You might think clay is only for southwestern style homes, but the natural earth plaster is making its way into more homes and commercial buildings across the country because of its environmentally-friendly makeup and easy care.

"It was founded in order to answer a growing concern and belief in natural interior products to improve the interior environment of your homes, offices and clinics," says Carol Baumgartel, Vice President of Marketing and sales for American Clay Enterprises. She is also one of the founders of the company which was formed in 2002.

The plaster is 100 percent natural -- made from marble, dust, and natural pigments.

"The plasters that have been used since about 1940 have been gypsum plasters and gypsum plasters are manufactured through a heat process -- they heat the gypsum when it comes out of the ground. So they have to use high energy to get it to have its chemical bond. Our plaster is a mechanical bond. There is no gypsum, no lime, no cement in it. It is really hardened by the compression of the applicator," explains Baumgartel.

Another reason earth plaster is especially liked is because of its resistance to mold, and its ability to help regulate humidity and absorb sound.

"What we have found is that rooms that are painted with any kind of paint, heat up faster in the summer and become more humid in the summer than the rooms that have American clay," says Baumgartel.

The concept of using clay over, say, lime, cement, acrylic, and gypsum plasters is squeezing into markets that you might not expect. Baumgartel says the clay plaster isn't just a regional decor. It's creating a buzz all over the U.S. because of its versatility of design. The plaster can produce a finish that creates a smooth Venetian plaster look or a rough adobe texture.

You can choose from three American Clay plasters to give a room a dramatically different look and feel. The Porcelina clay creates a polished, marble-smooth surface. Walls have a soft and smooth feel to the touch. The Loma is the company's original formula and is used as a base coat and also a final coat. It's also recommended for do-it-yourself homeowners because of its easy application. The finished look can result in polished, rustic, textured, or matte finished walls. A Mediterranean-and-Caribbean inspired style is achieved by using the Marittimo plaster -- made from crushed sea shells, the plaster has a subtle speckled look that creates a glow in the finish.

"It looks as though it's already waxed when it hasn't been," says Baumgartel.

Application involves using a sanded primer followed by a base coat. The second coat can be the final coat -- no sealing is necessary. "We actually recommend that you don't seal it but you can. For instance, if you have splashing from a sink, you can seal that area," says Baumgartel. She adds that by not sealing the clay plaster it helps retain "its breathe-ability. It actually regulates the moisture and the temperature in the space," better than when it is sealed.

Baumgartel says the plaster is extremely repairable especially when it is not sealed. She says for people with children it makes it very easy to eliminate things like marker stains on the walls.

"They can either apply a little bit more of the product and feather it in or they can actually take an almost dry sponge and rework the area to make it look like it originally did," says Baumgartel.

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