Colorful Back Yard

Valorie Hart, The Visual Vamp,  included my backyard in a round up of interesting backyards in the summer issue of New Orleans Home and Lifestyle magazine (here).  The areas featured range from modest, funky ones such as mine, to much more elaborate and goregously landscaped ones.  While the pics on the magazines website are lovely, many more pictures are available in the hard copy of the magazine.


From Formal Dining to Billiards Room: Part Two

 In my last post, I described the process of transforming a space from it's intended purpose as a formal dining room into a more useful (for a young family of 5), but equally glamorous billiards room. 
 After the envelope was complete, I had the mouldings painted a deep, deep, almost black charcoal, Iron Ore by Sherwin Williams.
I then layered in floor lamps from Restoration Hardware, acrylic stools by Kartell, a custom pillow for the chair and accessories.

A commissioned art piece, an architectural fragment, and a soft ivory washed paint finish on the built in credenza soften the hard edges of the Lucite, crystal and chrome.


How to Turn a Formal Dining Room into a Glam Pool Room: Part 1

 I have some clients, a young family with 3 children who live in a fantastic mid century house on Lake Ponchatrain.  Before I joined the project, they had already renovated the house saving as many original features as possible, like the marble and terrazzo floor in the entry and great room.  They did open the kitchen to the great room, creating an enormous space that has room for two sitting areas and a dining area for 8 by the kitchen:
While they do entertain quite a bit, they have a very informal lifestyle, so with a large casual dining area, they didn't feel like they needed a separate formal dining room.  Furthermore, they had converted the large downstairs guest room to a t.v. room for the kids, so they didn't need another seating area.  However, they did think they would enjoy a pool table.  They had already purchased a large formal rug in shades of grey and champagne and had inherited the crystal chandelier when they bought the house.  We may replace it one day, but decided to work around it for now.
Since the pool room is open across the center hall to the living room, we needed to make sure it comeplemented the white, gray, and black color scheme, as well as the mix of sleek furniture with rustic accents.  You can see the cased opening to the pool room to the left in the photo below.

I decided that we needed a strong statement on the wall you face entering the room.  Because of pool sticks, I was hesitant to use art or a mirror for that statement, so decided that a contemporary faux treatment would be stricking.  Plus, it would give me the chance to blend the warm  and cool grays present in the existing rug and wall color.
I started off by drawing a grid of rectangles. 

I used Modern Masters metallics in a range of silvers and champagne.  The key to the technique is to keep your paint in "stripes" in the pan.
I think carefully rolled a roller in the pan, trying not to blend the paints, and rolled the stripes onto the wall.  I then quickly and lightly softened the stripes with a dry brush.

 Here's a shot with the sleek new pool table in place and the existing rug .

Next installment:  furniture and painting the trim

A Big Pillow Makes a Big Difference

Sometimes  small change can make a big diggerence in updating a room.  I was hired to do a rare exterior faux finish job--painting new shutters to make them look old and weathered, and the lady of the house wanted to make a few minor changes inside.  One thing she wanted to change was to recover her pillows on her existing off-white slipcovered sofa.  She had already bought the fabric and just needed the covers made. 

I thought the fabric looked great in the room, but I didn't think two pillows recovered would make much impact and thought that doing 4 pillows would look too cluttered.  A more modern idea:  one giant pillow.  I just used a body pillow from Target as the form.  It might not be the most practical solution for a heavily used sofa, but this is a little used formal living room.  Plus you can still sit comfortably in the corners without moving the pillow.  I think the large surface lets the pattern shine and the one long form gives a more modern feeling.


Why I Hate (Sometimes) HGTV, Real Simple, and Pinterest

I am in the middle of one of those simple (or at least it seemed like) home changes that snowball quickly.  We, and by that I mean Thomas, decided to purchase a vintage hi-fi console.  It's actually beautiful and I love it, but it's large and meant that some re-arranging had to take place.  Furthermore, I needed to do a little freshening up in my office for the Apartment Therapy home tour. 

Anyway, after moving the furniture around, I was ready to really settle into the modified spaces, but here's the problem---with all the "little" rearranging I've done, books are in places they're not usable, my sewing patterns and supplies are downstairs while me sewing machine is upstairs, and I've crammed too many things into too many storage nooks "temporarily."  With the dreary weather we have had, I decided to get started adjusting.  Well, here's the problem---there's no place to adjust things, so my first item of business to empty one of the few closets I have to better organize.,  The problem:  I wouldn't have had this stuff in the closet if I had had a good home for them in the first place!  And, I swear, we're not hoarders---I don't have stacks of old magazines, boxes and boxes of holiday d├ęcor, a gigantic stash of crafting supplies, I (like most people), just have more stuff than places to put them.

Okay, you can relate to that dilemma, but why the HGTV, Real Simple, etc. hate?   Because they offer such unrealistic "solutions" to storage. Look at that closet above from Real Simple;  whose wardrobe consists of only items that co-ordinate with their storage.  Plus, if I only had two coats and a scarf, I wouldn't need storage inspiration in the first place!  They don't run that many design shows anymore (it's all 24/7 real estate), but I can still remember the show that caused me to stop my relationship with HGTV, once my favorite channel of all time.  The show is long since cancelled, so no need to name names, but it involved the "designer" redoing the extremely large great room of a physical therapist who occasionally saw clients at home.  At the beginning of the show, the room had a seating area, a physical therapy area with massage table, a home office area separate from that of the therapist's husband who had an office in another room and a treadmill.  Anyway, at the end, the room was only a living room with a small writing desk.  The rest of the items vanished without even the briefest of explanations as to why now they had other homes.  I mean, wow, designing rooms would be so easy if I could just throw 75% of the regularly used items into the street without addressing to live without them.  It's the same with pinterest....a stuffed closet will be transformed into a stunning space without any real mention of where the rest of the crap went.  Don't get me wrong, I know a lot of the debris of most closets are just that, debris that should be disposed of, but not all. 

Oh well, rant over.  Now I'm back off to decide where to stash the rest of my books.  I tried just stacking them in front of a fireplace for a touch of relaxed BoHo chic, but it just looked like I had recently moved in and hadn't bought a bookcase yet.


How to Paint a Chippy, Heavily Distressed Finish

Photo by Jacqueline Marque
 One of my favorite pieces of furniture is my sewing table in my guest room.  I discussed my inspiration for the color and the geust room here,  but never discussed the process.

The desk was the ideal candidate for painting;  it was perfect for my purpose, very sturdy and well made, and with a regrettable finish.  The legs were standard 90s fruitwood, and the top was in a contrasting, slightly damaged, mustard crackle finish.  All this added up to a piece I had no qualms about painting. 

Here's the desk before.  I sanded it lightly and wiped it with mineral spirits.  Because I was going for a heavily distressed look, I didn't bother to putty the small imperfections in the top.
Because I was planning to expose the stained finish through layers of paint, I did have to co-ordinate the top to the legs.  I covered the top with a standard faux bois finish (tutorial here), immulating a fruitwood finish with paint, layers of wood stain, and a graining tool.

It's now, after the initial prep is finished and before beginning the actual painting begins when you need to plan for your finished look.   With a real painted antique there are several aspects that give the finish that valued patina.  There is breakdown and fading of the paint, there's the build up of furniture polish, dirt, oil, candle smoke, etc.  There is crazing and cracking of the finish.  There is wear on edges and corners.  There can be physical damage--dings, worm wood holes, gouges, etc.   When you are making a "fauxtique,"   you need to decide which of these things you want to immolate.  I wanted actual chips in the finish (not just sanded edges), and a dark, stained patina suggesting years of wax and grime. 
I started with taping off sections of the stained finish.  I made sure they were irregular like chips in paint and on the places you would expect wear and trauma---at edges, at corners of drawers, around the handle.  You can also use wax, wood glue, putty, etc.  to shield these areas.  The idea is just to create a chip like barrier between the bare wood and the top coats of paint.

I then covered the table in a tinted adhesive primer.  It may look white in the picture, but in reality it was a pale, bluish gray.  I like to use tinted primer, because it serves as the primer and a base layer to contrast with the top coat, saving a step
I then sanded the stable with steel wool.  I like using steel wool, because the metal often reacts with paint finishes to great a burnished, streaky effect.
It was now ready for the greeen.  One thing that can happen to paint over time is an uneven breakdown of pigments, sometimes causing a streaky effect.  I like to make my materials work for me, so to help create this illusion of unstable color, I actually used a mixture of several different paints in the same pan that I purposedly did not mix.

After a couple of streaky coats: 

The nest step is yet more sanding, then time for the real fun.  First, the tape is removed, revealing your "chips."  I lightly sanded around each one to reveal more of the undercoat:
Once I was happy with the chippiness, it was time to add my layers of grime.  I used a light stain for overall color, and added a darker one in crevices and for depth.

Before the stain dried, I used mineral spirits to create water damage and splatters of stain for interest:  

And the finished product, in all it's chippy, dirty, distressed glory!!!

To Paint It or Not To Paint It: Should You (or Shouldn't You) Paint Wood Furniture.


Like many decorators, I love, love, love painted furniture.  Unless it's truly beautiful, either because of spectacular graining or a wonderful time-won patina, wood usually leaves me cold. There is a reason it's called "brown furniture,"  and I do feel a sea of brown furniture is oppressive.  And, of course, a big part of my work is painting other people's brown furniture.  I'm still in awe of how the right paint color and right technique can transform things from dreary to fabulous. 

Interior Design-Valorie Hart  Photo by Sara Essex Bradley

I painted this chest for Valorie's client.  Full story on project at The Visual Vamp.

But here's the deal;  there are no absolutes in good design.  Most bloggers and published designers know the power of a good sound bite, and declarations like "Every room needs a touch of red"  and "Never use dust ruffles"  make good copy, but in reality, every room is an individual case study and what works or doesn't varies.  The same thing for painting furniture:  not everything piece of brown wood should be painted.  The desire to Paint! All! The! Wood! is just as much of a knee jerk reactions as "Painting wood is sacreliege."  The truth is that some wood (or more likely wood veneer) is in fact hideous and should be covered while some wood pieces are very handsome (and valuable) in their original state and should not be painted;  furthermore, most spaces look their very best with a mix of wood and painted pieces.

1.  Is it worth painting correctly?  I'm going to assume you're just not planning to slap on a couple of coats of spray paint, and would be going for a professional finish.  Here's the thing, painting a piece of furniture correctly (i.e. prepping the surface, including repairs), priming, sanding, painting with multiple coats, sanding, finishing, etc.,  requires quite a bit of work.  And if you don't have a stock of supplies already and have to purchase everything, the price of painting can add up quickly. The small gray chest in the opening photo required about $75 worth of supplies (among other things, the gold paint used on the detailing is incredibly expensive).  So before investing the time, effort and money to paint the furniture, ask yourself if it's sturdy, in good shape, serves your need.  Paint can do a lot to make things more beautiful, but it can't fix bad proportions and clunky carving.

Interior Design by Valorie Hart  Photo by Sara Essex Bradely
The large French chests above were prefect candidates for painting.  Expensive to replace, Mass produced and not special, but decent lines, perfect size, and well constructed and sturdy.  I painted them to blend with the new gray monochromatic color scheme .

2.  Could it be valuable?  Now, don't assume just because something is  old, it's an expensive antique.  Factories have been churning out crappy furniture since the Industrial Revolution, so even a piece can be an actual Victorian antique and still be mass produced crap.  However, painting a valuable piece can destroy much of that value.  If your uncertain over a piece's provenance, do some online research, check for manufacturer's marks and info, etc.

3.  Is a painted finish historically accurate for the piece?   Craftsman have been painting furniture since the days of ancient Egypt, so there is certainly a case to be made for painting old pieces and reproductions;  at the same time, there were furniture styles and periods when painting was rare, and painting a piece that was never meant to be painted can look awkward.  Some examples:  Painted furniture was very popular in 18th century France, so most Louis XV and Louis XVI styles look appropriate and great painted.  Same for the currently popular Swedish style.  Simple, primitive, country furniture was also commonly painted , so Windsor chairs, farm tables, and benches also usually look good painted.  On the other hand, Mid Century Modern furniture was rarely designed to be painted--in fact, the most popular items were designed in sympathy with current architectural ideals which were all about respecting materials.  Therefore, I always think most painted MCM pieces just look a little off.  If you have a MCM piece with a finish so damaged it's not fixable, I think the best option is to paint it a wood like color:  black, brown, warm grey.

Photo by Jacqueline Marque for Apartment Therapy
In this shot of my den, you see a painted table and  a MCM bookcase I would never paint.  The table was a perfect candidate:  the perfect size and height for a kind of center/tea table/ cocktail table, sturdy and well crafted from solid wood, but mass produced with a heavily water damaged finish.  The mid century piece has a perfectly intact finish, and I feel the wood tone is integral to its design integrity.

4.  Is it a family heirloom?  Now, this one gets touchy.  I dread having to work around big dreary wood pieces that can't be touched because it was Aunt Lucille's; however, I do understand the sentiment.  And I have also felt the regret for impulsively painting something in a trendy color (which of course I convinced my self was a new classic) and then wishing I hadn't.  Before painting a family piece, in addition to the above questions, ask yourself a few more:  1.  I am I the end of the line, or do I need to preserve this for other family members who might want it (in it's original condition) one day?   2.  Is my hatred for the finish long standing or is it just because I want a new look?  3.  Is my sentiment for the piece itself (i.e. looking at it reminds me of  family dinners on Sunday) or because of who it belonged too.  If you do decide to paint a family piece, my main piece of advice to try to pick a truly timeless color that you love and complements the piece, not just slap on gray chalk paint because Swedish style is in.

Anyway, I love painted furniture and get an undeniable rush from transforming a piece from dull dreary brown to fantastic.  However, after some time and experience, I've learned to not rush into a paint job without considering whether it's in the piece's or room's best interest to paint it.