Living Room Makeover

In many older houses, rooms are small and sometimes partitioned by walls pierced with archways. As I have previously written here on this subject, today we prefer large open spaces that allow us to live, entertain, and work at the same time. In this 1930s house, the dining room and sitting room communicated through an arched opening that had a 22″ high wall above the arch.

View from dining room before

View from dining room before

Clearly, the division reduced the floor space, and the low archway visually lowered the height of the ceiling.

dining room with low archway

Dining room with low archway

When one was standing in either room, only part of the ceiling of the other room was visible because its view was blocked by the top of the opening archway.  So we decided to take down most of the wall, leaving just a narrow partition on one side.

LR with section of wall to be demolished

LR with section of wall to be demolished

We had to first ensure that the wall was neither a bearing wall, nor hiding electrical wires, forced air conducts or plumbing elements. The demolition was not as easy as it would have been with a modern wall because in the 30’s, walls were made of plaster and mesh which is very heavy and more difficult to cut. The repair on the wood floor was also tricky: it is challenging to find the same wood and achieve a stain matching the existing wood floor.

New large living room.

New large living room.

The result was well worth the effort though, yielding a manifold improvement: we have the illusion of a higher ceiling.

new LR seen from ex-sitting room

New LR seen from ex-sitting room

And, more light floods into the new room.

Bright new LR seen from former DR

Bright new LR seen from former DR

It is also easier to circulate.

new LR seen from ex-sitting room

New LR seen from ex-sitting room

To your sledgehammers!

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How to Achieve Distressed Gilding

When one says “gilded”, you envision a glossy shiny gold finish. But this is not always so; it is true that straight gilding is done by 1) applying a base coat, 2) brushing size on the piece (glue size is a liquid adhesive material to adhere gold leaves to a surface that is being gilded), and 3) placing gold transfer leaves.  Or, as explained throughout this post, one may prefer subtle gilding to transform, for instance, new-looking pieces.  In our case, we will turn a console and a wall sconce into old distressed (not destroyed) gilded antiques.

Before starting, you need to know precisely what look you are aiming to achieve – what shade of gold do you desire? What background colors do you want to reveal behind the gold? The chosen colors have to be harmonious to achieve fakery.  Faux finishing is not at all a happy-go-lucky trade.

The consoles I worked with were white and the wall sconces were black.  Here are one of each below:

Original white console

Original white console

Original black sconce

Original black sconce

From the beginning I was targeting a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century look.  I would use a lot of dark grey and some silvery grey, then accompany those colors with a dirty brown simulating dirt accumulated over centuries.  On many gilded furniture, the gold base is blood red, which also yields wonderful results, but I wanted to explore a more discreet and authentic look.

Using Benjamin Moore latex paints, I started by coating the table with a tan-colored primer.  I then covered it by two dark bronze/brown layers of paint, applied next to each other in a patchy pattern. Once they were dried, I brushed the piece with Smoke metallic paint, ragging it off to leave tracks of it only in the recessed parts.  Again, I waited for this coat to dry to randomly apply a layer of iridescent gold that I also partly ragged off, but this time, I left some of it onto recessed as well as raised parts.

Once the base coats were thoroughly dry, I brushed size all over the pieces. Approximately one hour after its application, the size still being tacky, I started applying the gold leaves. Different gold leaves are available in art stores.  Some are regular squares coming in every shade of gold.  The variety I picked was pale gold, with a peculiar consistency that disintegrates as it comes in contact with the size.  As a result, when gluing the entire square to the piece, only fragments of the leaf adhere, leaving irregular tracks of gold that simulate a distressed gold finish.

Beginning the aging and gilding process

Beginning the aging and gilding process

I repeated the application many times until I felt that enough gold had been applied.

Detail of distressed gilding on apron of console

Detail of distressed gilding on apron of console

A certain amount of gold had to be applied to convey a rich and intriguing shine, set out by the various undercoated tones.

Detail of aged gilding on legs

Detail of aged gilding on legs

The next step was to age the gold leaf by rubbing (burnishing) a diluted dark grey brown latex paint on its surface and ragging it off to preserve the gold shine and mute the recessed parts.

Detail of aged gilding on the apron of the console

Detail of aged gilding on the apron of the console

I aimed to demonstrate that the quality of the gilded piece was still dominant despite the defacing it incurred from the passing of time.

At last, the newly faux finished furniture/object received a water-based varnish, with semi gloss sheen, to protect them.  Et voilà, that’s how it’s done!

Finished result of distressed and gilded sconces

Finished result of distressed and gilded sconces

As a final remark, I will add that one should expect the gold metal leaf to yellow a little bit more than its original tone.

One of the distressed.and gilded consoles

One of the distressed and gilded consoles

The consoles can be placed side by side with any valuable collectibles.

Second finished console with its aged gilding

Second finished console with its aged gilding

 

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Decorative Painting for Restaurants

Who said that using distressed finishes to transform restaurant walls was passé? Lately, to recreate a post-Russian revolution ambiance at the Mari Vanna restaurant in Washington DC and to implement a traditional Mexican décor in Taqueria Nacional, I executed unusual décors and faux finishes on walls, decorative woodwork, wall papers, bricks, chandeliers, and other objects.  The result was exceedingly original, cordial, and fun.  For the Mexican restaurant, over rusty corrugated metal sheets I reproduced an old “Taqueria” (taco eatery) design sign.

Distressed sign painted on old corrugated metal

Distressed sign painted on old corrugated metal

In Mexico, traditional store signs had popular designs with flowery calligraphy, curvaceous fonts, and vibrant colors to catch the customer’s eye. These signs, typical of the “arte populares”, are incredibly artistic and fresh looking compared to their rigid American or European equivalents. Here are two pictures showing the effect cast by such a sign and the ambiances set by the beautifully-executed distressed décor.

Restaurant sign painted on corrugated metal with bar in the background

Restaurant sign painted on corrugated metal with bar in the background

Restaurant distressed walls with traditional cement floor tiles

Restaurant distressed walls with traditional cement floor tiles

At Mari Vanna DC, The Russian restaurant interior was entirely distressed from floor to ceiling on three levels, including fixtures tiles, furniture and other objects, to emulate a former grand house chopped up into community apartments, as well as to bring a flair of a Babushka’s (Granny’s) apartment.

Overview of distressing work on ceiling, moldings, wall paper,chandeliers and trims

Overview of distressing work on ceiling, moldings, wall paper,chandeliers and trims

I started by ageing the ceilings and the cornices with a putty-colored glaze, indeed smoky or dirty looking.

Glazed restaurant ceiling and aged chandeliers.

Glazed restaurant ceiling and aged chandeliers.

The cornices were treated with gradient hues to underline the molded leaves and patterns of their design.  On some of them up to four colors were used and featured a dash of bronze or gold.

Distressed crown moldings and wall paper.

Distressed crown moldings and wall paper.

The same treatment was applied to the rosettes. The bathrooms’ pine wainscots were stained with a grayish medium to imitate faded wood.

Distressed door and walls.

Distressed door and walls.

The stairway wainscot as well as every door, trim, bar and shelf were painted, partly sanded down to the wood, then stained.

Ambiance set by distressed brick walls, and woodwork.

Ambiance set by distressed brick walls, and woodwork.

Similarly, I tinted the wall papers with dry Sienna powder and burnt umber to reproduce the passing of time and mildew. To age the entire brick stairwell I used five different tints giving the bricks a dusty and faded look. At last, I faux finished the chandeliers and wall sconces to simulate antique ones. The faux finish work allied to the materials used all over the restaurant, such as old barn wood, tufted fabrics, flowery wall papers, 1950s original magazine clippings and newspapers pasted on the walls, contributed to creating a very warm, comfortable, and whimsical décor.

Aged wainscot and distressed crown molding and magazine clippings.

Aged wainscot and distressed crown molding and magazine clippings.

Once the faux finishing work was completed, Russian artists added finishing touches by painting traditional Russian folk designs on doors and furniture. This exceptional décor was conceived in every detail and led from start to finish by Moscow-based designer Gulia Ismagilova. The restaurant décor is so hearty that it definitely opens your appetite… for more faux finishes!

Distressed bar and shelving.

Distressed bar and shelving.

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How to Give a Built-in Bench a Swedish Flair

What do you do with a long built-in bench when you can no longer bear it’s sight?  You may wish to embark on a totally different look, unless you are restricted to a color theme that matches the wall or other decorative elements in the room, which was our case.  The bench was in a large pale yellow kitchen cum living room area.  On one side of the room, above emerald green tiles was hung dark olive green stained cabinetry.  On the other side were cherry color and taupe couches.  Introducing an additional color would have been bold, and my client wanted to tie the cabinetry to the bench.  This is why we decided to stay with a much lighter green that would not conflict by the same token with the pale walls.

Dark green built in bench

Dark green built in bench

Painting of first white stripe

Painting of first white stripe

Instead of applying a plain lighter shade over the bench, I sanded the surface to smooth it, to get rid of most of the dark green, and to reveal the previous coats of paint.  Indeed, the under coat was a much lighter green.  I stopped sanding when three quarters of the dark green were removed, exposing the remainder in a lighter background.

Afterwards, I picked two different light greens: one on the yellow side and another on the blue side.  I diluted each color with the same quantity of Floetrol and brushed one color over the entire surface, removing part of it with a rag as I progressed.  I repeated the process with the other color.  Eventually, I obtained a very soft pastel green built up by several shades of green.

Bench with pale green background

Bench with pale green background

The bench still looked monolithic; in order to break its mass, I had to add a geometric, floral, or gingham pattern, for instance.  I decided to go with horizontal stripes, keeping it fresh and simple.  I introduced three stripes.  I again used a diluted mix of vanilla color and applied two coats of it over each stripe.  The vanilla actually looked off white.

Stripes before the design

Stripes before the design

Once the stripes were dry, I sanded them to remove half of the white paint, giving a more distressed appearance to the three bands.

Plain stripes on bench

Plain stripes on bench

At this point, with a fine liner brush, I painted two simple designs inside and on the edges of the stripes in a darker olive color to break their monotony.

Detail of design on bench.

Detail of design on bench.

Again, the color I used was diluted to give a worn-out effect and to soften it.

Finished bench

Finished bench

Finally, I varnished the bench with three coats of satin water based varnish.  The finished piece is reminiscent of Swedish faded pastel furniture, and matches the cabinetry with its dark design accents.

Bench integrated in the kitchen

Bench integrated in the kitchen

It now just awaits cushions and customers.

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How to Execute a Faux Tortoise Shell Finish

Tortoise shell finishes are one of the most difficult faux finishes to execute.  In this post, I will explain the process step by step, and hopefully provide enough guidance for you to get started on your own imitations.

For centuries, the rich and mysterious colors of the tortoise shell have lent themselves to a multitude of imitations.

The shell of the tortoise comes naturally unappealing.  Depending on the tortoise’s geographic origin, its shell can be characterized by blotches of dark nuances bathed in a green, brown, or sometimes almost black background.  Only a special treatment (i.e., chemical treatment) of the shell reveals its beautiful stripy pattern and tints.  To accentuate these traits, shells on furniture were often inlaid over sheets of gold, silver, or other bright colors.

Historically, tortoise shells were not a common staple, and unless purchased as antiques, tortoise shells today are not available for sale legally.  However, their sumptuous designs can be made available through imitation.  In the world of decoration, we traditionally come across two colors of tortoise shell: yellow and red.  Spectacular examples of the red ones appeared during the Renaissance period in Europe and in the Far East, on frames and furniture.

This being said, overlay tortoise shell can appear with much serendipity in various hues, ranging from turquoise to carmine.  As long as the effects of transparency, depth and flecked pattern are reached, it remains extremely decorative.  Its most common applications are seen on:  boxes, frames, mirrors, and furniture (vignettes).  On walls, large squares of it bring a luxurious look, and can be equally fitting in a modern or classic interior.  I once divided a ceiling into 40″ dark turquoise and black tortoise shell squares, and finished the surface with a high gloss varnish.  The result was splendid, and fun.

Underneath are the basic steps for achieving a yellow tortoise shell pattern.  In my project, I used oil-based glaze and fine artist oil paints.  It is best to work along with an original piece of tortoise shell,  or an excellent reproduction as a guide. I prefer the oil to the acrylic medium for this type of finish. My surface was a small 24″ round mirror frame.

Metallic gold paint over ivory color.

Metallic gold paint over ivory color.

  1. The surface of your project must be perfectly clean, smooth and flawless.  If it is a raw wood, it must be gessoed and sanded.  Paint the surface with a latex or oil-based bright yellow, similar to a buttercup. You may have to lay several coats if the base is dark. Lightly sand each coat or rub it with steel wool.  Add one more coat of bright gold metallic paint (“Olympic gold” if you use the MM (Modern Masters) brand), or apply a mixture of metallic gold with latex yellow paint.
  2. Depending on the size of your project, you may want to divide the space into small squares or rectangles of 3, 5 or 12 inches. Given the size of a tortoise, small pieces of shells are easier to work on at a time and are more credible.  This would also allow you to vary the patterns or sizes of the spots more easily.  On my frame, the ridges made it difficult for me to divide the surface.  Nonetheless, it could have opened another design avenue.  Moreover, I would not recommend this faux technique over curved surfaces: it is feasible but very challenging!
  3. Before coating the frame with glaze, place a little bit of Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, and black into separate containers.  Each heap of color should be slightly diluted with turpentine or mineral spirit. Their consistency must remain creamy.  Afterwards, dilute oil glaze with kerosene or mineral spirit and fine linseed oil.  Coat your project with this glaze.  With a small artist brush, sit a dab of Burnt Sienna sparingly, in a random pattern, following the model of tortoise shell that you want to imitate.  Leave many areas untouched.
Metallic gold paint over ivory color.

Metallic gold paint over ivory color.

It is important to let the bright gold show through.  You do not want a muddy finish; it should look neat and clear, although a little blurred.

More gold needs to be exposed

More gold needs to be exposed

Add fewer patches of Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber, next to the Raw Sienna.  Hold your badger vertically and hit the Raw Umber with it, then gently hit virgin spots on the surface to” walk” the dark tint in tiny flecks.  Clean and wipe your badger and soften the surface with it, very gently, in one diagonal direction.  Clean it again and repeat the softening part if necessary.  You may need to add more of this tint, or some black.  If you went overboard with the colors and they conceal the background, with a clean rag wipe some small areas, add more glaze, and rectify the pattern.

Depending on your result, you may want to wait one day and repeat the glaze application, followed by more of the same or different colors.

Adding indian red on top of glaze

Adding indian red on top of glaze

It usually takes three coats of glaze, or three days, to reach the desired effect.  If you concentrate the entire applications on one day, you will obtain a glaucous look, unless you opted for a sparse spotted finish.  Similarly, if you are satisfied with the results of the first round applications, you may want to wait one extra day just to add the tiny dark flecks that will not disappear a midst the other colors as you badger the surface.

Final tortoise finish (detail)

Final tortoise finish (detail)

It is always best to isolate each layer, and not to rush. Each dried layer has to been sanded with very fine steel wool or 400 sand paper.  When you are ready to varnish, use a semi or high gloss varnish to enhance the various colors of your work.

Final varnished tortoise shell finish.

Final varnished tortoise shell finish.

Use an oil-based varnish of very good quality, in spray or from a can. If you have applied a latex or acrylic paint, you may use a latex varnish to seal your work.  A minimum of two coats of varnish will be necessary.  Again, rub the piece with steel wool between each coat.

Enjoy your chef d’oeuvre!

Mirror completed with faux tortoise shell finish

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