These are Not Your Mother's
Sponge-painted Walls

by Karen Martin
Assistant People Editor

The techniques employed to color homes today are more akin to original art than the sponging of two decades ago that put the "faux" in faux finish. "It's been an evolution," said Jennifer Poe, who owns Fleur de Fini and earns her living making new walls look, among other things, old. "It doesn't scream at you," is how Karen Giffel, owner of Brushstokes, described some of today's more subtle finishes. "It's more like it sinks into the architecture and becomes a part of your home."

But not everyone wants subtle. While some people enjoy the look of a 200-year-old Tuscan villa, others crave the over-the-top opulence of a Las Vegas casino. Experts like Poe and Giffel agreed that with the products and techniques available today, homeowners can have both — just preferably not in the same house. However, in a world increasingly filling with cookie-cutter subdivisions, decorative finishes allow homeowners to make their interior spaces special. "It's a way to personalize your home," Giffel said.

Today's finishes are all about glaze and texture. And, most often, a combination of the two. Glaze is a layer of paint, thinned so as to become somewhat transparent. Texture mostly comes from plaster, which is troweled on to create dimensional finishes. Experts can layer on plaster and then color it with a glaze to give new Sheetrock the look of an old French farmhouse. The finishes also work to cover wallpaper, Giffel said. Or, using the two mediums, decorative artists can recreate the look of raw silk or fine linen. Working with several paints, Poe and Giffel can give flat walls the look of ceramic tile or fake travertine marble so that it takes a touch to tell it's not real.

Metallics — gold, copper, bronze and silver — are also very hot, according to the experts, and can be worked into almost any home. Burnished to a warm patina, metallic glazes can color kitchen or bathroom cabinetry or even the walls of a small space, such as a powder room. Shining with reflective light, metallics can add pop and sizzle to a more modern design, Poe said. Of late, the two have been working a lot with stencils — fleurs-de-lis are very popular right now. "It's classic and timeless," said Poe of the symbol. "It's also very in vogue right now."

They apply plaster in the stenciled outline, creating a raised pattern on the wall. "Some people want it very precise; others like a more rustic look," said Poe, showing examples of how the same technique can result in very different looks. Coming on strong now is the use of medallions, glass tiles, wooden and metal appliqués or even pearls to add 3-D effects to walls and cabinets. "It's kind of like jewelry for your walls," Giffel said. Practicing what she preaches, Giffel, who lives in a fairly new subdivision, experiments in her own rooms. There's Venetian plaster — a modern term for an aged stucco finish — in a hall near the back door, a crackle plaster finish in the bathroom and glazed, stenciled cabinetry in the kitchen.

Her latest project has been transforming the walls of her foyer using Vietnamese josh paper. The paper, which looks a lot like gold leaf but costs only a fraction of the real thing, is a hand-stamped 3-inch by 5-inch gold rectangle centered on a larger plain sheet. "It's less expensive and it behaves better than gold leaf, which is very fragile and can be difficult to work with," Giffel said. First she painted the foyer walls dark red, then carefully cut out the gold rectangles and glued them to the wall. "There's 550 squares on that one wall," said Giffel, pointing to the only solid wall in the small space. She brushed on a gold metallic glaze to add depth, then came the "jewelry" — rosettes to which she had applied silver leaf — in a random pattern. The effect is stunning.

Such techniques are particularly good for small spaces, such as foyers and powder rooms. "It creates more drama in a small space," said Giffel, noting that in a large space it could be overwhelming. "The thing is," Poe said, "it's all about getting what you want. If it's gilded plaster crackle, or Venetian plaster or something else, you can get it." "Getting it" could take as little as a couple of days or more than a week, depending on the type of finish selected and the number of steps involved, the experts said. That also affects the price, which Poe and Giffel quoted as about $3 per square foot for a simple process, such as glazing, to as much as $12 per square foot for a technique that requires many layers and hours of labor.

© 2019 Jennifer Poe
Baton Rouge, LA  |  C 225.247.4151  |  F 225.673.3421