Pebble Dash at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast

Filed under: Carolina Bed and Breakfast, History, Re-decorating

Cement is mixed in small quantities

Arriving at our Asheville Bed and Breakfast, guests often ask us about the stucco finish of our bed and breakfast.  The more commonly seen smooth surface of stucco is, in this case,  studded with small pebbles, giving it an unusual bumpy texture.  This finish, known as “Pebble dash” is one of the historically significant features of the Arts and Crafts style Carolina Bed & Breakfast and while it is unique, it does present some challenges in repair and upkeep.

One of the most common questions we hear is, “How is it applied to the walls?”  Well, we recently had to have one of the walls of our addition finished in pebble dash so that it would be consistent with the other homes in the Montford Historic District in which we live and of course I took lots of pictures!

But first, some history:

Pebble dash and its related finish, roughcasting, were imported to the United States from England in the mid-19th century.  The development of Portland Cement in 1864 meant that builders now had cement of consistent quality and strength with which to work.  Prior to this time, the very well-off could build houses of brick and stone while everyone else had to settle for wood or mud.  People were fascinated with cement and began to experiment with textures and finishes.  Pebble dash was quickly adopted by the Arts and Crafts movement as it offered texture, was seen as a traditional craft technique. In addition it was cost effective and fast to put up.  Pebble dash and its cousin, Roughcasting, became the finish of choice for the upper middle class and naturally when Richard Sharp Smith came to Asheville to help with the building of the Biltmore, he brought this English-style stucco work with him.  These homes, both in Biltmore Village and other historic areas are one of the unique aspects of Asheville architecture.

As the industrial revolution moved forward, new finishes and styles became prevalent and pebble dash largely fell out of favor.  So when it was time for us to complete the exterior of our addition, we had to hire a specialist.   The first thing we learned was that our house is not finished in pebble dash but rather  roughcasting.

What’s the difference?  In both cases an initial layer of stucco (or “scratch layer”) is applied and allowed to dry.  After this has dried the two methods diverge.  To create pebble dash, the stucco is applied and then the pebbles are literally thrown (or “dashed”) onto the wall where they stick (one hopes) to the stucco.  On a roughcast wall the  pebbles are added to the cement and then the cement and pebbles are thrown against the wall in one application. Roughcasting is more commonly painted over as it provides a smoother finish while pebble dash is often left in it’s rough form.  In either case, it’s a very messy job!


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