The 'Finishing' Touches

Exploring the endless possibilities of faux and custom finishes

  • Cement overlay on an existing tile countertop with a faux stone finish by Alaska Surface Design. Cement overlay on an existing tile countertop with a faux stone finish by Alaska Surface Design.
  • Decorative concrete overlay with a decorative masking design by Gayla Designs. Decorative concrete overlay with a decorative masking design by Gayla Designs.
  • Aurastone concrete overlay for existing counters by Faux Studio. Aurastone concrete overlay for existing counters by Faux Studio.
  • Before. Before.
  • After. This multiple layer decorative paint application by Gayla Designs extends the look of tile up the wall. After. This multiple layer decorative paint application by Gayla Designs extends the look of tile up the wall.
  • For a tumbled tile look, Faux Studio used a sandstone faux finish containing crushed walnut shells atop a faux stone finish. Other accents include hand-carved edges and a rope moulding that was bronzed to make look like metal by Faux Studio. For a tumbled tile look, Faux Studio used a sandstone faux finish containing crushed walnut shells atop a faux stone finish. Other accents include hand-carved edges and a rope moulding that was bronzed to make look like metal by Faux Studio.
  • To create these birch branches, Faux Studio used a relief embossed technique with pearl plaster over a metallic plaster skip trowel finish. To create these birch branches, Faux Studio used a relief embossed technique with pearl plaster over a metallic plaster skip trowel finish.

Story by Meghan Cornelison

For some folks, one of the most intimidating things about homeownership isn't the mortgage or determining what types of insurance coverage to carry – it's an empty wall. Bare spaces, outdated elements or even boring color schemes can create areas you don't like to look at and make your home feel drab. But deciding what to do with surfaces such as walls, ceilings and counters is stressful. Thankfully, you don't have to choose between just a fresh coat of paint or complete renovation. We talked with local masters of faux and decorative finishing who shared how a few customized touches to your home's surfaces can liven up any space and easily turn "blah" into "wow."

Fabulous faux, creative custom

The term faux, French for "fake," encompasses any technique that involves "trying to replicate another material using paints and other products, rather than the actual material," explains Jane Bennett, owner of the Faux Studio in Eagle River. From "leather" to "stone," or almost anything else, faux finishes can be used to completely cover a surface or to add accents. Results range from wild and adventurous, like a reptile surface on a wall, to subtle and elegant, such as "wrought iron" trim work on glass.

Custom finishes might evoke another material, but do not specifically aim to replicate something else. They create a unique look and texture on top of an existing surface using products such as plasters, specialized paints or glazes. "It is an artistic application, so it's like putting a piece of art on your wall," says Gayla Ranf, of Gayla Designs. "It's just permanently there rather than hung up on the wall."

The choice is yours

Decorative finishes are, by their nature, completely custom. Each finish that artists like Bennett or Ranf apply is tailored to the needs of the individual and the space. "The options are unlimited when it comes to decorative finishing, adding texture, adding color, either in an overall space or a focal point wall," says Bennett.

If you want something beautiful and unique, but subtle, custom finishes such as plasters and specialized paints incorporate texture and warmth without taking over. Plasters can lend an old-world feel reminiscent of an Italian villa or a French wine cellar, or they can evoke the look of unusual materials like suede. "You can really incorporate a lot of different styles together, so you can have a bit of contemporary with a bit of the Old World," says Ranf. For another way to soften a space, Ranf says "there are many beautiful metallic paints you can use with different glazes and application techniques that can either make a statement or be something really subtle and inviting." Similarly, adding decorative accents on a ceiling helps tie a room together. Ranf sometimes uses a masking system to create textured patterns on ceilings or to make a frame around the room as an alternative to a crown molding. "Sometimes adding a little bit of shimmer on a ceiling with a special edging really creates a nice feel to the room."

On the other hand, if you want to turn one wall into a focal point within a room, techniques such as tromp l'oile and bas relief are fun ways to incorporate creative textures. "Tromp l'oeil is French for 'fool the eye,' " says Bennett. "You are making it look like something that is not really there." Tromp l'oeil creates the illusion of different materials as well as depth, giving your wall a three-dimensional look. Combined with textured finishes, tromp l'oile adds a whimsical kick to a space, creating looks such as a faux stone wall or an illusionary window. "These techniques are great if you want to add a little punch to something," says Bennett. Bas relief sculptures "are multi-dimensional sculptures designed to go directly on a wall," she explains. "They are really pretty monochromatic, with tone-on-tone because shadows will throw on them and light will play on them."

Remake, don't replace

However you incorporate them, one hassle you don't have to worry about with decorative finishes is removing parts of your home. "You don't have to tear down your home's old wood paneling, you can go over the top to give it a totally new look," says Ranf.

The ability to remake, but not remove, surfaces opens up new worlds of possibilities, especially for countertops, which can be difficult (and costly) to replace. Bennett uses a product called Aurastone to resurface countertops into gorgeous faux granite, marble, travertine, or almost any other look. "It is a concrete formula that goes over the top of your existing surface, then I do artwork (using a specialized line of paints from Granicrete) and then epoxy pours," she explains. "The whole product, everything about it, is so exciting," says Anchorage homeowner Shari Hart, who recently had her countertops transformed into faux granite. "I also love that I was able to recycle my old countertops and not create waste." Bennett agrees: "That's what I love about this particular product, that people can reuse their existing surfaces. We re-do the countertops and they've got a whole new kitchen."

Start small and have fun

If the idea of moving past solid-color flat surfaces is intimidating, both Bennett and Ranf suggest starting with a smaller space. "Start with one wall or a small area like a kitchen backsplash," says Ranf. Bare doors or architectural niches are other great spots to add color or texture, suggests Bennett. And don't worry that the finishes won't go with the rest of your home. These techniques are meant to enhance your space and lend themselves well to blending in with existing designs. "I really like the faux finish to complement whatever else a client has in the room," says Bennett. Ultimately, faux and custom finishes should help you love your space a little more. "It really is about having fun and making everything work together," says Ranf.