Faux Finishing is Dead.

What do you think of when you hear the word “FAUX?” Does it give you thoughts of your friend “fauxing” her living room with a sponge and some pukey yellow paint? Does it remind you of that crusty brown “Tuscan Old World” mess on your neighbor’s wall?

How about if I told you that “faux” in today’s interior design is alive and well if you know where to look.

Since being in this business I have had people say to me “Oh, faux? My sister used to do that. Isn’t it called ragging?” or “I don’t like faux, its so passé.”  Then I get to show them my samples and they say “That’s faux?!  It looks like _____!” (Insert something like leather, wood, marble, fabric, etc.) Unfortunately many people I’ve met associate the term faux with ragging or sponging which are in fact foundation techniques that are used to create more complex finishes but have become synonymous with dated d-i-y walls. They are unaware of the magic a trained and experienced decorative painter is capable of with a can of paint and a few creative flips of the brush.

At last year’s BSA Decorator’s Showhouse in Baltimore, I had the pleasure of working with Paula Henry of Simply Put Interiors on the “Suite Retreat” master bedroom.  (This year's is in the works!) She and I came up with a finish for the walls that replicated the look of wallpaper.  One day when Paula was attending her room, a visitor came to her and asked about the “wallpaper.”  Paula told her that the walls were faux finished but the visitor insisted that it was paper.  Paula told the lady that she was there when they were being painted so they were in fact faux. The lady still didn’t believe her.  I laughed out loud when I heard that!

Good faux painting is undetectable. Unless you have a trained eye (and sometimes hand) to discern the surface, most people walk right by without a second thought.  Another example: I was at a home show a few years ago where I had a panel that I wood grained to look like mahogany. I literally had to stop people and say, “That’s not real, it’s painted.” And they would look at me like I had two heads.  I certainly got a kick out of their reaction.

Today’s “faux” is simply a reincarnation of ancient methods. If we look at the term “faux,” it translates from French meaning “false.” These techniques started as a form of replicating materials such as marble, wood, and other natural surfaces with paint; but in our age has come to encompass many other decorative finishes for walls, furniture, and other surfaces.  Faux finishing has been used for millennia, from cave paintings to ancient Egypt but what we generally think of as faux finishing in the decorative arts began with plaster finishes in Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faux_painting)

Old finishes don’t die; they simply get updated with materials, color schemes, or chemistry.  Lately wallpaper is all the rage and rightly so.  There are beautiful colors, patterns, textures, and sheens, all which fly in the face of the now dated old world plasters, textures, and other faux finishes.  But what’s interesting is that most of the papers I see I say to myself, “I can do that with paint!” The best thing is that I can do that in the EXACT color and scale the client needs – i.e., the client is not limited to what’s on the wallpaper. The best decorative artist can see a surface and will be able to dissect the finish into its elements. Stencils, metallic paints, glass beads, or plasters; these are all just materials.  Its what the decorative artist does with these materials that develops into a timeless or trendy finish, whatever the client wishes.

So what does this mean for you? Well, let me give you some examples.  When you have a surface in your house that has seen better days you may think about replacing it rather than saving it.  Painting kitchen cabinets are much more economical than ripping out and replacing them when done correctly.

Glazes can transform an otherwise boring drywall and molding ceiling into a mahogany masterpiece.  A builder’s grade white fireplace mantle can be painted to look like carved marble. Grandma’s buffet can be updated to the 21st century. Want a tile backsplash but can’t find the perfect tile that matches your granite? Paint it.  Want to tie together two disparate rooms? A perfect artistic finish will do the trick.

Part of being an artist is to show people how art can enhance their every day lives and environment. Faux is just one way of achieving that goal. It is not simply ragging or sponge painting either.  It’s a way to bring interest, or subtlety, or impact, or all of the above to your environment that you will love for years.

Faux isn’t dead, its hiding in plain sight.