Horsehair plaster was a prominent building technique until the post-war era and was commonly used in both residential and commercial spaces. Horsehair ceilings were commonly found in older, prominent homes and structures with significant value. However, this is not widely used anymore since this process was replaced with drywall back in the 1950s.
Horsehair ceilings, as the name suggests, means mixing horsehair (typically its mane and tail) because it is long and strong, offering structural strength and resiliency. The most common type of horsehair plaster is a mixture of horsehair, lime, sand, and plaster – although there are some variations of this.
Aside from its strength, horsehair was used because it is more flexible than any kind of animal hair. That means that it yields to any form, making it the best material for curved walls and ceilings.
However, other animal hair, like that of an ox or a donkey was also used as an alternative. In some structures, builders and architects used goat’s hair as well. Plant fibres were also used to replace animal hair, although the former was not that durable and strong. Nevertheless, the best thing about using plant life is that it is more sustainable than animal hair. And of course, this option is animal-friendly.
Sometimes referred to as horsehair ceilings, ornamental and decorative ceilings are actually made from plaster of Paris mixed with sisal.
Frequently Asked Questions About Horsehair Ceilings
Wat is sisal?
Sisal is a plant material from the plant Agave sisal Ana. It yields a stiff fibre product used for anything from making rope to handwoven baskets and is a natural material.
Why is sisal used in ornamental ceilings and cornices?
Sisal was used in decorative ceilings and cornices to add strength to plaster pieces. When plaster casts were produced in the workshop, sisal was hand sprinkled into the mix to ensure strength and robustness. This insured that large decorative panels and cornices could be installed on-site without any cracking or damage and gave an exceptional shelf life lasting over 100 years.
Is Sisal still available?
Absolutely! Thorne decorative plasterwork like to keep things traditional and still use Sisal and hessian scrim, another form of reinforcement that is natural and plant-derived. Most companies here in Australia use fiberglass, possibly because of the cost-benefit and means of importing materials.
Can my Horsehair ceilings be fixed?
Definitely! There are many ways we go about fixing and restoring horsehair ceilings back to their former glory, no matter how badly damaged. We have all the experience and knowledge needed and can do so as we are trained ornamental plaster specialists, a trade dedicated to decorative ceilings.