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.


Photoshoot Before and After: Making bootylicious rooms even more bootylicious

Most people do it: you look at a picture of a celebrity in a magazine and sigh, thinking, "God, if I just looked like that..." I have news for you...even "they" don't look like that. Exhibit 1: Beyonce, admittedly a beautiful woman, before photoshop:
And after photoshop:
The same thing happens with decor magazines. You look at the pretty pics of beautiful rooms, then look up at your own mess, and think, "It's not fair. Why can't my house look like that." I have more news for you: a lot of those houses don't really look like that either, at least, not all the time. Here are some reasons why:
1. They change for the magazine. Sometimes magazines decided even already pretty rooms need to be spruced up before being shot. Here is the guest room of Joni from Cote de Texas (click here for the whole story) before the magazine shoot: Really pretty, right?

Apparently not pretty enough. The magazine asked for new pillows and cushions, new accessories, the removal of the zebra rug, etc. Here's the room ready for the shoot with the changes in place (there are many more changes asked for in other parts of the room not shown. I urge to go to Cote de Texas blog for the whole story.

2. Professional photography and lighting make a huge difference in how spaces look. Do a test. Tomorrow at work under florescent lighting, take out a hand mirror and take a look. Later that night after you've recovered from the shock, look at yourself in a room with low wattage incandescent lighting. Better huh? If you really want to look good, turn off the lamps and bring out the candles. In other words, the right light makes all the difference. Same for photos. Furthermore, there is a reason you look better in the photos taken by the professional wedding photographer and the one snapped by your inappropriately drunken Aunt Betty with the disposable camera: the professionals know what to do to make you look great, while the Aunt Betty just knows she needs another manhattan.
The following are the shots taken by Erin of elements of style
before a photoshoot at her house for the Boston Globe:
Now look at the shoots taken by professional, Eric Roth:

In this last one, they've photoshopped out the lamp cord and moved the cpu from under the desk.
3. They borrow items for the shoot. It's very common for homeowners to borrow items for the shoot. It can sometimes be a monotary issue, it can be because the existing element doesn't photograph well, it can be because the stylist is using some of his own things. Just remember, just because it in the photo, it doesn't mean it lives in the room all the time.
Here is the living room of the fabulous Visual Vamp
Before the shoot, Valerie had already replaced her cowhide rug with the uber trendy black and white striped dhurrie. However, she needed some pillows to make the newly recovered sofa pop, and her own patent chairs had not come back from the upholsterer in time, so she borrowed chairs and pillows from the New Orelans store Perch. Here is the room as it appeared in the publication:
By the way, the pillows looked so fab, she had to buy them. That's one of the reasons stores are willing to loan items: often the homeowner falls in love. You've got to go to Valerie's blog and witness the continuing transformation of her living room.
4. They have the luxury of moving things around for the perfect shot without having to worry about practicality. Plus, they have photoshop. Here is an example of the above in the home of Antony Todd as it appeared in Elle Decor magazine (notice the differences between the room as seen in the magazine and as shown on the cover:


Not a girl, Not yet a woman

Last night I found some photos of Ms. Cleopatra Schwartz from her puppy shower, the day we brought her home. I give you Cleo, then: And now (not quite 2 years later):
Your dog may be cuter and sweeter, but I sincerely doubt it.

Recession Shopping: aka. I found it on the street

My inspiration: the living room of Mary MacDonald's guest house, as shown in Domino Magzine and every decor blog that has ever existed or will ever exist. The inspiration was the random striped wall, which I decided to do on the side of our garage to give some interest to the outdoor dining area.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we've been working on finishing the backyard. It's a small completely paved area (I plan on staining the concrete a dark color....after hurricane season). I've pretty much finished the dining area, which is sheltered under an overhang by the garage. I'm not very good with plants, so I'm using a lot of color on the hardscape. I used the inspiration pick from above for the general idea, even though the feel of my space is completely different. Instead of sleek, L.A., midcentury and expensive, I transformed it into, crumbling and peeling, New Orleans, and cheap (i.e., everything was repurposed, found on the street, or bought using Thomas's deep employee discount.) All joking aside, we were going for a House of Blues, caribbean bar vibe: funky, laid back, and designed for parties. Across from the dining area is a seating area with four adorondak chairs. I've been searching for something to ground the space, and while walking Cleo, I found it: this fabu mantle that was being discarded from a home being remodeled. Four long blocks of draging that damned thing and a dog later, and with the addition of Thomas's fabulous version of a Dr. Bob (a great local folk artist) sign concocted from bottle caps and a scrap piece of lumber, we have a focal point.

. I promise more pics of the backyard when it gets a little further along.


China Blue Seas

I recently had a client who needed a large scale piece of artwork for above the bed. The room was monochromatic with dark chocolate walls, and lots of cream and neutrals. The painting needed to introduce some color for interest, while being serene and peaceful. The client requested water tones and a slight Asian influence.
Here is during. The canvases are all 3' X 5'. And in place:

Sweet Sucess: A table redo with before and after pics.

One of New Orlean's favortie treats are the delicious friut pies from Hubig Bakery, a long time part of the city. Since I'm not the only creative person here at the Villa Vortex (the name of our home--how it got that name is a long drunken story I won't bore you with.....that is until you come over and I get drunk.....), I thought I'd share the story of a table and my hubby's love of Hubig pies. He decided he wanted to try decopaging, and what he want to decopage was our backsplash with hubig pie wrappers. Before I told him, not just "no," but "hell, no," he went on a tour of the bakery, where the very nice people gave him a roll of hubig wrappers, the special mardi gras wrappers. since I was against doing the backsplash, the wrappers lanquished in an upstairs closet while Thomas searched for the perfect decopage canvas. Then one day walking in the quarter, we spotted this on the curb:

As usual, I forgot to take a before pic. This is after the wood grain formica and rust stained "brass" accents had been primed and painted. But it was sturdy, with the clean mid century lines Thomas loves, and since it was free, I had no qualms about using it on the porch. So after several layers of primer and paint, a day inhaling mod podge fumes and cursing, and 6 coats of spar polyurethante, I give you Thomas's masterpiece: the Hubig Pie table (pretty cool, right?):