Tadelakt is a very good word. I heard it for the first time a couple of weeks ago and since then I’ve said it or heard it every day. And what is it after all?
Three years ago to the day I was in Morocco, and in many houses there is a very specific, earthy, full texture to the walls. The colours are also marvellous: bright blues, living yellows, clay reds, sandy beige. And if you touch it, it is a full-bodied and smooth feeling. This is tadelakt. It is a lime-based plaster, made and applied for millennia in that corner of the world, particularly in water-filled areas of the house such as bathrooms, in the walls and the baths and sinks.
Its incredible aesthetic and waterproof qualities have spread its popularity across the western world in the last decades, and it reached Vale das Lobas through Rafa, our natural material enthusiast. He is a lean man, with a thick Spanish accent, immensely kind eyes and smile, and a very interesting body posture – a bit curled up, it’s like he is ready for work at any time. The way he talks about his trials of tadelakt, and shares it with all of us, show a deep love for his craft.
In essence, tadelakt consists of at least two layers of plaster – made with specific lime plus water and pigment – applied and smoothed to the walls. After they are almost dry comes the fun part. A natural, olive-oil-based soap, diluted in water, is applied to the plaster and polished over with a smooth stone – every single square centimetre. Such is the time-proven recipe, and here it was researched, written and tested out by our Rafa, but also by another limb of our team: Pietro. He is the architect in loco, experienced in natural, sustainable building, a very tall Italian-Brazilian with thick, dark, curly hair, who always brings a good mood with him wherever he goes and spreads it around. He’s also been trying out the recipe and seeing what works in the particular case of our balneários – the bathhouses of the camping park.
This is because, just like in a kitchen, however, recipes cannot always be followed to the smallest detail. This has led to a very interesting process of discussion, experimenting and learning for the team in charge of construction at the camping park. Every detail was carefully tried out and adjusted for our sky-blue shower walls and sinks: the amount of pigment in each layer of plaster, the texture of colour, the duration of the drying, the type of trowel, the kind and origin of the soap. This last one turned out amazingly: we got some costum-, handmade olive and coconut oil soap from a local farm called Quinta do Cobral (Ishbel makes incredible products and teaches courses as well!).
As for the team, they are all local people, who have met each other and worked together for many years. Some of them even went to school together, and that companionship is palpable, becoming transgenerational. Overall, they are good people to be around with. Marco has been heading the team. He is an extreme handyman with a gigantic heart – and laugh – and you will always spot him from a distance with his fluorescent yellow jacket (he’s also the daddy of the dog you might have seen me drooling over in our social media stories, Oreo). He had lived in England for decades before returning to his hometown specially to work for Vale das Lobas, funnily enough to work in agriculture and farming, but he’s so talented that he’s working in construction as well.
Marco and the team are united in a special way, even when doing something new and challenging such as the tadelakt. The way these guys have been taking on the challenge is indeed inspiring, and they – and their result – look like they’ve done this a hundred times before. In the very beginning, they were foreseeing some difficulty in applying this natural material, different from the commonly-used plasters, but Tiago said immediately “So, we learn! It’s only tough in the beginning.” He is one of the craftsmen – someone who can be reserved at first contact, but after some time he’ll ease up and joke around, lighting the mood of the workplace easily. Music also helps, and Miguel, a gentle man with a very kind demeanour, has very good playlists filling up the balneários. I see him many times perching on stairs plastering the top of the walls, and I get the urge the join the heights as well! I really like monkeying around, I confess.
I’ve heard Tony mention several times that he is very happy about being able to employ local craftsmen, and I know they appreciate the opportunity as well: they feel good about being close to home. And they’re taking good memories with them; I’ve heard that they are growing attached to their tadelakt stones of choice and are taking them home in the end, even wearing them on their necks maybe. I like this idea.
I end up feel quite privileged when they welcome me at the construction site as someone who belongs, even though I’m new and from regions away. That is the superpower of the people of the area. Mark my words: the walls of these showers, these blue sinks, on this spiraled, yin-yang bathhouse, they will be imbedded with good vibes.
For a more in-depth look into tadelakt, here are a couple of useful links:
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