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Faux for show

The Baltimore Sun

See the marble baseboard that matches the marble fireplace?

Look again. Look closer.

Unless you are on the floor, nose-to-vein with it, or touch it with your finger, you'll think that baseboard really is marble.

But this is wood, a trompe l'oeil design handpainted and glazed, with green and cream veining to mimic the fireplace marble.

"I love marbleized baseboards. It adds weight and character to a room," said its painter, Charlie MacSherry, who has a Baltimore decorative painting business.

Encircling the room, the marbleized baseboard is one of several techniques used to unify elements of the library.

It's also one of many complex faux-finish and painting techniques enhancing walls and other large surfaces at the 32nd annual Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House.

The show house, presented by the Baltimore Symphony Associates, displays the latest in design trends and their elements - colors, style, furniture and accessories.

Especially arresting are the faux finishes and brushwork - stenciling, distressing, texturizing and otherwise multicoloring surfaces - from the pigmented kitchen ceiling down to that library baseboard.

Faux finishes and murals not only have long endured, but also are increasingly complex to create, combining techniques and finishes in multiple layers and shades. They allow for personalization, hide surface imperfections and often cost less than remodeling with the real thing, decorators say.

"Faux painting has a very broad definition, from painting, washes and glazes to more elaborate finishes," MacSherry said. "I think people choose faux finishes because they don't want wallpaper but they don't want flat paint."

This year, the show house is Roland Run, a country home built in 1896 as one of the grand dames of Ruxton. It's really a two-fer. The owners are expanding an early 1800s cottage next door, and four of its rooms are among the 23 spaces transformed by area decorators.

Although the owners plan to move to the enlarged cottage, the manor house is for sale. The homes decorated as show houses generally have ties to the real estate market.

"Most houses are like this. The houses are for sale, or it is going to be for sale," said Marge Penhallegon, this year's volunteer show house chair, noting that use as a show house gives a house exposure to thousands of visitors.

In 2003, the show house was one bequeathed to the orchestra for fundraising purposes, so it was for sale along with the decorator furnishings. Another year, new owners allowed their home to be turned into a show house before they moved in, giving them a little more say than usual in decors, she said.

"We've been very successful, because the houses do sell," she said. Between the walls and the furnishings, she said, any of the rooms done by the more than two dozen decorators could pique a buyer's interest.

In the library, MacSherry and Christopher Winslow of Winslow Art & Design in Baltimore used a French antique style, treating the room with fake finishes. The walls are a celadon and vanilla strie, a subtle look of layers of brushed-on paint. Gilded panel molding forms frames for the delicate chinoiserie designs that surround hanging artwork. The fireplace mantel was glazed to give the impression of a patina highlighting the old paint. The walls exude character and act as backdrop for warm-hued antiques.

"The walls put it together. We wanted an elegance, just a beautiful room," MacSherry said.

In contrast, Kathy Ward of Borderarts in Ellicott City used paints, waxes, primers and more in faux finishes to create an old-world look in the breakfast room.

"They are old-world finishes, meant to look like they've been here for a while," Ward said. "You're trying to get something to look like what it's not."

Rubbed-through layers of paint on the wall lend an impression that "over the years, people would have painted things in many different colors," she said. Her coral-tinted brick wall appears to have chipped to show yellows, creams and greens beneath, but really, she's created areas within each paint layer where subsequent tints won't stick.

Similarly, rough plaster made with a texturizer coats two walls; cabinets in distressed buttermilk have that look of aging furniture - but the browns that would be wood really are applied on top of the lighter shades.

In a nearby hallway, artist Susan Perrotta, a consultant for Budeke's Paints in Timonium faked the look of textured old plaster walls by applying crinkled tissue-paper with paste and coating it with five layers of paint in pale teal, cream and gold.

"It really transforms a room because you can create your own look," she said. "But it's a lot of labor."

The kitchen, the work of John Q. Grier III of Q. Decorative Finishes in Lancaster County, Pa., and Ryan Sentz, of the Faux Dream in Perry Hall, also has multiple faux finishes, including what appears to be a tile backsplash, an old plaster ceiling and walls, and rough-textured cabinets.

The tile feels like ceramic, but it's plaster. The ceiling and walls have the look of rough old plaster, but it's newly done with earth-toned pigments rubbed in plaster.

In the rest of the house, other walls are outfitted with painted designs. Even cavemen, designers note, had murals on their walls.

"When you don't have room for furniture, or much furniture, it's nice to dress up the walls," said Pat O'Brien, a Cockeysville artist whose jazzy Art Nouveau design lures people through a hallway and up a staircase.

On a peacock-turquoise background, her black pattern of swirls around peacock feathers carries a Prohibition-era themed background for artwork depicting musicians, dancers and actors of the time.

And in the new house, a long, serene mural of birch trees painted by Allan Forrest, who has a Baltimore studio, adds balance to the great room designed by the Ethan Allen Design Center in Towson.

"The subtle thing is pulling in the colors of the stone, the grays, the rusts, the siennas," he said, referring to the giant stone fireplace that dominates the opposite wall. "It balances the room."


Faux finishing creates the illusion of something that's real. Here are some types of the faux and decorative painting on display at the Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House:


This creates a streaked, or striped appearance. It is done with paint and glaze layers, with a brush combed through to create the lines.

Paper texturizing

This makes a wall look like textured plaster. Crumpled tissue paper adheres to the wall with wallpaper paste. Layers of paint are unevenly applied.

Mural or freehand painting

This is painting -- anything from a repeated pattern to a landscape -- done on dry wall paint. Often the design is traced or sketched onto the wall before being painted.

Venetian plaster

This coats a surface with a plaster texturizing medium for a variety of looks. A pigmented compound is troweled on, often in layers. The effect is attained by how it is applied, sanded and colored.

[Andrea F. Siegel]


The 2008 Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House, presented by the Baltimore Symphony Associates, is at 1861 Circle Road in Ruxton. The Show House event runs through June 7. Open 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sundays; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays. Closed Mondays.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. For information, call the Baltimore Symphony ticket office at 410-783-8000 or visit Proceeds benefit the educational programs of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

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