Decorative Paint Finishes With Barbara Jacobs
Color and interior finish specialist Barbara Jacobs talks about the exciting world of paint finishes.
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You also do murals?
Sometimes a client will say, "I always wanted a china cabinet with a blue and white china," and we decide that we can do that in a mural. When I do murals for people I like to include something that’s really personal in it. Once when I was doing a tromp l’oeil bookshelf I blocked in all the books and painted in their background colors.Then I numbered the books on a diagram and asked the clients to put authors and titles on the books. They made up stuff that related to their family and it made the mural very special and personal for them.
Do you see any trends in what you do?
The trend is that there isn’t really a trend. Instead it’s a feeling that is more encompassing, including multicultural influences. Somebody might like traditional things and have a collection of African art at the same time. People want to create spaces that are sociable or relaxing or good for study. That’s how I go about what I do, too. I ask, "What are the main things that you would like to do in this place?"
I keep hearing that sponge painting is out. Is that true?
When decorative finishes became popular in the 1980s, sponge painting was one of the simplest techniques to convey. The problem is if it’s not done right you can see the edges and it looks like kitty paw prints. It was easy enough that a lot of people tried it, probably with not great results, which may be why it’s not so popular now. For me, a sponge is a really useful tool, like the trowel is a useful tool and brushes and so on. When I use the sponge for a finish, it doesn’t look like what most people think of as sponge painting.
There also seems to be some confusion about the word faux.
Sometimes somebody will say to me, "I want to do faux here." What they really mean is that they want a nice decorative finish. There is faux and then there is faux. If you do marble, for example, it should really look like marble, where you’ll say, "Wow that looks like real marble." Or you can create a fantasy marble with wild colors; it’s not supposed to look real. If you’re going to make it real, you have to have a bit of understanding of the stone and why the veins are there and the layers. It’s the same with wood graining. There is traditional wood graining that is so good you can’t tell it’s fake, and there is wood graining that isn’t supposed to look real. Faux wood grain and marble are both good ideas when you want the look in a place where it’s not practical to install the real material.
It seems as if Venetian plaster is being talked about a lot these days.
I’ve been talking about Venetian plaster for 10 years and suddenly it’s like a big thing because it’s dropped full-blown on the marketplace. I look at it as just another option. There are lots of different ways of doing it. I did Venetian plaster on a San Francisco tea shop. The walls were old and we covered them up with a troweled finish. The base was a dark, dark chocolate brown, then a red, then a wax on it. The rest of the walls are done in a raw-silk-like finish that is kind of shimmery. It’s a really beautiful finish that you roll on and use a big brush to pull through it and it creates the look of the bumps and slubs of silk.
Can people do these decorative finishes by themselves?
It’s not rocket science, and there are kits available today. But it’s very important to make sample boards and to practice. You need to get familiar with the material and the technique. Because once you get something like texture on your wall, you’ve got it! You have to remember, though, that the physicalness of doing a finish can vary tremendously among people. If more than one person is going to be working on the finish, it’s better to have one person do one level of application and then another person do another level. If you work side by side there is going to be a discernable difference in style.
Why are some people so afraid of using color?
It’s not uncommon that people have had a bad color experience and that’s made them afraid. They go from all white to picking a color that is too strong. Then they water it down and it’s too pastel, too minty. There are lots of ways to mix color so it’s strong but not scary. I have to teach people to embrace color and make it their friend.
Anne Krueger is the editor of HGTV.com's Decorating newsletter. She has written for In Style, This Old House, Martha Stewart Living and The New York Times.
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