Walk into any room for the first time and your subconscious may pick up on its ambiance — cool, warm, old, charming, inviting, sleek, rich, laid-back, relaxing … you get the point. If walls could talk, they’d likely utter those words. Walls, in fact, create a room’s personality. This is true not only with colors, but also texture and paint-application techniques.
Area homeowners, painters and artists agree that one can obtain just about any type of mood one wants by paying attention to a wall’s textures and tones. Here, they weigh in with ideas on everything from glazing, rolling and striating to Venetian plaster techniques.
It took a few years for Aimee Began of Royal Oak to settle on a career, but ever since she found it, it’s been full steam ahead. Began, who owns Lusso Artistry, has been creating highly sought-after textured and special-finish walls for the past seven years.
“It’s endless what you can do with walls and color and texture,” said Began, who once worked for an artist creating distressed furniture and learned a lot about antiquing processes while at that job. She also was a merchandise supervisor for the former Ann Arbor Marshall Fields (now Macy’s).
As a wall-finish expert, Began trowels away her days in several area homes. “A trowel is used for all Venetian plaster looks,” she explained.“It takes a lot of upper-body strength to work with a trowel,” she said with a laugh. "But wow … is the outcome oh so worth it."
One of the highlights of her career was the 2009 Somerset Show Home, an eco-friendly house that was built in Birmingham. Began oversaw most of the show house rooms’ painting processes and applications.
Began uses an Italian lime plaster that, when applied, gives a subtle, warm glow. “I use Dimensions Plaster; it’s a quality product given that there’s a lot of synthetic plaster available today.”
Lime, incidentally, was used to help strengthen many medieval structures. Ancient and Renaissance artists preferred using lime in frescoes because it blends perfectly with pigments and resists fading, not to mention its durability. “Lime paints have life to them,” Began said, “or at least bring life to your walls.” She also likes to use a diluted technique — she’ll dilute Veilcalce to create a lime paint that has a flat finish.
These products are all about eco-friendliness. “They are VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) free and derived from limestone,” Began explained.
One of the first things Began asks clients is: “What do you want the room to feel like?” It’s better to know that than, say what sort of look they’re after, she noted. “Color and texture can produce a feeling in a room. Do you want it warm and cozy? Sophisticated? Beachy? I can create depth, which is glassy smooth, and/or texture.”
If you’re after a beach house feel, Began suggests “an open layout with a lot of light and softness … clean and crisp.” For this look, a lime plaster creates an absolute “matte-ness that has a marble content, which allows light to reflect off of it,” she said. “It absorbs light and the light reflects differently.”
In her own Royal Oak home, Began recently put the finishing touches on several walls, as she and her husband just moved in.
“I went for a beachy feel in much of the home — makes no sense in a Royal Oak bungalow,” she said, chuckling. All the walls are lime-plaster in a super bright white. “It’s soft, too, though. I loosely troweled two layers of untinted Marmorino (a paint brand) with a light burnish to close the plaster. It’s imperfect and I like that.”
For the trim, Began chose a turquoise hue that evokes the ocean. She then applied a whitewash over the turquoise, creating an “aged effect.” In her kitchen “the smallest, but most colorful area of the home,” Began defined the space with a golden-peachy ceiling color, turquoise cupboards and terracotta-ish walls.
Under the Tuscan sun
As for the very popular Tuscan feel that homeowners continue to adore, Began noted that its allure is in its old-world feel.
“There’s that rich feeling you get from the word Tuscan. That look … you can see the chunkiness of the wall, its patina and build-up, the weathered feel. People like to imitate that.”
Interior designer Shirley Maddalena of Maddalena Design (formerly based in Birmingham and now in Bloomfield Hills) recalls fondly a client who wished for Maddalena’s suggestion of a warm and cozy gathering space that evoked Italy’s countryside.
“I started with bare walls in a lower-level, walk-out space,” Maddalena recalled of the Birmingham project. “The client really wanted to use the space for hanging out, for wine tastings, family gatherings and more,” she said. “As they’re Italian and come from a long line of entertaining with food and wine, we came up with the idea to create a Tuscan environment.”
Maddalena wanted to convey a feeling of country, vineyards and more without going overboard “by hanging decorative grapes and that kind of stuff,” she said, laughing. The answer? Specialized wall treatments.
“We created a rustic feel with heavy-duty, harvest-gold textured walls … layers of plaster.” The look, she said, had a big impact on the whole space.
Maddalena opted to have the walls glazed as well to give “the space a sense of age and charm.” She also had the woodwork stained, including moldings, chair rails and built-ins. “It feels warm and cozy.”
From kitchen to powder room
A little bit of Tuscany also graces Laura Scaccia’s home. The Troy resident’s Italian heritage comes to life in the walls of her kitchen and powder room.
“The kitchen has sort of a stucco finish using Italian plaster and a rag-rolling technique. It looks old and weathered,” she said of the mushroom-hued walls. She also had her cabinetry “distressed” in a rich black tone to make them look old as well. In her powder room, Scaccia opted for plasters along with a plaster stenciling so the stencil is thicker, she noted. The “rusty-orange” space is just what she was after — she’s especially fond of the metallic-bronze flecks atop the paint.
Scaccia’s dining and living rooms feature a double-rolling technique using two latex paints. “I did those walls myself, double-rolling gives a textured look.” On her entryway walls, Scaccia used a feather duster in two different tones of taupe to create an old-world feel. “I just love texture,” she said.
“I am very fond of glazing and striating,” added Rick Carmody of Au Courant Interior Design in Ferndale. He often will hire a specialized painter to create textured walls.
Generally, a striating process involves first applying a drywall compound to the wall in a thin layer using a knife. One can make striations with household items, such as a whiskbroom. Once the compound is dry (24 hours), a painter might then use a brush to apply a semi-gloss paint (two coats) with a warm tone. Once dry, a liberal amount of glaze is applied on the wall with a wide paintbrush, and the excess is then wiped off with a cotton cloth. Interior designer Maddalena is especially fond of this stage as painters like to allow the glaze to collect in the crevices for an aged look.
Glazing, explains Metro Detroit color consultant Paula Pavlik-Douglas, can be applied in various ways. Although she no longer does custom painting, Pavlik-Douglas recalls that her technique included using an acrylic glaze.
”I almost always used an acrylic glaze,” she said. “There are lots of good ones on the market. The easiest way is to use a latex paint to mix into the glaze. A quart of paint will make enough for a good-sized room.” Pavlik-Douglas sometimes would use cheesecloth to apply the glaze. “Wet it first (not drippy wet) and plan to keep a bucket handy to rinse glaze out when it gets too saturated.” She suggested practicing on a small wall first.
A good glaze can look wonderful and rich, she said. “In general, the darker color should go on top of a lighter color, otherwise the glaze can look a little frosty.” Also, Pavlik-Douglas said, glazing is a great way to add a darker color without the flatness of solid paint.
Brian Eisbrenner, president of Shelby Paint & Decorating (in Shelby Township, Rochester Hills and Grosse Pointe), recommends his stores’ Modern Masters line of products for unique wall finishes and metallic paints.
He also said you can get some great “finishing” techniques with wallpaper.
“I stayed at Trump Towers in Chicago and some of the wall finishes they achieved with wallpaper were amazing,” he said. “Today’s most popular wallpapers are three dimensional. We have some really glamorous wallpapers with embedded glass beads, shimmering textures, metallic and all in the finest European prints.”
Eisbrenner named the following manufacturers as tops: Koessel Studios, Patty Madden’s Harmony and French Dressing by York. “They are reasonably priced and can be done in one step.”
Shelby Paint & Decorating will be holding free seminars this October and November on how to hang wall coverings.
Walls undoubtedly can be as artistic as the artwork in a home. Just ask the aforementioned painter Began. She takes the walls-as-art philosophy literally. Beyond painting walls, Began also creates pieces of wall-finishes artwork that look best in a modern or industrial décor. They’re now available for purchase at Italmoda Furniture in Royal Oak.
“I love the richness of a textured wall with lime plasters so I created these plaster pieces that also feature fabric, sort of like a plaster tapestry,” she said. They are hung suspended in a room with a metal system. “I also can create table runners, placemats and more. They’re eco friendly — I use all-natural components.”