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6 posts from April 2011

April 28, 2011

A Walk Through the Halls

Lucianna Samu

The opening of the Kips Bay Show House has me feeling nostalgic.  There's a particular artistic abandon I associate with show house work, which I attribute to the hyper-creative whirlwind pace these projects adhere to.  Re-creating the energy level and professional camaraderie in any other circumstance is nearly impossible, but here on my orderly painting project I'm managing to get close!  Having a crew of professional painters standing at the ready, with brushes in hand, leaves me little time to dilly-dally on color and design decisions.  My careful planning notwithstanding, it’s exhilarating to yield to an instinctive, "on the fly" decisiveness, sort of show house style.  All this week I've been offering up a shrinking gallon of black paint, and so far, the results are nothing short of marvelous!


Andy, the extraordinarily methodical and logical painting contractor I have working with me here, is just the sort of creative ally Show House projects are teeming with.  We decided together that, yes, the foyer ceiling would be fabulous painted Bonne Nuit AF-635 and so it is.


before and after

When I declared my new breakfast room bead board would also be black (Stone Cutter 2135-20) Andy took over rolling out the middle hall.


At the staircase, before Dan the carpenter had even finished installing the new trim, Andy and I had tested the Exotic Bloom CC-551 and Green Briar Beige HC-79  that I ordered up as an option for the stair.  I'm certain I'll use these colors somewhere, but I think the green looked too wild below the new trim, and decided this area needed a color with more visual weight. Visual weight means dark, or mid-tone at the very least.  I liked the Green Briar Beige HC-79  very much, and it is a weighty color for sure, but pleasing enough for the upper hall walls, which is where it wound up.

When I handed Andy the dwindling gallon of Stone Cutter 2135-20 he was all smiles.  Men really like black walls, but painting walls black can be tricky.  In the sunlight, every speck of dust is visible on a wall painted black, especially if it’s glossy.  The dust is less obvious, or not obvious at all, if the finish is matte or flat.


The collaborative nature of the help I'm surrounded by on this project is exceptional, but I'll leave the critique of my choices to those of you who are keeping tabs on my progress!  Knowing that my ambition is to have my 200-year-old house, feeling 200 years old, the wisdom of all this black paint seems logical.  So while I can't account for how an ordinary idea becomes an original or inventive paint solution, I can report that something happens on a project when the energy is right.  And that same energy is the reason I was able to knock out this hip, edgy, and (I think), pretty darn fabulous black+white brushed plaid, while Andy was off having his lunch!


Now the walk from the entry foyer through the new breakfast room, tip-tapping down the hall and up the stair, ends as I imagined; dramatically (at the most quiet place in the house--the second floor back hall, all decked out in an American mural!).  Having reclaimed every inch of useful space between the wall framing and under the stair, I've carved out two bookcases, closets, a niche for wood storage, and a sitting area.




Now that the halls are complete, I'm confident my decision to link each of my six rooms together, using black+white as a core or bridge color, will really change the atmosphere in the house for the better.  The black calls attention to the floors, reduces the length of the upstairs hall, and adds architectural intrigue to the house by virtue of its heft.


The finished halls will offer me a relevant color reference, too, when I set out to finalize my plans for the adjoining five rooms.  In the spirit of a Kips Bay Show house-style collaboration, I'll give you the inside scoop on how I did all the painted techniques in the halls in my next post, including a few insider tricks for making samples in imaginative color combinations.

Stay colorful,


Kips Bay Show House: http://www.kipsbay.org/

April 25, 2011

Winning Colors for an Entrance Foyer

Lucianna Samu

If you own a television, chances are you've seen the Kohler faucet commercial, where a well-heeled client plunks a trendsetting faucet onto her architect’s desk and suggests: "Design a house around this."  It's not as far fetched an idea as you might think.  Let's suppose the thing being plunked onto a desk was a paint color.  What to do?  Designers might identify any color that an entire palette is planned around as a "bridge" color.  In general, color experts assign the word "core," to a single hue that links a palette together.  I chose to work my whole house color palette around the winning combination of black+white.  An ambitious choice for a bridge color?  Take a look!


"Bridge" is an accurate description for any color which will unify a palette.  A good bridge color will link differing hues together and act as a buffer between even seemingly incompatible color combinations.  Since maintaining a pleasing flow of color from room to room makes sense, it's equally sensible to link your color transitions together with any single repetitive hue.  Unlike a neutral color, an ambiguous color is generally much more complex.  When in doubt, remember that any color that's hard to describe or name is likely to be an ambiguous color.  Here are some of the hard to describe darlings of ambiguity:

Brazen 259, Antique Bronze 217, Inner Balance 1522, Crisp Khaki 234

If you have a beautiful room that falls a little flat, the addition an ambiguous bridge color will solidify the color scheme and add weight or ground the palette.  Beyond that, repeating an ambiguous color selection throughout a house is the easiest trick to I know to maintain the flow of color from room to room while harmonizing the color scheme overall.  Test this concept in any room where the color choice appears tentative, especially a room that feels a little boring or blah, and you'll see how powerful the repetition of a weighty color can be!   The theory is simple--a good bridge color adds interest and balance to a colorful palette and, more importantly, advances the entire palette overall.  How will I add black+white to six rooms without having my house appear a poor interpretation of a vintage Chanel suit?  Easy--a combination of re-interpreted, classic, black+white finishes and a few enhancements to my existing black+white influences.


As predicted, Bonne Nuit AF-635 visually lowers the foyer ceiling, which adds a comforting intimacy to the entry.  You'll recall I hoped to offer my guests a reason to pause in the entry and gather themselves together.  At night, the mirrored Moravian chandelier dances across the subtle semi-gloss sheen, and so far, everyone is happy to linger awhile!  Take a look at how the starkness of the high contrast black and white hand painted "wallpaper" grew more subdued under its new purple "sky."  The design is borrowed from a platter I was enticed to buy at Pottery Barn.  I'll include the info of how to reproduce borrowed or found designs for you next week, when I reveal another smashing black+white paint finish I've been working on.  Never forget that while my colors may not necessarily be your colors, the techniques themselves are no less effective!


I had to battle my love of crisp white trim and the need for a warmer, creamy white, to compliment the existing strie.  Choosing any color is always a process of elimination.  Once I taped up each shade of white I was considering, I forced myself to eliminate my usual favorites--Paradise Beach 911, which is too pink, and Palace White 956, which is too grey.


I looked at the chips in the daylight and at night and, knowing the purple ceiling would influence the white hues, I waited until the ceiling was finished too.  One by one, I eliminated.  Using scissors, I unceremoniously cut the chips to the beat of my opinions; too grey, too yellow, too white; snip, snip, snip.  Finally, I arrived at a perfectly creamy beige, which is a near exact match to the existing strie combination. Refining the contrast of the trim color, to a near straight match to the wall finish, expands the wall perimeter. Each door is framed by 3 inches or more of trim on either side; 8 x 3 = 24 inches. It’s subtle, but I gained over two feet of consistent perimeter wall by virtue of my balanced trim color.  This is one sure way to make a space feel larger--reduce the surrounding trim color contrast. 



My final color tweak in the foyer begins to answer the call for must-have furnishings, and all the plain-old stuff a functional entry foyer, needs to have.  Besides adding some heft to the diminutive nature of the salvaged closet door, the tiny band of spicy, nearly green, brown, (Buckthorn 987) will lend it's cooperative nature to brass and wood surfaces elsewhere in the house.  It will also be a great ally to me when I begin the hunt for a super practical area rug that can withstand the perils of muddy boots.  Surely a trip to West Elm is in order?  I have many options for a rug now, which is good, because most color pros would suggest selecting the rug before painting the walls!  Ah, we're learning how to be brave colorists around here aren't we?

The foyer still needs a dazzling mirror, something high gloss to take the "grandma" away and a chair.  For right now, I'm mesmerized by the Bonne Nuit, and thrilled I was able to enhance the big color winner in the room--the black+white wall finish.

Stay colorful.

April 20, 2011

Creating a Weathered Wood Finish Just Like Mother Nature

Lucianna Samu

After I finish up today's post, I think I'll put a question on the Benjamin Moore Facebook page, asking all the pro faux finishers how they "invented" their favorite techniques.  I've had more than my share of happy accidents mostly because I'm a bit of a mad scientist in my "paint laboratory."  I'm happiest when I just have a go at something and I love to figure out how to get the result I want after the fact.  It's not always the easiest approach, but when things work out, another classic painting technique is born.  I've had a good day in "the lab"; how do you like my Restoration Hardware-inspired, weathered wood table?


I've conducted countless experiments with cool grey and warm beige, in search of the perfect color combination to create this well-worn look.  Pro finishers have reduced painting a faux bois or wood grain to a well-documented technique.  But, painting something to look like weathered wood, or more specifically attempting to emulate the mysterious effects of weather, is a reminder that Mother Nature is one very tricky gal.


I can't say how mass-market retailers create the effect of sun, rain, cold, heat, freezing, thawing, decay, worm holes, splintering and checking.  (Maybe there are big ovens or refrigerators involved?)  What I do know about a weathered effect is, if you set out to paint "the weather," you'll need an absolutely dead-on color palette, which I have lots of reference for here in farm country.


A spilled glass of water instantly raised the grain of my new, unfinished wood tabletop.  Water on raw wood is never a good idea, but the table endured the first accidental water bath.  To stabilize the surface, I primed and painted the other side with two coats of matte Aura.  Then, with my fingers crossed in the hope the top wouldn't warp too much, I raised the grain again with even more water.  This "mistake" (the water bath), created some weathered effect, without the need to open the grain with a wire brush, which would produce a similar look but take more time.  If you want to create a similar open grain on a painted or factory finished table, dig into the surface with a large wire brush--the kind you might use on the barbecue.  Run the brush across the surface in one direction.  You can have it wiggle and cross itself, but stay in one general direction.  Wear heavy gloves for this work, and be careful not to get poked by the wire, which is as sharp as a razor.  (If you cut yourself, make sure your tetanus shot immunizations are up-to-date!)


The colors I used to render this technique are critical to the end result.  The provenance of the table doesn't matter at all.  Here are the colors:

  • Sepia Tan 1116
  • Iron Gate 1545   
  • Urban Legend 238   
  • Buckhorn 987   
  • Brandon Beige 977

To get the look, I painted the grainy, water bathed side of the tabletop and the base, with two coats of matte Aura Sepia Tan 1116.  The grain stays very noticeable, making a good template for a novice to follow for the graining layer.  Iron Gate 1545, is the grain color, watered down, and applied with a tiny brush.  Knock your painted grain lines around a little, with a rag or a brush.  The object is to break the painted line a bit, and soften, or "push" the grain.  Next I used three latex glazing colors, each made up from matte Aura.  One part Benjamin Moore latex glazing liquid and one part paint--I did not add water to the mix, which makes for a heavy glaze that will show more detail.  Urban Legend 238, Buckhorn 987, and Brandon Beige 977, layered one over the other (like lasagna.)  Drag a piece of steel wool, or a stiff paint brush you never cleaned, or a rubber graining comb, through each glazing layer before moving on to the next.  (Let each color dry before applying the next layer.)  You can repeat this process for as long as you like, beating up the results with whatever happens to be handy--the wire brush, sandpaper, a knife, steel wool--until the table top looks like it was out on the porch for a few years.  (Steel wool produces the best effect.)


Once all the glazing suits your fancy, wax the surface with paste wax, or polyurethane if you prefer.  I love a waxed surface on furniture, but as you're learning, it needs to be removed entirely if you ever wish to repaint the thing again.  If you're not sure, use the poly, which can be sanded, primed and painted over.


I can't imagine I'd want to repaint the table.  The base and the 36-inch pine top cost about $35.00.  A friend was nice enough to pass the chairs along to me--the Madeleine dining chair from Restoration Hardware, authentically weathered some more outside, so the rivets have rusted too.


I'm liking the idea that I've created a "set"--very unlike me, but the small size, makes the whole seating ensemble feel like one single piece of furniture in the new breakfast "room."  This cool grey weathered finish lives beautifully with all wood finishes.  I especially like it with red, warm brick, and, oh, it's even fabulous with all whites and neutrals. 


If you have a rescued chair or boring table around, this finish is most definitely worth a try.  It's impossible to get wrong, since after all, we're simply recreating a few years of weather and its unpredictable, yet stunning effects!

Stay colorful.

April 15, 2011

Creating a New Room

Lucianna Samu

I've had the privilege to work at some of the best addresses in Manhattan.  From The Dakota to the teeniest apartments in Tudor City, New Yorkers adhere to a singular space-planning theme: every alcove, niche, sliver or slice is put to good use and deemed "a room."  While part of the charm of my old house is its nooks and crannies, my space planning philosophy remains entirely 21st century--if I'm heating it, I'm using it!


So, while the painters are busying themselves in the entry foyer, I'm re-working 100+ sq ft of emptiness in the middle of the house.  Leaving what is best described as a center hall empty irritates my green-living sensibilities.  So the question is--how can a hall be made to act like a room?  Well, some walls would probably help.  Here's the space on my floor plan:


And here's how the space looks from the living area, and from the kitchen.


from the living room


from the kitchen

The top of the custom built-in hutch conceals the rise of the staircase, which travels clear through the top of it.  I antiqued the nearly black Narragansett Green HC 157 with black glaze and finished with a brown paste wax to knock back its newness, making the piece appear logical where it stands, or so I like to think.


The space itself measures 9 ft 6ins wide.  Four feet is wide enough for a short hall so that leaves me 5 ft 9 ins to spare.  Although I have seating at the kitchen island, I prefer to sit on a chair, at a table.  There isn't quite enough room in this space to seat four-- I'd need 8 feet for that, and it would still be tight --but it's really just a spot for me and one guest.  I can finagle in four chairs for the sake of appearances and, if all goes according to plan, I'll have a lovely breakfast room.

Re-painting the built-in would be a big job because the piece has been waxed.  Why I do this to myself I don't know.  Waxing with a basic butcher's wax enhances the durability of painted furniture, rendering it impervious to water and less likely to scratch, but it cannot be painted over until the wax is removed.  (I'll tell you much more about waxed surfaces in the weeks ahead when we get to the new kitchen backsplash.)

Black walls will make a space feel very small--not what I was after here, so I hired "carpenter Dan" to install a 3/4 high, bead board wall.  The vertical lines, breaking just below the sight line, will visually push the black down.  To replicate the finish on the hutch, I choose a nearly black, black, with just a tinge of green.  Stonecutter 2135-20, in an Aura matte finish, is a near perfect match to the existing hutch, which leans toward green.  Best of all, the Aura covered the white primer beautifully.


Now I made a mistake with the paint--a rookie mistake.  Anytime you install wood over drywall and you're planning to paint the wood an amazingly exciting color (such as black!), paint the edges of the wood first!  Carpenter Dan installed the bead board before I finished my morning coffee and the teeniest bit white primer is clearly visible in the joins between each board.


Sure, I can fix it . . . by jamming (and ruining) a tiny brush between the boards.  It would have been a ten-minute painting job before the install.  Now, it will be one very annoying half day.  Very rookie mistake.  It wouldn't have happened after lunch, but at 7 a.m., stuff goes wrong.  So here is some

  1. Prime the backside of raw wood before you install it.
  2. Paint the edges of primed wood before you install it.
  3. Paint the wall receiving dark painted wood, before you install.

If you choose to overlook these steps, here's the brush you're going to need for the fixing. :)


It may seem either a small or obvious thing, but did you notice the small "addition" beyond the doorway?  That adds four more feet to the length of the space, and now, I have a 9 ft 6 ins x 12 ft room.  See that--almost a Tudor City apartment!


All I need to do now is create the illusion of more wall and for that I'll get to work on some black accessories.  For the table, which I'll show you next time, I saved myself a huge expenditure at Maine Cottage or Restoration Hardware by finally decoding how to replicate the intriguing weathered finish we're seeing everywhere.  We can now paint everything to look like sun bleached oak--Mother Nature will be so proud!


Next Time

Stay colorful.

April 11, 2011

My Mural Painting Tips

Lucianna Samu

In a binder labeled: "things I'd like to try," I've kept page 16 torn from the Benjamin Moore book Paint Style for nearly 3 years.  Today, I relocated the treasured image which depicts a Rufus Porter mural into a file folder titled: "completed painting projects."  Yes indeed, thanks to the help of Esmond Lyons, the flag has been raised on my new, American mural.  While I'm not anticipating a knock at the door from The Metropolitan Museum of Art any time soon, I do think Rufus Porter would be as pleased as I am to see Esmond's interpretation of a Hudson River School landscape at The Peabody Farmhouse.


I'm a feeble artist at best, so I was quick to jot down every suggestion Esmond offered for mural making success.  For starters, to keep your work level, it's useful to run a grid over the wall.  It needn't be perfectly measured and precise, but the lines should be straight and level to keep your scene from having the dreaded look of sinking lopsidedness.  Pencil is a definite no-no for grid making and sketching out the scene, because it will bleed though latex and acrylic paint unless every bit is erased.  Chalk, charcoal, or a colored pencil, which will collaborate with your finished paint colors, is best.  Don't bother with the details at first, just get the background laid out, and then get to painting.

Esmond recommends that any mural needs to have what he calls a convincing background.  The "convincing" comes from suitable colors, chosen to suggest sky, grass, water and so on.  My collection of 4-inch throwaway chip brushes worked perfectly for slathering on a sky blue, drab green and "dead foliage brown."  Any brush you consider large in your own hand, will do the trick--you want broad carefree strokes of color.


Next, add a focal point to the composition.  Take a quick look here at the rule of thirds, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_thirds if you're concerned about how to render a focal point.  The short story on that is, don't stick it right in the middle!  Esmond likes to add height to either corner, or the edge of the scene, to frame the perspective.  I've resorted to dragging a tree branch in from outside, and leaning it against the wall to get my scale right.  I've taped fake flowers to walls, collage style, and I own a myriad of bird, butterfly, flower and leaf stencils.  I rely heavily on these for anything that needs to appear realistic, and I do mean anything!  I place the stencils here and there in my scene, even sometimes cut them in half, flip them over, and follow the design around the acetate with colored chalk.  Instead of the typical pounced paint application, painting the designs in free hand, perhaps layering and highlighting if you can, will add authenticity, and artistry.

There's no need to invest in fancy brushes for the detail work.  You can buy a good assortment of inexpensive synthetic brushes at any art supply store.  One-inch throw-away brushes, my personal brush of choice, have longer bristles, adding less 'brushiness' and texture to the work and also have the advantage of holding more paint.  This helps to mix new shades and tones as you go. Esmond taught me that using soft colors for the distance and more vivid color in the foreground is the simplest formula to add perspective.  As you continue build detail, reduce the size of your brush.  The smaller foreground interest of your scene can be rendered with very small art brushes.  If, like me, you like a little surprise in the work, pieces of synthetic sponges, Qtips, even torn paper or my personal favorite, old Chanel eyeliner brushes, will all do the trick for adding fine detail.

More than anything, Esmond believes the colors and a confident approach matters more than our level of expertise.  To build your color confidence and keep your cost down, mix and match Benjamin Moore's 2-ounce color samples.  You may also try mixing your own left over paint colors in empty milk cartons or plastic cups or directly on paper plates.  If you are a novice and want to perfect you color mixing skill, write down which paint you mixed to arrive at each fabulous color you made.  Yes! bright blue, bright yellow, and an ugly brown plus a pinch of white, made your lovely turquoise.


By definition, a mural is any scene painted directly onto a wall.  So, for those of you who are on the move or apartment dwellers, you could tack a big piece of canvass to your wall--I've even used lightweight drop cloths.  You can take your fabulous creation with you and continue to add to it whenever you're of a mind to improve your colorful mood.  


Experimentation is our best friend.  If you can copy designs without needing to draw an outline first, then photographs, fabrics, even wallpaper or a favorite tablecloth can be stuck right to the wall with tape to help you get your composition laid out.  Plus a myriad of mural scenes are just a click away, the more surprising of which are all ready to go paint-by-number scenes.  Carbon paper transfers and stick on transfers are also a snap to personalize, especially once you have that stack of colorful paper palettes nearby!

Large chalkboards are a very good place for aspiring muralists to begin before graduating to more expensive and time-consuming work with paint.  There are dozens of mural scenes available as paint by numbers, carbon paper transfers, and stick on transfers, all of which you can personalize to suit the context.  When my children were young, I kept one wall in my house as a work-in-progress mural, and on rainy days we'd gather our brushes and open some paint.  We called it our Dr. Seuss day, and I learned important painting skills from the kids, who are eager helpers and very, very relaxed artists!  Once you come to associate opening a can of paint with the exhilaration of unleashing your creativity, you'll have relaxed enough to discover how pleasurable the process of mural painting is. 

So, relax, unleash your creativity and share your mural making tips and successes with us here--American traditional, gallery worthy, or otherwise!

Stay colorful,


Benjamin Moore Paint Style

Benjamin Moore Chalk Board Paint