Faux is Not Dead

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Tips for Applying Popular Faux Finishes

By Victor DeMasi

I never liked the word faux. I always called myself a decorative painter, but only used "faux finisher" when I thought it meant getting a job. When faux reigned in the 1990s, I fretted my name Monarch Painting was costing me recognition in a market with company names such as Faux Master, Fauxtastic, Fee Fi Faux, Metamorphfaux, Fauxu, Fauxkingpainters (I’m not making this up). While these names are now outdated, I was wrong to think faux was just a fad.

Designers tell me faux is out. However, I ignore that chatter and get lots of faux finish jobs, since the economy has rebounded to some degree. I show clients samples of work and they can’t believe the finishes are faux.

Following are some simple methods that are selling briskly these days. Soft is the main goal here (understated and timeless in decorator lingo).

A soft pebble job in a muted green tone.Pebble

A big producer for me is sponging or sponge painting. Sponging came down the pike in the mid-1980s during the first faux wave, but was destroyed by amateur attempts with high-contrast combinations such as Wedgwood blue over white in gloppy application. It’s now called a pebble finish or pebbling and is executed in very low contrast soft color combinations, with almost always a slight tint of a color over the full strength base coat.

I take natural sponges and carefully saw them with a serrated knife exposing a flat face that will supply a number of different patterns based on the type of sponge. For application, the sponge is wetted, wrung out to damp, then dipped in paint and carefully patted out before hitting the wall to avoid glopping the surface. The wrist should be constantly rotated during application to keep the job evenly uneven. Use small sponges carefully cut to do the corners. Pebbling moves along quickly; it takes just about the same time as two applications of basecoat).

Here are some tips: Try a cardboard soda tray with a food take-out tray for the paint that makes a nice portable painting setup. And if two workers are involved, they should make sure they mix up the areas they are doing.

Walls should be based out in a matte finish. Other sheens can be used but the matte combo serves well for most situations.  It works well on questionable wall conditions.

Use three parts of that base and add one part matte white. Careful measurement of proportions ensures easy replication of the batch and avoiding a measured gallon of decorative paint when only a quart is needed.

This proportion works well in most light to mid-tones. A large sample helps keep the exact proportions, but a bit more white may be needed to get the contrast right. But make sure to keep that contrast soft! The results are a slight textured effect to the walls at a distant that shows pattern close up. This approach works well with stronger mid tones that are crying out to be a little more than plain.

Pebbling can provide many different textures.The customer picks a color for the room and the pebble effect only adds soft detailing, not a color shift. So color selection is much easier than with wall glazing, where a colored glazing interacts with a colored base to produce the final color effect. Pebble finishes are super durable and a snap to touch up.


There is a variation on pebble I call the sparkle finish. In this case, I always base out in flat sheen. Other base sheens will not show a contrast. Using Varathane High gloss acrylic varnish and pebble in the same manner as above, choosing among my sliced sponge selection for texture. The sparkle is a great finish for marble baths where the busyness of the marble is enhanced by rich walls, not overpowering the movement in many marbles.

Painter holidays occur because the varnish is hard to see during application. A work light at a slight angle to the wall minimizes skips that are easy enough to touch in when it’s dry.

Sparkle is not a finish for dark colors because slight glopping of the varnish is very noticeable. I create sparkle variation by adding a small touch of Modern Masters metallic to the batch. The sheer metallic products, such as flash copper or flash blue, work best. Add about 10 percent to 20 percent to the batch.


Weave finishes remain a big producer for me.  Weaves are just strie horizontal followed by vertical. Always apply the next coat two days later to ensure strap down of the initial horizontal pass. I also still do basic vertical and horizontal strie separately.

This open weave was done with a paper towel over a steel comb. Paper towels are precut to fit comb width and changed after each pass.The weave finish mimics linen, rice paper or grass cloth depending on the tools used to distress the glaze  Light weaves rule in oft grays and slates, but we recently did a charcoal weave over a navy blue that stunned.

To apply, base out in eggshell. Matte works, but gives poorer open time on the glaze, which is particularly important on this type of wall glazing. Semi gloss is more slippery and the strap down is a bit compromised. These days, I often use mid tone colors mixed 6-1 to 12-1 glaze to paint ratios. Golden satin glazing liquid remains my medium because of decent open time to distress the weave steps and dependable strap down so the second weave step doesn't release the first.

Use a lightly loaded 6-inch roller to apply the glaze concoction. One person applying one weaving is necessary, especially for the long runs in the horizontal step. Be careful about lapping the glaze during application, as large laps show as darker areas. Once applied, the glaze is distressed with a wide chip brush for a fine textured appearance.

Wallpaper brushes trimmed to short bristles or a paper towel stretched over a steel comb makes for more open grassclothy results. Clear the distressing tool with a paper towel after each pass to avoid glaze glopping. Walls can be taped off in sections to achieve interest faintly to resemble natural fiber type wall coverings. Using steel combs alone to distress makes for a gingham type treatment.


Victor DeMasi is the 30-year owner and operator of Monarch Painting in Redding, Conn. He teaches frequent workshops on decorative painting and faux finishing and can be reached at (203) 448-0106 or victor-monarch@yahoo.com. To view Victor’s work and workshop schedule, visit his web-site at monarchpainting.net. His book, Designer Faux Finishing, became available Oct. 1, 2011. Contact him by email if you would like to purchase a signed copy. Visit the Houzz website to see photos of his latest projects.




Article Issue Name: 
faux, faux finishes, finishes, pebble, sparkle, weave

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