With some paint and glazes, a few tools and a little time, a plain, functional front door can become a home's welcoming statement, with the rich colors and grains of oak or mahogany. A concrete column can look like marble, a ceiling can become a cloud-dappled sky and old cabinets can get new life.
To get those looks and more, all homeowners have to do is go to school. The Faux School, founded in Frederick by artist Ron Layman, 41, offers classes on decorative painting techniques to amateurs and professionals alike.
Layman, who started a decorative painting business in 1996 and began teaching the techniques three years later, is known for his ability to fool the naked eye. His brushwork can be seen on the faux marble doors of the Kennedy Center, backdrops for Smithsonian exhibits and color matching on columns at the National Gallery of Art.
Layman said he had less than two weeks to complete the work at the Kennedy Center.
"After all those years, they decided to stop painting the doors white and paint them to match the marble on the exterior of the building," he said.
But you don't have to live in a museum to make use of decorative painting. Homeowners are finding they can add texture and interest to their rooms through faux painting, either by hiring somebody to do it, or giving it a try themselves. The look is considerably less expensive than installing real marble or wood, and can be changed easily with a few swipes of paint.
Layman said interest in faux painting appears to be on the rise, partly because of home improvement shows on cable television channels and partly because big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowe's provide materials and information.
"I think people are doing more," he said, adding that decorative painting is a good alternative to wallpaper and relatively inexpensive in comparison. "If you want to do something, you just need a couple of gallons of paint."
Plus, he said, "you can kind of change things on the fly, whereas wallpaper or paint, it is what it is, there's not much variation."
But some faux painting techniques are more challenging than others and that's where Layman's school comes in.
In a chilly warehouse with paint-spattered grey carpet in Frederick, two students from Baltimore have come to learn the techniques, but not to paint their own houses.
Aaron D'Antoni, 30, of Towson, is a professional painter who wants to add faux painting to the services he offers customers.
Alan Zemla, 45, of Windsor Mill, is a set designer at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theater in Baltimore, and wants to be able to create realistic-looking sets on a budget. "I've always been sort of interested in this," Zemla said. "Now I have an excuse to learn it."
As they work, both think of spaces in their own homes that would benefit from faux painting. "I have paneling in my basement that is whiteboard and this would look great," said D'Antoni as Layman demonstrated how to create a look of wood grain.
"So this is going to turn into mahogany," said Zemla, looking at the orange-painted rectangle on his easel. "At least that's what Ron tells us."
At the end of a five-day workshop, his students have already learned nearly 20 techniques, including how to create the looks of leather, granite, bricks, marble, rust and Venetian plaster. Some techniques are easy enough for beginners, and give fairly impressive results. Layman said perhaps the easiest technique is to paint a surface, then coat it in a glaze. Lightly spatter rubbing alcohol on the surface. That's it.
Creating the look of leather is also relatively easy, he said. Start by painting a surface in satin-finish paint, then brush on a glaze in a darker, but similar color. Buy a piece of cheap plastic, push it into the glaze and pull it off. Let it dry, and admire the result.
But for his students, it's now time for what Layman considers the most challenging texture to create with paint: wood grain.
"What makes the woods and marbles more complicated is that you're trying to imitate something that people are familiar with," he said. "Walls are easier if you're just making the wall pretty and avoiding certain mistakes."
On Layman's easel, a sheet of paper is already painted a warm orange. Layman advises the use of eggshell or satin paint as the underlying layer. He tells his two students the key to creating the look of wood is understanding how trees grow, how the sap comes up. If it's not right, a viewer will know it's fake, perhaps without perceiving exactly what's wrong with it.
Layman starts by covering the entire sheet in a mahogany-colored glaze, using long brush strokes that sweep across the entire surface. He then dips a small brush in black paint and lightly sketches what he calls "teepees," arcing toward the top of the paper. Then he uses a brush called a brass mottler to muddle the hues, followed by one called a badger brush to soften the lines.
Paint and glazes may be in Layman's blood. His great-grandfather, Joseph Wilhyde, was a painter in Frederick as far back as 1890. Layman's grandfather opened a painting and wallpapering business in Frederick in 1947, and his father, Ronald Layman Sr., was a decorative painter.
Even if faux painting doesn't come naturally, Layman urges novices to go ahead and give it a try. If it doesn't work out, a few strokes of the paint brush create a clean surface for trying again, he said.
But for those who don't have time to take a class or don't have the genetic gift, hiring a professional may be the way to go.
"There's a lot of technique involved," said Sharon Sanner-Rose, of the Hampden decorative painting firm Sanner-Rose Studio/Andrea Nichole Inc. "Unless you want to do something really simple and tackle a small area, it may be a bit overwhelming."
But homeowners should be aware that hiring someone to create a faux finish on a wall, ceiling or elsewhere is more expensive than a simple paint job, since it requires significantly more time and talent. But it can make economic sense when the alternative is replacing fixtures such as kitchen cabinets, or using real marble or other materials, she said.
"Right now, I'm redoing somebody's entire kitchen cabinets," said Sanner-Rose. "They were a dark brown and we're repainting them and putting a faux finish, a decorative distressed finish on top of them."
Contractors also hire her studio to add details such as wood graining to boost the value and visual appeal of their projects, she said. Her prices start at about $350 for a straightforward technique in a small room like a powder room, she said, "something simple that gives a room life and depth."
Whether homeowners take his class, hire a professional or read a book or website, Layman said faux painting can be challenging but the results are well worth it. "With basic knowledge of the medium and some creativity and some practice and experience, the possibilities are endless."
Faux painting tips
Decorative painting artist and expert Ron Layman, of the Faux School in Frederick, offers this advice:
•Use faux painting to add warmth and depth to a room. "You can big rooms look smaller and more intimate with color, or you can make small rooms look bigger," said Layman.
•Consider using faux painting to update kitchen cabinets or give a front door a richer look.
•Start with a small space and a relatively simply technique if you are doing it yourself.
•Tape off baseboards and edges before starting, as with any paint job.
•Use satin or eggshell paint as the base coat under the glaze – and choose the highest-quality glaze you can find.
•Don't be afraid to paint over your work and try again. "Just practice and be observant," said Layman.
The Faux School
The Faux School, 35 South Carroll St., Frederick, 301-668-5110. Offers one-day, two-day, three-day and five-day classes teaching a variety of faux painting techniques.