Painted faux finishes add spark to drab fireplaces

March 24, 2007|By McClatchy-Tribune

SEATTLE -- For years, fireplaces blended in too well at Heidi Noun's home. One fireplace was hidden behind a wall, and another was white and drab.

At the suggestion of an interior designer, Dannae Howe came in and transformed the fireplaces into the centers of attention.

"It's clearly the thing when people come over that they are drawn to right away," Noun said.

Howe, a muralist and faux finisher, elevated Noun's fireplaces to art with paint. Both fireplaces were painted with the trompe l'oeil technique, which uses realistic imagery to trick the eye. Howe made the brick fireplaces look as if they were tiled.

"It's a really cost-effective way of making a big impact," said Howe, who typically charges $800 to $1,200 for a fireplace.

Howe, 46, did the dining-room first, reproducing the look of valuable Batchelder tile on a fireplace that until recently was stuck behind a wall. She also painted tile on the concrete hearth.

"People just walk in and can't believe it's not tile," Noun said.

In the second room, Howe started with a bland, white-painted fireplace that now pops visually in an art deco style that took about a week to finish. She picked a brighter style for the more-casual room that will be used mostly by Noun's two teenagers. The artist emphasized vertical lines through bronze-colored accents that resemble metallic inserts common to the period.

Howe starts by priming the brick, then uses chalk to outline details. For the den, she created a stenciled design for the green tile and added color variation to make it realistic.

Fireplaces pose textural painting challenges, Howe said. Brick is rarely even or symmetrical, and her brush gets caught on the rough spots.

But like walls, fireplaces can accommodate faux finishes as long as they are prepared properly, said Karen Di'Angelo, a Seattle faux finisher who recently redid 40 fireplaces at a condo complex.

Faux finishing adds character and depth, with choices as versatile as plasters that create texture and colorful glazes that add depth, including color washes and combing. Faux finishes are as durable as paint and will last years, Di'Angelo said.

"There's typically something you can do for almost any fireplace to make it look considerably better without replacing the whole fireplace," she said.

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