Painted faux finishes help homes break the mold

April 12, 2002

The Formica countertop had to go. But first, Carole Shearer was going to have some fun.

So, the Hagerstown-based decorative artist created a stencil, cleaned and primed the 10-year-old kitchen counter, and went to work.

When she was finished, what was a drab, off-white surface looked like tile had been installed.

"It's like a new life for it," Shearer says. "And I figured if it didn't work you replace the countertop because it's needed anyway."

Welcome to the wonderful world of faux finishing. Strictly speaking, faux painting means using paint to create the look of another material, like marble or wood.

In general though, faux (French for false) has become the umbrella term for a variety of finishes, from sponging to ragging, employed to avoid the flat, monotone look of walls painted a single color with - Gasp! - a brush or roller.


"You get wallpaper and there's a pattern that repeats. And whether you really notice it or not it's there and it gets boring," says Frostburg, Md.-based decorative artist LaVel Rude, owner of Interior Decorative Arts. "I've done it every day for 10 years and you'd think I'd get tired of it, but I've got faux finishing in my kitchen and dining room and I don't get tired of it."

Going faux provides homeowners with a chance to break out of standard decorating habits.

For clients interested in an exotic look for a sun room, Rude and Shearer can create walls with an aged appearance that look as if they were transported from an ages-old Italian villa.

Often, mustering up the courage to go faux represents the greatest challenge for homeowners, despite the style's growing popularity.

Novices can find many of the supplies they need at local home improvement stores, from sea sponges to kits providing step-by-step instruction. There are even brands of spray paint on the market that, when dry, feel like stone or sandstone.

"Some people are very apprehensive about trying finishes, and the thing to remember is it's just paint," Shearer says. "If you want to try it, try it in a closet where nobody's going to see it."

Rude says homeowners are becoming more daring; among the murals she has painted is one with an Egyptian theme incorporating worn stone images and hieroglyphics.

But even if homeowners opt for a more subtle approach - using a rolled up rag to apply paint onto a wall - the effect can make a noticeable difference in the look of a room.

"It really softens it, and I think the reason people like it is whether you consciously or subconsciously see lines in wallpaper, you don't with faux finishing," Rude says. "When you walk into a room it lowers your blood pressure. It's very calming."

In their homes, Shearer and Rude have finishes that range from the intricate to the more subtle. Some walls have stencils, others use colors that seem to accentuate artwork hanging nearby.

What Shearer enjoys is teaching others what faux is and how to do it. Among her lessons: Have fun.

"It's like in school, you were always happy when it was finger painting day," she says. "And this is the grown-up version of that because you're basically playing with paint."

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