Ancient Wall Treatments Bring Healthful Benefits to Modern Buildings

Orit Yanai, LEED AP, IACC, is a well respected, high-end decorative painting and plastering artisan in the Bay Area. Orit began her career over 15 years ago focusing on specialty painting and glazing techniques for interior walls.

Over the years, Orit became increasingly interested in working with a variety of plasters. She was introduced to a particular earth plaster, a “green” product from New Mexico made by American Clay. She fell in love with the material, so much so that she went to Santa Fe to study privately with the man who developed it. Since that time she has experimented with a number of natural plaster products.

Recently, our PBD reporter had the opportunity to sit down with Orit for an interview.

PBD: What was it about the earth plaster finishes that you were drawn too?

OY: They are the oldest, most natural building materials. The clays are very durable, sustainable, and beautiful to work with. They are clean, natural, and chemical free; and in most cases they can be harvested locally.

PBD: What are some of the properties of the medium that you most appreciate?

OY: Once you learn how to apply it, either with a trowel or spray applicator, it is a very forgiving medium. It can be mixed with any number of natural pigments to create the most wonderful colors and textures. I love the fact that these ancient materials are all natural. They have no toxic fumes; they are mildew and mold resistant; and, the materials are breathable, so they help modify extremes in moisture and dryness in the air. The plasters help to fight the ‘sick house syndrome’ and promote healthy indoor air quality.

PBD: What types of structures are suitable for these plaster applications?

OY: They can be used in existing and new construction and work very well in residential and commercial projects.

PBD: How durable are these finishes and how much maintenance is required once they are applied?

OY: These plaster finishes require very little maintenance. They will last for many, many years with just an occasional vacuuming when necessary. In the event of damage or settling, if left unsealed, the plaster can be reawakened with a moist application, and easily repaired. In the event that the color needs to be changed, simply apply a thin layer of plaster with a different pigment over the original application.

PBD: Besides American Clay, what are some of the ancient plasters that are available?

OY: I like working with lime plasters from ecostucco TM. Unlike clay, the lime will cure and naturally fossilizes to form a long lasting mineral skin. Because of its high PH, it acts as an antibacterial agent, neutralizing the development of organic matters and mold.

PBD: Thank you, Orit, for meeting with us today. As we conclude, are there any thoughts you would care to leave with us?

OY: Yes, I would like to say, that as with any products claiming to be “green”, there is nothing wrong with asking for scientific proof.

I love bringing ancient finishes to modern buildings, and mostly what I love is that I can wash my tools in my clients’ gardens!


Another wall treatment choice that has come to PBD’s attention is from EcoDeVita TM  and features beautiful plasters from Japan. They are made from diatomaceous earth and other natural materials, and are said to be powerful air cleaners, able to absorb toxic aldehyde compounds and significantly reduce cigarette smoke odors.

You can learn more about EcoDeVita TM at


Some of the products featured in this article are available at ecoHAUS in San Francisco;

EcoHome Improvement in Berkeley; and Green By Design in Mill Valley.

When not on a project site, Orit Yanai teaches workshops at ecoHAUS on the third Saturday of the month.

About Diane Nicolson

Board Treasurer


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