Knock on (Fake) Wood: a step by step faux bois makeover

Being a decorative painter is something like being a makeup artist: sometimes, I'm there to enhance a good feature, sometimes to downplay a bad one (or, as I diplomatically tell clients, " Girl, there is a whole lot of ugly going on up in here). Sometimes, however, I end up doing both at once, as in this case. The situation: the client whose home before Katrina damage had been very monochromatic (everything, including upholstery, was a light neutral), decided to embrace color in a big way, which she did by painting everything a medium gold from Benjamin Moore, cork. And by everyting, I do mean everyting, including all the trim, the ceilings (actually the ceilings are one shade lighter), doors, and walls. To make the color even more intense, most of the flooring is a pale maple shade that is almost the same color as the wall. After being in the home for several months, she called because the gold was overwhelming her. The floor plan is open, and a complete repaint was not in the budget, so I needed a way to tone down all that gold. I decided that doing a faux bois (French for fake wood) treatment on all of the doors downstairs to match the stained front door wood go a long way toward cutting all that color, while also emphasizing their nice moulding details and panels, thus turning a negative into an opportunity.

I forgot to take a real before picture, but even with the blue tape and finish start, one can see how the doors faded into the wall:
Here is a closeup of the finish on the front door. I used this as my guide. In a faux bois treatment, you layer thin, striated glazes over a basecoat that matches the lighted color in the wood you are mimicing. In this case, the original cork color was a good base. I dry brushed on a darker, slighty redder color. I did not thin down the paint.

In the early stages, perfection is not necessary, and actually works against you. First, keep in mind that you are trying to create a natural effect, therefore, you actually want imperfections and variations: what you are aiming for is all over evenness and balance, but not perfection.
This is how the doors looked at the end of step 1:

Next, repeat the process with a darker paint. I used a dark brown, Black Bean from Sherwin Williams.
In order to get the look you want, you may need to do multiple layers of the darker color. It's important in these steps to follow the grain lines of the different segments of the door. It's also important that there be distinct brush strokes: it's these striations that will eventually mimic graining. There are actual graining tools, but the door I was matching had a fine grain.
I then coated the doors with mutiple layers of stain: A layer of Minwax polyshade Colonial Maple, and then multiple layers of a mix of 3 parts Minwax polyshade to 1 part Colonial maple. Then to reduce the shine to a true satin, a good rubbing with extra fine steel wools. A couple of swipes of Black Bean, and Voila: From paint to wood with no stripping:

A detail of the faux bois finish: This technique is also great for furniture if you don't want to strip it, or if the wood is different species, or has unattractive graining or damage.
If you want the look of wood without painting, I highly recomment two Sherwin Williams colors straight out of the can:
Black Bean for an espresso finish close to Pottery Barn's espresso and French Roast for a color that blends with dark cherry and colonial maple.


Maria Killam said...

Stunning! I too have found that even a client that loves yellow, finds it's too much everywhere. (loved your "there's a whole lot of ugly going on here', too funny)

Anonymous said...

hi try eco wood treatment from sherwin williams