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Finer than Faux and Flawless! Decorating With Wallpaper

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By Jaima Brown

No wonder faux finishing is a popular look for walls. Anyone who has visited a decorator showhouse or a home in which the walls have been artfully completed by a master painter can hardly help but be impressed with the stunning effect these techniques impart.

However, the notion that they are easy to achieve by anyone who picks up a paint brush every six or seven years, is wishful thinking. Faux finishing with paint is far from simple.

It inevitably takes at least three coats of different colors of paint and can take as many as nine or 10, layered in different directions with alternating series of strokes made by a variety of different tools, including brushes, combs, sponges, rags and even trowels.

Paint -- good paint, which is essential in faux finishing -- is no longer inexpensive.

Furthermore, the faux finishing process often calls for wiping some paint applications off the surface before the paint dries in a pattern so disciplined that it looks random. Once a pattern of these so-called random swipes, marble-like veins, or antiqued rubbed looks is determined, the painter must measure the entire surface to make sure "repeats" of this pattern don't collide or come to an abrupt halt at corners.

"Faux" means "fake." Disguise is the objective of faux finishing. Failure to take pattern repeats and scale into account unmasks the disguise and reveals that the surface treatment is, indeed, fake. Even for professionals, achieving a successfully painted faux finish is a tedious process. Yet, a master painter, working for a high hourly rate, can be reasonably assured of accomplishing the desired outcome.

Not so, the novice. Arms tire; eyes glaze. Strokes that came easy and were consistent on the first wall become stiff and controlled as the process is repeated around the room. The perspective changes when the technique is carried to the ceiling, which creates further deterioration of consistency.

For anyone, novice or pro, wallpaper is the simpler, faster, less expensive faux finishing option. Measuring for random repeats, determination of appropriate scale, layering, and selection of coordinating colors and hues, have already been done for you by professional artists and designers. What's more, you can see the result before it is applied to your wall. By browsing through wallpaper books, you can compare alternative patterns and techniques before spending a dime.

Such browsing will also show you that faux finish wallpaper patterns offer a far wider range of surface-treatment options than faux painting, and some carry embellishments unobtainable with paint. Just four of the many faux finish patterns in collections by S.A. Maxwell Co. prove the point.

Two very different ones are in the Antiquities collection by Maxwell's LV Emmert Studio division. One combines the patina of aged paint with a soft-edged harlequin pattern, rendered in a rich blend of browns mixed with shades of ochre. The sophisticated harlequin design is timeless and especially useful in kitchens, where it brings consistency to the many surfaces that are visually interrupted by cabinets and appliances.

Another pattern in Antiquities replicates the rustic look of an ancient, distressed stone wall that might be found in a Tuscan garden. It seems to reveal the vestiges of multiple layers of paint, applied over centuries, and worn by time and weather. Seemingly random swathes of thick, newly applied plaster give a contemporary faux finish look to a pattern in The First Class Male collection from Maxwell's Piper Designs division.

Like rich swabs of gouache on a modern painting, this pattern has subtle contrasts of light and shadow. When this type of finish is applied with thick paint and a trowel, its later removal calls for sanding -- an expensive, tedious and messy process. By contrast, the wallpapered pattern can be removed easily to make way for different fashionable wallpaper in the future.

A pattern of crackled and aged paint in the LV Emmert Vintage Tuscany collection is overlaid with faded script, the remnants of a now barely discernable ancient message once written on the wall. Details, such as this script or sketched musical notes, which are layered on another faux finish in the Vintage Tuscany collection, take the look of painterly faux techniques to their most sophisticated and elegant level.

Faux finish pattern wallpapers bring walls to life, making the surface more interesting the more the eye observes it. To find the nearest retailer carrying Antiquities, which will be released in September, Vintage Tuscany, and First Class Male, and to browse even more of the fabulous faux finish wallpapers in collections by S.A. Maxwell, call (847) 932-3700 or visit www.samaxwell.com.

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