Friday, August 26, 2011


I am often asked how we come up with ideas for new products – “Does it come to you in the shower?”  In my experience, the ideas that come to me in the shower don’t pan out.  It’s the ones that come from the field, from our customers, that go the distance.  Our newest lime plaster, Rustico, is a perfect example.

Rustico is a straw plaster based on the same seasoned slaked lime that makes Antiqua and Epoca 800 so popular among applicators.  Applied in one thick coat, Rustico is crushed with a grinder after setting up to expose the straw fibers and rustic aggregate.  The look is rustic, as the name suggests, like a farm house that utilized local materials to keep the elements out.

So how did it happen?  Our customers were coming to us asking about straw plasters.  Their questions -- “Can you match this Japanese straw plaster?” and “Make me something like this” came up enough times that we took a closer look at it.  Straw plasters on the market were acrylic-based with artificial looks except for the straw.  This struck me as a sad state of affairs – that our industry was promoting straw plasters as green, when they were based on petroleum products.
This set us in motion.  For our first attempt, we tried hay from our salesman Larry Sunseri’s barn and put it in Antiqua lime plaster.  The hay absorbed the moisture from the plaster and darkened in an unpredictable way.  And the hay rolled under the trowel.  I obtained 5 other types of hay and straw from Bellflower Feed Store, and none of them worked either.

Our second attempt added a coarse marble aggregate to allow for a thicker one-coat application.  We realized we needed to grind the outer surface to expose all the natural goodness underneath, and this got us closer to the rustic farmhouse look we were shooting for.  But the straw was still darkening uncontrollably.

We heard at a trade show that rice straw behaves differently from other straws, but that it may need to be boiled to remove the oils before putting it in a plaster.  So we went searching for rice straw.  As luck would have it, plenty of rice is grown north of Sacramento, and an air-quality ordinance was just passed forcing farmers to resell the rice straw that is a waste product of farming operations, rather than the customary method of burning it.  So we waited a few months until harvest and obtained 2 bales from a helpful farmer named Ron in Willows, CA. 

That made all the difference and the Rustico formula was finished.  Glen Moore at Builders Plastering worked with us to refine the formulation and got the first job done with it (Thanks Glen!)  The rice straw didn’t darken like the alfalfa Larry feeds his horses.  And the coarse aggregate and seasoned slaked lime provided a rustic look with natural materials.  We’ve already done a restaurant (Ozumo at Santa Monica Place) and a yurt in Santa Fe with it.  That’s how a Vero product is born.

Ozumo Restaurant at Santa Monica Place

Sante Fe Yurt