Move aside wallpaper and semigloss latex paints—limewash painting is what Charlotte homeowners want now.
Jimmy Padgett was in a pickle. It was the fall of 2005 and local interior designer Deborah Noland had asked him to paint a room in a couple’s home off Wendover Road. She wanted to use an incredibly expensive and unusual kind of paint he had no experience with, and neither did anyone else around.
The paint was limewash, Noland explained, and it contained chemically reactive ingredients that, when combined and applied correctly, dry into a striking finish full of depth and texture. Noland said Padgett could call a contact in Sydney, Australia, to get instructions on how to use it, and that sounded fine to him. Fifty-year-old Padgett has been painting for a living here since he was eighteen, and so he had plenty of experience. He knew that homeowners in Charlotte had been showing more and more interest in using expensive and exotic painting techniques to dress their homes. “But I sure didn’t know what I was in for,” he says.
“The stuff makes the biggest mess if it’s not applied properly, and after I started I found out that the way they do it in Australia is not the way it was going to work here,” Padgett says. “The paint is very sensitive. The smallest change in climate, in temperature, affects it.”
And the situation was sensitive, too. Limewash costs a whopping $1,000 per a five-gallon bucket. Plus, Padgett says, the methods used to make it work properly on walls can be extremely messy, and potentially damaging to furniture and fixtures throughout the home. “You have to cover absolutely everything in the house with dropcloths or move the furniture out entirely,” he says. “You definitely don’t want just any old person to do this for you.”
Padgett, however, through trial and process, figured out how to properly finish the Wendover Road job he started, and the result, he said, was gorgeous.
He now considers himself a limewash expert, and the only one in town. “Actually, as far as I know, I’m the only one who can do it on the East Coast,” he says, which has led him to think the wash could become Padgett Painting’s signature. Of course, that might be as tricky as applying the paint, given the cost. The average job would total about $18,000 for one house (about $600 per room, excluding materials), he says. But the limewash is striking, and he’s counting on decorators and affluent homeowners in Charlotte to fall in love with the look.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s the prettiest thing I’ve done in my life, too,” Padgett says. “Basically, you put a primer on first like a thick paste. You let that dry and then you mix and apply the color with a thick, fourteen-inch brush. There’s a chemical reaction, and parts of the brush stroke are highlighted and parts are darkened. The reaction, by the way,” he says, “might be messy, but it’s completely safe—it’s a water-based product.”
The limewash “comes in these bright greens, reds, yellow golds, and deep browns,” he says. “Lots of intense, bold colors. But the way it dries has a soft look to it, which is why those bolder colors work. The finished look is like a piece of stone, subtle and deep. Like someone applied sand to the walls and smoothed it out perfectly.”
Padgett says he’s had lots of inquiries about the limewash, but few buyers so far. “With the cost,” he says, “you have to want what no one else has.” But he’s heard that major home warehouses like Lowe’s could start carrying limewash soon, and perhaps at a more affordable cost (though Lowe’s can’t confirm this yet as of press time), which means Padgett’s goal of becoming Charlotte’s premier limewash painter really could take off.
In the meantime, those looking to spend less than a grand a bucket on paint have options, too, if they still want something beyond the basic on their walls. Padgett, who runs his company with his two sons, says earth-toned faux finishes are his number-one request, and that they can spruce up a room at a fraction of what limewash costs.
Not that faux finishing is cheap. The technique, which became a trend in the late 1990s, is still four to five times as expensive as a plain paint job, and so it makes sense that Rosalia Winer, who’s owned a local company called Home Art Designs for the past nine years, says that much of her work is done in Myers Park, Lake Norman, SouthPark, and Waxhaw. Faux finishing can include any number of techniques, including glazing, aging, stenciling, marbleizing, and wood graining. “We’ve actually been very busy doing decorative painting and murals, too,” Winer says. “What everyone wants is to add something standout and unique to their homes.”
A mural by Home Art Designs might just be the most reasonably priced and unique option of all, depending on the size and detail requested. Winer, who does the painting with two other artists, can do a mural for as little as $650, or for as much as $3,000, she says, and the company’s work typically includes anything from simple and elegant nature-inspired designs to renditions of Peter Rabbit for nurseries.
The overlying trend is to make one’s walls feel like a unique piece of art, Winer says. “People are, for example, shying away from wallpaper,” since one print can be widely available, she says. “Even if they find a beautiful paper, instead of using it, they’ll have us come in and paint a representation. People right now want a one-of-a-kind look. That’s what’s most important to them.”
And apparently, it’s important enough that homeowners on stricter budgets are even trying the trickier paint jobs themselves. Over the last five years, according to a study by home-service rating company Angie’s List, paint retailers have increased their spending on product from $78 million to $169 million due to an increased demand for faux-finishing tools, such as special sponges and brushes.
Padgett, however, has a friendly warning for anyone thinking about taking on their own limewash project. “That,” Padgett says with a laugh, “would be a big mistake.”