You or your painter can give the walls in your home a richer look by applying texture to new drywall or to existing walls before you paint them. Texture can be subtle and sandy, or theatrical and swirling. For example, in a Mexican or Spanish colonial-style house, go for the drama of great swirls of plaster. In a bungalow or modern apartment, try a less obtrusive texture to keep things from getting bland.
A simple and quick-to-apply wall texture is a sandy finish that comes from a perlite additive mixed into the texture compound. The additive comes in fine, medium and coarse grain, and goes on the wall with a roller. A technique called orange peel gives a more pronounced look, using an air-pressurized spray gun. The surface of the wall will resemble a pitted orange skin.
Distressed or fancy finishes can give a room personality. Leather and crackled leather looks (paint and crackle glaze) work well in libraries and dens. Gemstone finishes are created with layers of jewel-tone paints, glazes and metallic paints that shimmer through each other in the light and work well in formal rooms or master bedrooms. A marble look, in a variety of colors and veining patterns, can be faux-painted to resemble tile or solid sheets of stone.
Knock Down is a method of applying uneven texture that can give walls a period look or an international design flair, mimicking stucco styles from tropical and desert cultures. Metallic textures, used with restraint, are showstoppers in an entry hall, dressing room or formal dining room or salon. A gold leaf finish can either be the real thing, which is expensive and should therefore be professionally applied, or faked with a tissue-paper base and careful applications of paint and metallic glazes.
Textured finishes now come in faux stone, suede, crumbling plaster, even a kind of limestone finish that appears to have bits of fossils in it. Faux stone can be created with paint, glaze and a sense of proportion. The size and shape of the stones should fit the room. A faux suede finish takes a flat latex paint with a sand texture in it and some blotting, or "frottage," with a plastic bag while the paint is damp to soften the finish. Crumbling plaster and fake brick can be painted on as tromp l'oeil and enhanced with areas of joint compound mixed with the paint color to roughen the texture. Limestone uses an actual limestone paint and will wear or age realistically. A mural, while an ambitious undertaking, can have the most dramatic impact of any wall treatment—interior or exterior.