History of the Tadelakt technique


Tadelakt is relatively new to the UK but is growing in popularity due to its incredible aesthetic and practical properties. Pronounced tad-eh-lact, this beautiful plaster is indigenous to the Marrakech region of Morocco, and gives walls a stunning smooth surface that’s reminiscent of natural stone, but with a luxurious sheen. But how did tadelakt develop and how long has it been used? Read on for the history of this wonderful plaster.

The oldest plastering technique in the world

Tadelakt has the longest history of any plastering technique in the world, stretching back approximately 2,000 years. The word means ‘to rub in’ and comes from the Arabic word tadleek, which translates as ‘to rub or massage’. Tadelakt is thought to have evolved from qadad, a similar type of plaster that was used in Yemen for millennia. Tadelakt is produced using limestone, which is extracted from quarries in the Marrakech region of Morocco. These quarries have a natural abundance of distinct minerals that can be used in the production of hydrated lime. It is said that tadelakt was invented accidentally by workers constructing the city ramparts of Marrakech; whilst trying to attain a straight wall by rubbing it repeatedly with a stone, they instead created a smooth and shiny surface.

Tadelakt was initially used by the Berbers for the storage of drinking water, who used it to create waterproof cisterns. It was subsequently used for decorative purposes on exterior facades of palaces and riads, and, because of its water repelling properties, in private bathrooms and public hammams. Thanks to the restoration of many riads in Morocco, there has been a resurgence in the use of tadelakt. Marrakech, a unique city that has remained virtually unchanged for centuries, has provided insights and inspiration for the applications and uses of the tadelakt technique, which is now finding favour beyond its native North Africa.

How is tadelakt made?

Tadelakt isn’t actually the product itself, but the name of the technique used to finish lime plaster. The technique involves using a particularly high lime-to-aggregate ratio, which is applied in many thin coats using a metal trowel to an underlying layer, such as an earthen surface during the early years of its usage, or brick walls nowadays. Before the plaster is fully set, it is compressed using a plastic trowel in order to flatten it out and create a more impermeable surface. After this, black or olive oil soap is rubbed all over the surface. This seals the plaster and also initiates a chemical reaction that makes it completely waterproof. After this it is polished until it has a highly shined and mirror-like effect.

When the Berbers used tadelakt for water storage, they knew what they were doing, as tadelakt is not only very waterproof, but also very hygienic. Because the plaster has a high pH balance of 12.4, it is antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial. This means there is much less risk of mould or disease forming on it, making it incredibly sanitary for use in areas prone to getting wet. Its wonderful smooth shine makes it perfect for places such as hammams and swimming pools, as there are no rough edges for people to snag or scrape their skin on.

How can I use tadelakt in my home?

Tadelakt makes a very stylish alternative to traditional tiles in your bathroom or wetroom. A minimal, industrial aesthetic is very much on trend at the moment, and tadelakt can provide this, alongside its incredible waterproofing properties. It is also a good choice for the bathroom because it is naturally clean: due to its beautiful smooth surface there are no crevices or grouted areas for mould or grime to fester and grow. As it is sealed with a soap solution as part of installation, dirt is naturally discouraged and it can be easily cleaned with a sponge and water.

Tadelakt doesn’t just have to be confined to walls either. Because it looks so impressive in chunky, solid styles, it can be used to create floors, shelves, sinks, washstands and seats, all of which will be totally waterproof. And it doesn’t just have domestic uses either: spas and pools can be created from tadelakt, giving them an air of sophistication and luxury that other finishes can’t compete with.

What colours does tadelakt come in?

Tadelakt colours traditionally take their inspiration from the natural hues and shades found in Morocco: cool blues and greens, warm oranges and pinks, burnished browns and ochres and the lively vermillion of Marrakech itself. However, tadelakt can actually come in a huge variety of colours and our company offers a bespoke colour matching service to our clients. Due to the current trend for sleekness and minimalism, popular colours in the UK are statement blacks and charcoal greys, warm beiges and taupes, and natural stone-like shades. These shades create sophisticated and mature interiors that manage to feel austere and luxurious all at once, and work especially well when augmented with glass, chrome or brass fixtures and fittings.

Is tadelakt environmentally friendly?

Yes, very. Not only does tadelakt provide your bathroom or wetroom with a beautiful, waterproof finish, but it also offers a healthy living environment for you and your family. Because it is an entirely natural substance, it isn’t full of chemicals like synthetic products are, and doesn’t require harsh chemicals such as bleach to clean it either. It’s produced using low carbon intensive methods, which means it has a low carbon footprint, and in fact releases up to 80% less CO2 during production than other cement based finishes, which means it is much better for the environment. It is naturally free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be damaging to your health and the environment.

Once it has come to the end of its life tadelakt can be easily disposed of because it is made of natural materials. It can either be taken to landfill where it will biodegrade or it can be crushed up and used again in new mortars. Tadelakt is naturally very durable, so as long as you take good care of it, it should last a long time. However, it’s important to bear in mind that one small damaged section will destroy the waterproofing on the entire surface, so if one area of a shower wall gets dented or destroyed by bleach, the entire wall must be replaced. But in general, if you want to create a sustainable, safe and environmentally aware home interior, tadelakt is probably the best choice of plaster you will find.

Why should I choose tadelakt?

The history of tadelakt proves that it has an incredible amount of style and longevity. From the souks and hammams of Marrakech hundreds of years ago, to some of the UK’s most stylish bathrooms now, it has proved itself over the centuries as a finish that is as practical as it is beautiful. Tadelakt lasts a long time and ages very well, looking better and better with each year that passes, as long as you take care of it. If you wish to create a bathroom, wetroom, spa or pool that manages to combine a traditional technique with a truly modern look, tadelakt is the perfect choice.

Categories: Interior