Old World painting techniques can lead to a stroke of sophistication in modern-day homes.
Jennifer Bertrand, artist and HGTV Design Star season three winner is spreading the ancient ways of plastering and painting walls into 21st-century homes.
“When we talk about painting techniques on walls, many wrongly think of the 1990s, when people were applying paints and glazes using sponges, rags and plastic bags,” says the designer, who lives in Kansas. “I grew up in Europe, and fine decorative painting techniques that never go out of style can transform two-dimensional walls into three-dimensional surfaces, which bring a room to life.”
Gold-leafing and fresco painting — mixing color pigments into wet plaster — are techniques Bertrand used in a new construction home built to bring the Old World feel of a Tuscan villa to the Midwest.
The Tuscan-style farmhouse with a richly layered, casual appeal is especially prevalent in the kitchen. Fine painting techniques radiate from the heart of the home onto plastered walls in saturated earth tones.
Plaster starts as a dry powder and is a mixture of natural ingredients — most commonly clay, lime or gypsum — that when mixed with water becomes a paste, which can be applied to an existing wall in layers. Natural pigments can be added into the plaster mixture, which makes the color permanent and part of the wall.
The home’s plaster piece de resistance is located on the curvilinear wall in the dining room. Bertrand’s hand-painted map of Italy is modeled after painted images in the Gallery of Maps room in the Vatican Museum. While the sandstone-colored plaster was still wet, Bertrand added green and blue pigments to color-block the land and sea. Personal touches were added with acrylic paints and dazzling detailed gold-leaf work.
It is fitting that Venetian plaster covers many of the walls in this Tuscan-inspired home, since it was the Italians — most notably those from Venice — who elevated plastering techniques to an art form. Venetian plaster is extremely strong and durable, with added color pigments that become part of the wall as it dries. The wet plaster, mostly composed of lime, reacts with carbon dioxide in the air, which turns it back to stone as it dries.
The home’s music room really sings with inspiration from the Palazzo Davanzati in Florence, Italy, with trompe-l’oeil depictions of lemon trees in each corner. French for “deceive the eye,” trompe-l’oeil is a painting technique that seeks to create realistic imagery.
Without painting herself into a corner with wall-to-wall projects, Bertrand and her husband, Chris, also decoratively distressed and painted cabinets for finer touches. A new range hood has Old World appeal in a Mediterranean tile motif with a painted patina.
“While there is an artisan skill set needed to decoratively paint in a home, you don’t have to necessarily go big and bold,” Bertrand says. “A limewash or whitewash on walls can bring a coastal calm into your home that has an underlying tone of luxe and more contemporary appeal.”
As a homeowner, one of the most difficult tasks may be painting a picture of your decorative vision to an artist, says Sheryl Born, spokeswoman for the Society of Decorative Painters, based in Wichita, Kansas. Since the society’s inception in the 1970s, it now has 11,000 decoratively painting members all over the world.
Born says one of the first steps can be to find an artist with your same sensibilities at a local chapter of the Society of Decorative Painters. “Ask for references, see examples of an artist’s work and — because every artist works differently — put together a budget and ask for an estimate in writing,” Born says. “Novices can even take decorative painting classes and try their hand at expressing themselves in their home.”
Bertrand warns homeowners against painting a rosy picture on how easy decorative painting can be. “I love when homeowners are vested and want to do things themselves, but — especially if it’s a DIY project — start small with a cabinet or piece of furniture,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to layer on multiple colors to add texture when painting. There’s no depth to a wall that has sponge imprints in a single color, which just leads us back to the forgettable faux of the ‘90s again.”