Whether you’re decorating your new home or renovating your old one, you might get stuck thinking about the finish of your interior walls. If you don’t have much experience with construction, choosing the right interior wall materials and finishes for the different rooms in your home can be challenging.
Almost any interior wall material you can think of is infinitely versatile. Tiles and wall panels can come in a wide variety of materials, textures, and colors. Even if you’re just painting over drywall (after you have primed it) — you’ll have to pick the right finish! Still, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed about that abundance of options.
If you approach the project with the appropriate level of knowledge, you’ll be able to make an informed decision. So let’s start by talking about how interior walls differ from exterior ones. Which materials comprise interior walls, and how can you build upon them to get the look you want to achieve in your home?
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What Do Interior Walls Look Like?
Most American homes are made of light materials. Generally, we stuff insulation into wooden frames and cover them with drywall on both the exterior and the interior sides. Of course, even those basic materials can have an impact on the finished result. In any case, there are many different kinds of insulation and drywall.
You’re probably familiar with the most basic gypsum plasterboard which, on its own, doesn’t have much to recommend it. But did you know that different types of drywall can address specific issues in your home?
For example, you can also use moisture or mold-resistant drywall in the bathroom or kitchen. Similarly, fire-resistant drywall would be an appropriate choice for either the kitchen or the garage. Lastly, if you’re worried about privacy, you could also use soundproof drywall on any shared walls and particularly in the bedroom.
Then again, you can always enhance regular drywall with the materials you put on top of it. If you want to make the walls more moisture-resistant, just use mold-resistant paint. Tiles and PVC panels could also help shield the insides of your walls from the effects of moisture.
Still, you would be sacrificing the acoustic qualities of the room if you left those hard materials exposed. So there are benefits and drawbacks to any kind of material you use on your interior walls.
Do Your Interior Walls Need a Special Finish?
Ultimately, if you want to just live with flat painted walls, that’s perfectly fine. However, using the different textures and finishes, if only on accent walls, can really improve the look of your home.
To begin with, these things can drastically change the texture of the walls. For example, plaster could give you an organic base you’d be able to paint over. Additionally, 3D wallpapers and panels can believably imitate stone and brick walls.
Most of those materials are already available in interesting colors. On top of that, if you were after a certain look, you could use various paint finishes over the textures. There are several options to choose from between the least shiny, flat finish and the shiniest, gloss paint.
Still, before you start working on your interior walls, you’ll have to prep the room for the project. After that, you might even have to pay special attention to the drywall itself, especially if it’s currently bare.
Types of Interior Wall Materials and Finishes
So far, we’ve seen a brief overview of the different materials and finishes you could use on your interior walls. But there’s also much more to learn about each of those products and techniques. So let’s talk about what we can use directly on top of the drywall.
Plaster or Stucco Textures
The easiest way to add texture to your existing drywall would be to use plaster. Whether you use the most basic drywall joint compound, acrylic, or even clay plaster, the difference in texture will come from the trowel technique itself. So, the trick isn’t in the amount of plaster you put on the wall. A bit of variation can make the texture deeper or more shallow, but too much plaster could make your walls crack.
Now, there are various techniques you can use to get different textures and swirls on your wall. When you mention textured walls, most people imagine the Santa Fe or Spanish Knockdown. This technique consists of swiping the plaster onto the wall with a trowel in C-shaped movements.
The interesting thing about this technique is that everyone’s movements are entirely unique. Ultimately, the texture depends on the amount of pressure and plaster you’re applying. So if you want to stucco your wall yourself, you’d have to do the whole room alone, to avoid discrepancies.
The other technique you could use would result in a tree bark pattern. Unlike the previous texture, you’d apply this one with a smooth roller. After you put the texture on, you’d either leave it as it is or flatten it slightly with a trowel.
On the other hand, if you don’t feel confident enough to apply the texture yourself, knowing this information will still enable you to tell your contractor what you want. Afterward, you can smear watered-down paint over the surface to further emphasize the underlying texture.
As I have mentioned, there are plenty of different kinds of paint you can use inside your home. Oil-based paint works best on wooden elements, while water-based paint is better on walls. Still other types of paint are better for exterior walls.
But we’ve already gone over some of the paint finishes you could use. If you want to learn more about that, I recommend reading my other articles on the subject. To give you a brief overview:
- Flat finish paint is the cheapest paint on the market, as evidenced by its lack of shine. Still, it’s a good enough option for areas that aren’t too busy.
- Matte finish paint has a slightly smoother texture than a flat finish paint, but the two can also be interchangeable.
- An eggshell finish is the most cost-effective option. It’s fairly cheap, durable, and easier to clean than flat or matte paint.
- Satin finish paint is even easier to clean than paint with an eggshell finish, but it’s still not outright reflective.
- Finally, semi-gloss and gloss finish paint are reflective, durable, and easy to clean. However, they’re also the most expensive options.
In recent years, other kinds of paint have become more popular as well. For example, if you have a child, or you just like to draw on walls, get chalkboard paint. None of this is particularly revolutionary, of course. Still, if you want to really play around with paint, you could also try to get a textured look.
Painting With Texture
Even if you don’t have a textured wall, you can paint on faux textures with regular paint. First, you’ll need to have some kind of base paint on your wall. While it’s wet, you could gently scratch the surface with a plastic scrubbing brush or other tools to create a pattern. Conversely, leave the base color flat and paint different patterns on top of it.
There are all sorts of special rollers, brushes, and other unconventional applicators you might use. If you don’t want to buy them, get creative:
- Cut bits of material out of sponges (which can result in a semi-clear pattern like this one)
- Wrap fabric around a roller base (to create something like this)
- Wrap mesh nets around a roller base (to get something like this)
- Tie rubber bands around a solid rubber roller to make this kind of pattern
Additionally, you can use a car wash sponge to emulate a brick pattern or decorate your walls with other shapes. Of course, there are other ways to get different patterns and textures on your interior walls.
I’m sure we can all agree that wallpaper has a bad reputation. However, most of that has to do with the way these products used to be like, not the way they’re like now.
In the past, most people had to deal with paper wallpaper, which was exceedingly difficult to handle. After you applied adhesive, the paper would become limp and fragile, so you’d have to be quite experienced to install it properly. On top of that, such kind of wallpaper was incredibly hard to clean and remove.
Fortunately, nowadays we have plenty of other wallpaper materials to choose from. Cloth and vinyl wallpaper are much more durable and easier to clean — vinyl is a particularly great choice for kitchens. Additionally, the vinyl wallpaper has a very simple application process since it’s a peel-and-stick product.
There are also countless wallpaper prints you might try. So if you want to imitate a certain material, there are all sorts of options to choose from. I’ve found several wood imitations including this clean-looking beach wood and this more rustic print. Marble prints have been wildly popular in the past few years as well.
Wallpapers are also an easy way to bring interesting textures into your home if texture paint or plaster doesn’t work out. There are even some 3D wallpapers you can paint over.
Wall panels are thick boards that adhere directly to the existing drywall. Whether they’re made of wood (more specifically, laminate or plywood covered in different wood veneers) or PVC, they usually have some kind of pattern or texture to them. Additionally, the panels can either cover the entire height of the wall or just the bottom portion of it.
In the video, you’ll see exactly how easy wall panels are to install. It just takes a bit of measuring to center the first panel in the middle of the wall. You may also have to cut some pieces for the corners to make everything symmetrical. Other than that, the application is pretty straightforward.
You’ll have to use a combination of adhesive putty and nails to attach the boards. When you’ve done that, you can patch up the holes, sand down the area, and paint the panels whichever color you prefer. The process is fairly similar when you’re installing traditional wooden panels as well. However, most people don’t paint over wood, though they might stain it.
On the other hand, you could also create your wooden panels by nailing wooden boards to the wall. Whether you put them in horizontally or vertically, make sure to leave room for wall sockets and light switches. After you install the planks, stain them or paint over them.
Tiles are perfect for lining bathroom and kitchen walls since they fare well in extreme temperatures and humid environments. They’re also remarkably easy to clean, which is another point in their favor. If you install them correctly, you won’t ever have to deal with mold in your shower.
Even though most people are familiar with ceramic tiles, they’re also made of PVC, granite, marble, and other materials. Furthermore, tiles come in a wide range of patterns and textures, so they can be another great way to bring vibrant colors into your home.
Tiles can also create a faux brick or stone finish on interior walls. Obviously, you can always create an actual brick wall if you want to go for authenticity. However, if you’re only looking for the appearance of a stone or brick wall, tiles should do the trick. They usually have more depth than faux stone wallpaper, in any case.
Sand and Pebble Finish
Most people don’t think sand and pebble finishes are appropriate for interior walls. However, since I have seen these kinds of finishes indoors once or twice, I thought I should include them.
Basically, both of these techniques consist of throwing sand or small pebbles directly onto wet plaster or cement mortar. You can see an installation demonstration on an exterior wall in this video.
However, if you want to have a slightly more put-together pebble wall indoors, I’d suggest using larger pebbles and a slightly different technique. Instead of tossing pebbles at the wall, you can create tiles by gluing them to pieces of mesh.
After applying thin-set to the wall and pressing the pebble tiles onto it, cover the surface of the stones with sealant. That will allow you to unearth the pebbles after you smother them with grout. Finally, once you put the grout over the stones, wipe them off and apply another layer of sealant. For more information, check out the whole process in the video below.
Final Thoughts on Interior Wall Materials and Finishes
Hopefully, this article has given you a few ideas that’ll help you visualize your dream home. Even if you’re not set on working on the interior walls yourself, keep these materials and techniques in mind. If nothing else, at least you’ll be able to explain what you want to the construction crew.
Ultimately, though, the materials or techniques you choose will have to suit the rooms you’re renovating. After all, you can’t just use flat finish paint in the bathroom, now, can you? So go ahead and be as creative as you can be — but remember to consider the purpose of the materials too!