ft away. It’s only when you move closer that it becomes obvious it’s wallpaper.

The downside is the lack of authenticity and cheapness. As soon as people realise it’s wallpaper, the experience is tainted. For this reason, wallpaper is a good option in the home but not so much in a commercial setting.


Whereas wallpaper provides a fake distressed surface, plaster is the real deal.

Distressing can be achieved in several ways. Sometimes, it isn’t necessary at all after removing old wallpaper or paint from walls – older plastered surfaces will usually be discoloured with uneven areas and pits and fissures anyway. If this is the case, you’ve struck gold and you’re unlikely to need to do much else.

With old plaster that’s still fine and new plaster, the most obvious way to distress the surface is to cut into the plaster and chip away at it with hand tools. This gives you control over how the plaster will look when finished.


Paint is another good way to distress a plastered surface, especially on new surfaces.

With paint, it’s possible to create a surprisingly authentic distressed surface but the application of the paint takes time.

The good news is you don’t need a special paint – any two interior paints will do. You apply both paints separately with a roller randomly and spread them with paper towel, wiping at the wall to create a textured appearance. You can then flick isopropyl alcohol onto the wet finish. This will freeze dry the paint wherever it hits. You then sand down the wall to finish it and make it appear antique.


One of the more creative ways to give walls a distressed surface is with oxidation.

This involves plastering the walls with a plaster-containing metal powder content and applying an activator once dry or wet. When the activator hits, the metal particles rust and over the next few days the plaster turns into a seemingly solid metal surface

You can mix the plaster with particles of any type of iron-based metal, including copper, bronze and steel. Some walls turn red-brownish as the iron rusts or they turn a greenish blue depending on the metal content. Be sure to check out our article about using oxidation techniques to enhance your property interior.

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