The second of my personal favourite DIY tips for restoring property in Italy looks at painting your Italian home. We’ll focus specifically on decorating a traditional farmhouse where the wall surfaces and overall condition of the property inevitably require more attention than in newer properties and where the foreign property owner is most likely to meet unexpected DIY challenges!
DIY Tip No.2 – Painting
Preparation of the walls
You’ll more than likely meet your first cultural war of wills in the preparation of the walls before you even think about painting them! Expect to have quite a battle with your geometra or architect who rather than carefully tap the surface of the plaster (intonacco) to establish which areas need careful removing and then patching, would rather strip the walls entirely of both old plaster and character and replace them with new, smooth surfaces, sharp angles and something as far removed from the rustic farmhouse you fell in love with as possible! The best method, as ever, lies somewhere between these two extremes – simply slapping a bit of filler (stucco) over the cracks won’t last for very long either! The best idea is to take LOTS of photographs of the house before you start work and make sure you insist that you want the house to retain its original feel.One of the most popular methods of sealing walls before painting them is to apply several coats of fissativo. This is usually bought in 5 liter tubs and is, essentially, PVA which is then diluted and painted onto the surface to be painted. It is an very effective way of guaranteeing an even coat of paint as it effectively prevents the walls absorbing paint at differing rates and is an excellent way of adding binding strength to loose plaster. However, the disadvantage of this product is that the walls can’t breathe. If you’re planning to use a natural product like lime wash, that soaks into the walls and allows them to breathe, you should avoid this product.
Lime wash – Calce
Traditionally, farmhouse walls and ceilings – including beams – are painted with lime wash applied with a large brush (pennello grande) in numerous thin washes until a thick, yet vapour permeable layer has formed. Made of pure slaked lime, it’s extremely alkaline so bacterial growth is discouraged (however it will burn your eyes if you splash yourself so should be handled with extreme care). It absorbs very easily into stone or brick surfaces and even protects the substrate. It makes rooms very bright and light. However, there are some disadvantages – it isn’t washable and will rub off if you lean against a lime washed wall. If you want to colour your lime wash remember to use alkali-resistant pigments otherwise the lime wash will quite literally eat the colour and the fabulous shade you’ve spent all afternoon mixing will fade back to white before your very eyes!
Emulsion paint (pittura a emulsione) is an easier option for the beginner DIY decorator although there are a couple of things you should be aware of when painting in Italy. Make sure you check the instructions carefully on the tin before obeying any instructions you’ve been given by the shop assistant who sold you the paint! You’ll usually find them written in English as well as Italian and you’ll inevitably discover that you’ve been told to dilute the emulsion paint far too much. Probably because of the traditional use of lime wash, even professional painters and decorators in Italy will tend to treat synthetic emulsion paint in the same way and apply numerous thin, watered down coats with a large brush, when two less diluted coats of the same paint applied with a roller would do the same job.A word of warning about paint rollers – they’re seen as the work of the devil by most Italian decorators and even in large ferramenta / hardware stores you’ll most likely be treated with suspicion if you ask for a rullo rather than a pennello!
If you’re looking for eco-friendly water based gloss or satin finish paint (smalto or vernice) for doors and windows San Marco is an excellent product line. The paint is virtually odourless and can be safely used both indoors and outdoors.