Making an Impression with a Plaster Ceiling Medallion - Fine Homebuilding

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Making an Impression with a Plaster Ceiling Medallion

comments (7) July 16th, 2009 in Blogs
reeni Maureen Friedman, FHB editorial admin

The first medallion pieces Mike cast were the last to be installed. In 1999, before construction on his new home even began, he made the mold for the embellishments to surround the medallion. The mold was made from auto body filler (Bondo), the impression obtained by using the end of a curtain rod.

Being the keeper of the Fine Homebuilding editorial email box can be a mixed blessing. Each morning my delete key gets a workout as I sift through dozens of emails sent to let me know that I’ve won lotteries across the globe, that this is my last chance to save big on something I didn’t even know I needed, and that I’ll meet my soul-mate as soon as I sign up for the hottest new singles Web site.

But then there are those emails that make sorting through spam worthwhile. In April 2008, we received a note from Mike Dufano who wrote to thank us for the cover story (below, left) in our January 1990 issue (#57) “Ornamental Plaster Restoration” by David Flaharty. Along with his email Mike sent finish and process photos of the medallion he created based on the techniques in the article. Mike’s talent and attention to detail was incredible; I couldn’t wait to share his photos with the staff. When I showed the photos to then-editor Kevin Ireton, he agreed Mike’s medallion and story were something special—Fine Homebuilding back-cover special.

It took us a little over a year to finally feature Mike’s medallion on the back cover. (See the current issue below, right). Fortunately for us, Mike’s a patient guy. He understands that sometimes good things need a little time to come together. After all, it took him over four years of off-and-on work to create the medallion—and that was after holding on to the 1990 article for almost ten years!

plaster ceiling medallion plaster ceiling medallion

Mike took dozens of photos to document his medallion-making from start to finish. When I asked him why he said, “I think I took so many pictures so down the road I could show them and be able to say “Yes, I really did make that. See!” We could only fit three of his process shots on the back cover and know that’s just a tease for all of you who need to know “How’d he do that?” when you see something in Fine Homebuilding.

Below, you'll find more of Mike’s process shots which show how he combined passion, patience, and lots of plaster to turn his dream of creating his own medallion into a reality.


The first medallion pieces Mike cast were the last to be installed. In 1999, before construction on his new home even began, he made the mold for the embellishments to surround the medallion. The mold was made from auto body filler (Bondo), the impression obtained by using the end of a curtain rod.


Other enrichments for the medallion were cast from urethane molds. Mike made the molds using the techniques outlined in David Flaharty's January 1990 Fine Homebuilding article.


Unable to obtain the correct plaster (and confessing he didn't have the upper body strength or courage) to work directly on the ceiling, Mike chose to work on a bench. In order to reduce the overall weight of the medallion he used a 40" diameter, ½" thick piece of drywall as a substrate. A ¼” steel dowel rod was inserted in the center as a pivot.


Using a scrap of base cap molding as a template, Mike fashioned a form from a piece of steel to create the outer ring of the medallion. After fabricating the form Mike sanded the cut surface totally smooth so as not to leave any unwanted lines on the plaster.


Mike attached the form to a 1x2 arm adding screws and drywall tape to the drywall substrate to reinforce and help secure the plaster. Keeping fingers crossed that this would actually work, Mike's wife Carolyn started pouring casting plaster (not plaster of Paris) as he rotated the form arm around and around.


After experimenting with several pours of varying plaster to water ratios, the outer ring took shape. A release agent was applied to the MDF work surface to keep the plaster from sticking to it.


Using a mold made from a sheet of rubber bumpers, the beads for the outer ring were rough cast, put in a small jig (a piece of sheet aluminum with a 3/8” hole) then sanded to uniformity. The beads, all 400 of them, were attached one at time using white glue.

plaster ceiling medallion plaster ceiling medallion

 Imitation gold leaf was applied to enhance some of the enrichments Mike cast.


 The smaller enrichments were glued on first using white glue.


 Holes were predrilled through the drywall base so 2" screws could be used to hold the heavier acanthus leaf enrichments in place. Mike noted the date on the back of this piece--23DEC2004.

plaster ceiling medallion plaster ceiling medallion

 After gold-leafing one inch diameter wood balls he attached them to the center ring using wooden dowels.


 The only purchased piece of Mike's creation is the center plaster section. Attached with screws through the drywall into blind T-nuts, it is removable to allow access to the electrical box for the lamp.


 While the medallion rested on the work bench the centerpiece was removed and a piece of plywood with a 5/8" hole in the center was attached using wood blocking and blind T-nuts Medallion and plywood were turned over and a large quantity of yellow glue was applied to the back of the drywall substrate.


 Mike and his brother lifted the medallion to the ceiling aligning the hole in the plywood with a previously installed threaded rod. Mike's nephew placed washers and a nut on the threaded rod. Using a wrench, the nut was tightened pulling the medallion snug to the ceiling.


Process photos: courtesy of Carolyn and Mike Dufano, Aug/Sept 2009 back cover photo: Debra Judge Silber.

posted in: Blogs, Design, medallion, ornamental, plaster, ceiling

Comments (7)

shahbaz shahbaz writes: Hi reeni i also want images of plaster design that is very very nice design
Posted: 7:45 am on August 10th

rosalia rosalia writes: God bless you !!!!
I had been looking for something like this for quite a long time .
I need a practical guide, manual from which I can get basic to intermidiate information on casting plaster ornaments.
Can you please help -me ?????


Posted: 1:34 pm on November 24th

trivers_wi trivers_wi writes: Very impressive. Mike is a cousin that I haven't seen for eons. I never knew he was so talented! Way to go Mike.
Posted: 3:18 pm on August 12th

InspiredInside InspiredInside writes: I love seeing the process photos. It definitely enhances one's appreciation to be able to visualize all that goes into such a beautiful work of art!
Posted: 9:38 pm on July 22nd

Drewfuss Drewfuss writes: Truely a masterful piece of work!!! One of those that inspires others to try it.
Posted: 8:11 am on July 21st

reeni reeni writes: I agree. And when we forwarded Mike's original email and photos to David Flaherty Mike wrote back to say "I was positively floored yesterday to get an email and subsequent phone call from Mr. David Flaherty. I would have to think he’s one of America’s preeminent plaster artisans and to receive praise from him was truly a special compliment."

I wasn't suprised at all. I think Mike's medallion is a wonderful example of what you can accomplish when you make up your mind to do something, even if's something you've never tried before.

Posted: 1:26 pm on July 17th

RDA RDA writes: I love this! Mike Dufano’s work is as gorgeous as his persistence is inspiring.
Posted: 3:19 pm on July 16th

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