Post faux: Painted finishes offer new ways to fool (and charm) the eye

June 21, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

At long last, the fad for faux has faded. That's good news to Valley Craftsmen, because it means there's lots more scope for all the other kinds of painted finishes the small Baltimore firm has perfected.

"I'm very pleased right now that people don't feel they must have something marbleized in their house in order to feel like they're with it. This is not a bad thing, to have that pass," says Sam Robinson, company president, with a laugh. But, quite seriously, he doesn't see any danger that his 14-year-old business will run out of work any time soon.

"The history of using paint to decorate is so long, and so varied, that to me the aberration in time is the few decades the early

part of this century where it didn't really disappear, but it certainly receded into the background.

"I don't want people to think of it as just sponging, or marbleizing," Mr. Robinson says. "It is not that, it is so much more."

A glance around the company's workshop, in the mill district west of Hampden, reveals just how much more. On the first floor, next to the neat shelves stacked with cans of paint, two people are working on a table, sanding it, then taping off an area in the center, then brushing the edges and legs with a series of glazes. Nearby, an artist is turning out sample finish boards for the firm's newest technique, textured surfaces with color washes; behind her on a ladder, a man rolls the base color on a big piece of canvas, readying it to be painted with a mural. Upstairs, an artist on scaffolding is adding details to a teahouse she has painted on one of two large painted panels.

Up a few more stairs, in the studio and office space, samples abound: stencils; stencils embellished with hand-painted detail; hand-painted borders; painted faux "molding" and real molding painted with faux finishes (lapis lazuli and marble, among them); curtain "rods," cut out of wood and painted with neoclassical designs. Even the sponge-painted walls display the firm's work.

Endless possibilities

"We try to encourage people to try to think of these types of services in terms of the effect you can produce, so it's really a treatment to the room," Mr. Robinson says. "That's not to say that you have to put special painted finishes on everything. Sometimes just a really simple combination of a nice wall color, plus an interesting finish on the trim is enough, sometimes just a stencil border. It's a good way of creating an entire look, rather than just thinking in terms of the wall finish as an alternative to wallpaper.

"The possibilities are obviously endless -- for instance, why not consider doing a stencil or a stripe detail on your floor, instead of a wall finish. Sometimes that might do a lot more for a room, . . . or taking your crown molding and adding a couple of lines of gold leaf with a nice patina on it.

"It's lots of fun when we get a project where people allow us to do lavish combinations, where virtually all the surfaces are treated together," he says, but even a small project can have a big impact.

People should think of the "other possibilities," he says. "Ceilings, for instance, are frequently ignored."

In fact, at the moment his partner, Tom Hickey, is sitting at a drawing table designing a ceiling of painted-on "molding."

"Sometimes even if it's nothing more than creating a stripe border and two or three tones of color, you can add a lot of interest to a room in a way that strikes people as being unusual. I would say the one that Tom is designing is sort of mid-complexity. It has a border stripe, it'll probably be two tones -- the inner field and the outer border will be different colors -- and then it also has painted trompe l'oeil corner ornaments and a large central medallion. That's getting moderately complex," Mr. Robinson says. But, he adds, "It's impressive what just a simple stripe detail and two tones can do."

It's a little unusual to have so much activity going on in the workshop, Mr. Robinson says; normally the design is worked out in the studio and executed on-site. But it's partly a measure of the firm's success in exploring new areas for their expertise.

Visitors to this year's Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House may remember the "Artist's Atelier," designed by Valley Craftsmen as the studio of an imaginary decorative painter. Every surface in the small room was painted -- the walls, the stenciled borders, the ceiling with painted "molding." Existing molding on closet doors was picked out in various colors, and one door frame was painted to resemble black marble. But there was also a lot of painted canvas in the room: a large "tapestry" hanging on one wall; a black and white "tile" painted floor cloth; a chair seat with a "damask" design.

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