The Art of Faux

- Tuesday, December 02, 2008

“Remember, Gregory, no flat walls,” my client Hillary told me on the phone last month. We were going over the preliminary color scheme for her new home under construction in Wexford Plantation.

Based on our previous conversation when she indicated her desire for a neutral décor, I sent her some paint color schemes to consider.  “Oh, do you prefer an eggshell finish?” I asked, thinking she was referring to the paint finish.

“No, but I was thinking I would love to have subtle faux-finish.  I need that forgiving texture.  I have active children. Very active!  You’ll will meet them soon, and understand,” she joked.

Hillary was right.  Her new home includes a magnificent grand stair, back stair and a generous number of corridors perfect for exploration and fingerprints. A wall paint with a textured look would be less likely to show the wear and tear of children and be more visually appealing than more than a flat paint finish throughout.

“Well, you are in luck because your builder has one of the best in-house faux-finish artists on the island. I will have him work up some samples ASAP.” I was speaking about Geraldo Alverez who does specialty finishes for Palatial Homes.

The term “faux” is French for fake and is used to describe a wide range of decorative painting techniques. Originally replicating materials such as marble and exotically grained wood, the phrase now encompasses many other decorative finishes such as stucco, plaster, denim, linen, and moiré.  Joey Doolan is another very talented artist who has done some beautiful work for several of my clients.

Like Geraldo, he can transform an interesting space into a specatcular one.

The roots of faux-finishing can be traced back many millennia. Examples of faux-finishing are seen in cave drawings and in ancient Egypt. The Greeks and Romans were masters of faux marble and faux wood techniques that often mimicked more exotic and precious building materials. Some of the most fascinating spaces excavated at Pompeii utilize trompe-l’oeil.  A French term meaning “trick the eye,” trompe-l’oeil is a technique of creating extremely realistic murals, often depicting views through a door or window, visually expanding spaces with enhanced perspective views of gardens or cityscapes.

Robert Adam and other Europeans designers contributed to a resurgence of faux-finishing during the classical revival of the later eighteenth and early the nineteenth century and the interest continued on through the Victorian Age.  Faux-finishing’s more recent popularity seems to be partly influenced by the preservation movement with its interest in greater interior accuracy for these restored older homes.  Also, consumers began to tire of the highly colorful and graphic wallpaper designs popular in the 60s and 70s and turned to non-paper alternatives.

Like those mod textiles, faux-finishing tended to be a bit heavy and over-the-top in the 80s. Remember all those not-so-subtle shoulder-padded fashions, those garish, day-glow colors from the music videos popular at the time? Yeah, well, we did them on the walls then too. I am happy to say today’s decorative paint techniques are far more restrained, sophisticated, and timeless.

I have employed several artists over the years for various projects to execute their magic on projects as simple as faux-finishing electrical switch plates to match a granite backsplash to as complicated as creating a tropical mirage landscape mural in a windowless bathroom. The beauty of faux finishing and working with an artist is you can make it as detailed or as simple as you wish. Marbleizing, graining (faux-bois in French), Venetian plaster, and color washing can all be used to enhance what would otherwise be plain, boring walls. And the great thing is, if you tire of them you can just paint over it. Much easier than stripping wallpaper.

Or, in Hillary’s case, a faux-finish can give a richness and elegance to your walls and also make them a little more resistant to the realities of day-to-day life with the little ones.

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