Using stylish trickery at home Design: Faux finishes create an impression of structural changes that would cost more and take longer to do.

June 30, 1996|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Why, I sometimes wonder, is there such a craze these days for faux finishes, trompe l'oeil and all the other painterly tricks intended to fool the eye? I've decided there's probably more to it than, if you'll excuse me, meets the eye.

Historically, this technique was used solely for aesthetic reasons. Some of Europe's great palaces still display examples of painters' simulations of draperies, moldings and cornices. Their efforts to mimic the look of three-dimensional decorative and architectural elements were not meant to be inexpensive substitutes for the real thing.

In our own more populist times, however, faux depictions are valued more for their economical than for their aesthetic properties. Today, an artist's simulation may well cost less than, for example, a machine-made molding. And paying a trompe l'oeil specialist to produce a scenic vista will almost certainly be less expensive -- as well as much faster and easier -- than cutting a window out of a structural wall.

I'm not suggesting that we no longer appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a trick-the-eye composition. But I am convinced that trompe l'oeil's current popularity has more to do with its comparative affordability than with its artistic merits.

Indeed, many manufacturers of wall coverings have succeeded in putting this art form within reach of more and more budgets. These prefab productions simulate the work of the simulators themselves. Faux-faux -- is that what we should call it?

Here, for example, is a photo of a coordinated set of wall coverings from Sanitas. The New Jersey-based company is perhaps best known for its wonderfully scrubable bath and kitchen wall coverings, and now it's combining new textures and timeless patterns in a collection called "Surface Statements Volume Three."

The side wall of this entrance hall features a diamond-patterned covering as well as a border with a faux Greek key design affixed between two painted moldings at chair-rail height. The darker, textured covering on the lower portion of the wall has a verdigris color tone. It nicely enhances the appearance of the accompanying black iron and wicker console.

The whole look is very stylish yet at the same time very affordable.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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