Faux Finishes a Home
May 27, 2008
The Whitman’s home in Keystone teems with wildlife. A faux-painted fox walks down a path in the dining room while it snows. Two life-size bears among wildflowers greet guests upstairs. Trees reach into the living room.
Every year, Jennifer Whitman adds another scene, joking that muralist Bonnie Norling-Wakeman, of Silverthorne, is her birthday present from her husband. So far, the home depicts three of the four seasons; only autumn is missing ” but not for long.
Mural and faux painting have been popular for centuries, but only in recent years have they come into vogue in residential homes. The trend began on the East Coast and moved into the mountain region rapidly.
“It just brings your personality to your home,” says Whitman.
Faux and decorative painting range from simple glazes to ornate murals and designs.
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John Stuart, of Stuart Painting Inc., in El Jebel, predominately uses faux painting in Aspen homes to cover eyesores, such as darkly stained wooden beams from the 1970s that would otherwise need to be sandblasted or re-sided. He makes light switches, heating vents and utility boxes invisible through his brush strokes. Plaster patching is another way faux painting comes in handy. Stuart says it’s the only way to repair integral color plaster, which is a tinted plaster.
“It’s just a tool used to tie together all of the design elements of a house,” he says.
Last December, Joe Wakeman, of Joe’s Faux in Silverthorne, fauxed most of Anita Lacey’s house in Breckenridge. He distinguished two bathrooms by adding a copper finish to one and a heavily pitted patina to another. He also has finished kitchens by faux painting a metallic look on range hoods, or giving old cabinet faces to a warm wooden look.
“It just changes the whole look of the house,” Lacey says. “It’s like adding art work. It looks a lot richer.”
Glazing is the basic method of faux painting. It involves adding layers of paint to a wall. A heavy-pitted patina includes applying cheesecloth, then plaster and paint to a wall. Other faux finishes include skim stone concrete, which makes the walls look like highly polished concrete, perfect for an urban or industrial atmosphere, and shimmer stone, which looks and feels like velvet, with a depth and shimmer to it, says Jen Mensale, a faux painter in Vail. In the end, the goal is the same: To give the house a more integrated feel.
“It gives you a feeling of warmth,” says Norling-Wakeman. “It just hugs you. If you walk into a house with white walls and a few pictures, it feels incomplete. But if you walk into a house that’s faux painted, it feels complete.”
And it’s timeless, if it’s done right, she says. Earthtones are always a safe bet, as are bronzes and copper.
Designers love incorporating faux painting because they can pick a color out of furniture or carpet and match it perfectly with the walls, says Marcia Bowers, owner of Creative Impressions in Breckenridge.
Bowers uses a lot of murals to complete her homes, saying they make a world of difference in the ambiance. She especially loves them in kids’ rooms.
She’s seen friendly bears peeking from the corner of kids’ closets and chipmunks peeking out of the baseboard. For a more sophisticated feel in, say, a wine room, Norling-Wakeman creates views out of faux window frames and windows gazing out upon a vineyard. In one home, she painted Buffalo and Red mountains, along with a faux wood railing that appeared to be a fence. It makes people forget they are in a dark, windowless basement room.
One advantage of painted murals is that they can bend around stairwells, landings, entryways and corners of powder rooms. One of Bowers’ clients chose bears climbing up to an observatory loft, so the animals stood beside guests as they ascended the stairs.
One step beyond a simple wall mural is three-dimensional art, such as a faux bronze bas-relief elk or bas-relief aspens, whose bark and leaves tastefully pop out from the wall.
Making cents of faux
Wallpaper was popular until about the mid ’90s, when faux painting flattened the business, especially because the cost is about the same as wallpapering, says Wakeman. Basic faux painting, which involves glazing a wall with two or three colors, costs about two to four times more than hiring a regular painting crew, he says, and it adds so much more.
When paint transforms a flat surface to look like stone, marble or wood, it’s usually less expensive than installing the real thing, says Stuart. It also can be used to tone rock colors in real stone to match the rest of the home, rather than replacing stone.
A word of caution
Faux painting has come a long way from the days of sponging white paint on a blue ceiling to simulate clouds. (In fact, the Wakemans have created night-going-into-day skies above pools.) But some faux and muralist painters are better than others.
Quality painters will possess a portfolio, references and insurance for at least $2 million, an industry standard. They will visit the home and provide samples, or sketches for murals. The best advice is to view an artist’s work in other homes, and don’t try to save money when hiring a muralist.
“If people are trying to save money, they should buy already done, reproduced murals,” Norling-Wakeman says. “Murals are not the area where you want to cut corners, because it’s the first thing you see when you walk in the room, so you want it to be really well done.”