Watch: Two L.A. Brothers Nail the Secrets of Limewash Paint

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By Kelly Vencill Sanchez
The sibling owners of Portola perfect a limewash that gives walls the rich character of aged plaster.

Watch Casey and Jamie Davis matching colors by eye or brushing their signature Lime Wash across stucco by hand, and you’re reminded of the way painters have adorned walls for generations. The California-born brothers have continued that tradition, bringing a craftsman’s spirit to the highly pigmented, eco-friendly products they’ve been making in Los Angeles for nearly two decades.

 Watch the process of making Lime Wash in action:

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Drawn to lime paint’s natural qualities and subtle variations, Portola owners Casey and Jamie Davis, along with manufacturer David Sibbrel, experimented for almost 10 years before coming up with a limewash they would put their name on.

Drawn to lime paint’s natural qualities and subtle variations, Portola owners Casey and Jamie Davis, along with manufacturer David Sibbrel, experimented for almost 10 years before coming up with a limewash they would put their name on.

The seeds of what would become Portola Paints & Glazes were planted in 1998, when Casey, then a high school senior, and the boys’ father, contractor Jim Davis, drove to LAX to pick up a shipment of lime that would eventually be used to cover the exterior of a house Jim was building. The clients wanted a home that resembled an old building in the South of France, and limewash brushed directly onto raw stucco would give it instant character, while weathering over time to a soft patina.  

The Davises use zero-VOC pigments to hand-tint Portola’s Lime Wash. "We pull inspiration from nature and historical colors, but we also create shades that are new and fresh," says Jamie. Adds Casey, "We do custom color-matching by eye, the way painters used to do it. It’s kind of a lost art."  

The Davises use zero-VOC pigments to hand-tint Portola’s Lime Wash. "We pull inspiration from nature and historical colors, but we also create shades that are new and fresh," says Jamie. Adds Casey, "We do custom color-matching by eye, the way painters used to do it. It’s kind of a lost art."  

Using lime for wall applications has a long heritage in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere, but Jim wasn’t satisfied with the products available in the U.S., so he’d tracked down a source in Australia. The lime came as a powder and had to be mixed on-site. Longevity was not its strong suit. Says Casey: "You could paint with it, but within a few days—five max—that bucket would turn into cement." 

As Jim mastered the product’s idiosyncrasies, he talked with his sons about making a limewash for the American market. "It needed to be like paint, so you could buy it, take it home, and not open it for a week, and it would still be usable," Casey says. 

Watch: Two L.A. Brothers Nail the Secrets of Limewash Paint - Photo 3 of 18 -

So began a nearly 10-year odyssey to develop a ready-to-use limewash, along with a dedicated primer that would enable the product to adhere both to drywall and previously painted surfaces. Jim recruited local paint manufacturer David Sibbrel to help them create a wash that merged old- and new-world techniques. While they were experimenting, Casey and Jamie honed their eye for color and began tinting paints with as many as seven organic pigments to give depth and complexity to a single shade.

As "El Coyoté" is blended with a drill mixer, the colorants combine to form a complex terra-cotta shade. "The paint appears deeper and richer when it’s wet," Jamie explains. "As <br>it dries, the lime blooms through the surface, creating highs and lows as well as depth."

As "El Coyoté" is blended with a drill mixer, the colorants combine to form a complex terra-cotta shade. "The paint appears deeper and richer when it’s wet," Jamie explains. "As
it dries, the lime blooms through the surface, creating highs and lows as well as depth."

In 2001, they launched Portola, named for the 18th-century Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolá, and introduced Roman Clay plaster, which they followed with low-VOC, water-based satin and gloss enamels. But producing a uniform and long-lasting limewash eluded them, in part because of lime’s reactive nature. Finally, they hit upon a combination of ingredients and steps that produced the quality and finish they’d envisioned years before. 

Watch: Two L.A. Brothers Nail the Secrets of Limewash Paint - Photo 5 of 18 -

"Lime paint from Europe doesn’t work the same and it’s not as consistent," says Sibbrel, who mixes lime powder into a paste that has to cure for at least two months before it can be blended into their proprietary formula. "Portola’s wash is easier for painters and lasts longer in the can." 

"Faux finishes try to replicate what limewash does naturally, but they don’t achieve the same softness or beauty." Casey Davis

Watch: Two L.A. Brothers Nail the Secrets of Limewash Paint - Photo 6 of 18 -

Today, Portola’s zero-VOC Lime Wash can be found on the walls of the Carmel and San Juan Capistrano missions as well as on a LEED Platinum home in Southern California. Vicky Charles, former designer for London’s SoHo House, even brought it to Europe, where local limewashes are more common, for the SoHo Farmhouse in Oxfordshire. 

Watch: Two L.A. Brothers Nail the Secrets of Limewash Paint - Photo 7 of 18 -

Though they perfected their formula eight or nine years ago, Jamie and Casey still personally test each batch and brush out color cards by hand. They admit that they could probably streamline their testing process, but for them, attention to detail is everything. "The human element is an important piece of the puzzle," says Jamie. "We’re interested in creating a particular feeling with our products. That doesn’t really make sense in science, but for us, it’s hugely important." 

Watch: Two L.A. Brothers Nail the Secrets of Limewash Paint - Photo 8 of 18 -

Lime Wash

From powdered lime to organic tints, the Davis brothers outline how they make their signature wall coating. 

1 Gather the Raw Materials. Due to the scarcity of limestone in North America, Portola relies on natural hydraulic lime powder imported from abroad as the foundation for its specialty Lime Wash. The fine consistency is similar to that of chalk dust.

1 Gather the Raw Materials. Due to the scarcity of limestone in North America, Portola relies on natural hydraulic lime powder imported from abroad as the foundation for its specialty Lime Wash. The fine consistency is similar to that of chalk dust.

2 Prepare for Slaking. The lime powder is mixed with de-ionized water at the factory to form a paste—a process called "slaking"—and then transferred to a drum, topped off with water, sealed, and left to cure for at least two months.

2 Prepare for Slaking. The lime powder is mixed with de-ionized water at the factory to form a paste—a process called "slaking"—and then transferred to a drum, topped off with water, sealed, and left to cure for at least two months.

3 Mix the Lime Wash. Once the slaked lime has been aged, Cruz Garcia pours it into steel mixing drums, where it’s combined with de-ionized water and natural binders. The batches are relatively small, averaging 200 to 300 gallons.

3 Mix the Lime Wash. Once the slaked lime has been aged, Cruz Garcia pours it into steel mixing drums, where it’s combined with de-ionized water and natural binders. The batches are relatively small, averaging 200 to 300 gallons.

4 Control the Quality. After it’s mixed, each batch of Lime Wash undergoes quality control tests at the factory. A worker checks for "hide"—how well the paint covers—by brushing it onto preprinted cards. The pH is also assessed.

4 Control the Quality. After it’s mixed, each batch of Lime Wash undergoes quality control tests at the factory. A worker checks for "hide"—how well the paint covers—by brushing it onto preprinted cards. The pH is also assessed.

5 Test Samples. A viscometer is used to determine thickness. Approved samples are then sent to the Portola showroom, where test tints are added and the wash is brushed onto boards to check for coverage and quality.

5 Test Samples. A viscometer is used to determine thickness. Approved samples are then sent to the Portola showroom, where test tints are added and the wash is brushed onto boards to check for coverage and quality.

6 Label and Can. Once the Davis brothers approve the samples, batches of untinted Lime Wash are canned and labeled at the factory. The cans are then sent to the showroom, where all Lime Wash tinting is done.&nbsp;

6 Label and Can. Once the Davis brothers approve the samples, batches of untinted Lime Wash are canned and labeled at the factory. The cans are then sent to the showroom, where all Lime Wash tinting is done. 

7 Select Natural Tints. Portola offers 60 shades of Lime Wash as well as custom blends. "El Coyoté" (steps 7 through 10) is mixed with three zero-VOC tints: red oxide, yellow oxide, and carbon black.&nbsp;

7 Select Natural Tints. Portola offers 60 shades of Lime Wash as well as custom blends. "El Coyoté" (steps 7 through 10) is mixed with three zero-VOC tints: red oxide, yellow oxide, and carbon black. 

8 Measure Tints. A colorant dispenser guarantees precise measurement. Most of Portola’s Lime Washes contain four or five tints; some have as many as seven. The high pigmentation lends complexity to the final color.

8 Measure Tints. A colorant dispenser guarantees precise measurement. Most of Portola’s Lime Washes contain four or five tints; some have as many as seven. The high pigmentation lends complexity to the final color.

9 Mix Tints. The tints for "El Coyoté"—a hue inspired by small towns across Latin America that Casey and Jamie Davis have visited—are blended with a drill mixer or agitated with a paint shaker to disperse solids.

9 Mix Tints. The tints for "El Coyoté"—a hue inspired by small towns across Latin America that Casey and Jamie Davis have visited—are blended with a drill mixer or agitated with a paint shaker to disperse solids.

10 Brush It Out. To show clients the exact color and finish, Casey, Jamie, and their staff hand-paint each fan deck and color card. Lime Wash can be brushed directly on masonry or applied with their dedicated primer and can be used indoors and out.

10 Brush It Out. To show clients the exact color and finish, Casey, Jamie, and their staff hand-paint each fan deck and color card. Lime Wash can be brushed directly on masonry or applied with their dedicated primer and can be used indoors and out.