In the drywall-finishing world, the smoothest finish is a Level 5 finish, which involves covering the fastener heads and tape between boards with drywall compound twice, sanding after each coat, skim-coating the whole surface, and then sanding again.
No flaw-covering texture is applied. This premium level of finish is most important if the walls are going to be covered with glossy paint or if light will fall on them at an oblique angle, highlighting any texture—or flaws—in the surface. This level of finish typically takes considerably more time and skill to accomplish than spraying on a texture, so it can be costly and require the hand of a talented worker.
Regional and Historical Finishes
The smooth look on walls can be a regional thing, with workers on the East Coast accustomed to providing that look through the years. Meanwhile, homebuilding trends on the West Coast, and elsewhere, moved in the middle of the past century to the simpler use of orange-peel, knockdown, faux-stucco, and other finishes that are quicker to apply and that cover a multitude of sins. By contrast, American homes built 80 or more years ago—in Portland and across the country—typically had lath-and-plaster walls finished with a smooth plaster coat. So the smooth look can be both historic and contemporary.
How to Deal With Textured Walls
If your walls have one of those textures that feel oh-so-dated, you’ve got some options:
Apply a Skim Coat
Yes, this could be expensive, so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it. This involves covering the old texture with a thin coat of joint compound, or “mud.” When it dries, the mud is sanded smooth. Which is easier said than done, except for skilled professionals. And it creates a lot of dust. And it might take more than one coat of mud.
Hanging New Drywall
Seriously, putting new Sheetrock over the textured walls, or pulling down the old and putting up new, could actually be cheaper than messing with covering the texture with one or more layers of fresh mud. The problem is, if you want smooth walls, you’re still going to have to spend the time to create a Level 5 finish on the new wallboard.
Cover it Up
Wood paneling is making a comeback in some circles, although real wood is better than the wood-look paneling of the ’70s that everyone pulled down or painted over. You also can cover wall texture with wallpaper, if the texture isn’t too heavy and the wallpaper is thick, textured, and not glossy or metallic. For example, grasscloth wall coverings are becoming popular.
You might decide that you can’t spend the time or the money to remove or cover up your orange peel. To avoid drawing attention to the texture, use flat paints, keep the lights from shining at a low angle on the walls, and focus on the furniture to draw the eye away from the walls.
Some Cool Textures
So apparently not all wall textures are passé.
The “Excavated” look.
Yes, it’s true, some very trendy designers and artists are scraping away wallpaper and texture to expose original plaster walls—or artistically mimicking the look. Peeled-back wallpaper, with some still stuck on, also works with this vibe.
Here’s another old-become-new thing. We’re told limewash dates back to Roman times. It’s described as limestone that’s been crushed, burned, and mixed with water to make a putty, which is then aged and thinned with water and colored with natural pigments. Applied to the wall, limewash gives a surface that’s mottled, with a chalky texture that’s apparently really cool.