One of Maria Curd’s clients called to say he had bought an elegant mahogany desk for his study. He was happy with the desk, but its addition to the room caused an aesthetics problem. The desk was so beautiful that it put to shame the huge built-in pine-and-poplar bookcase. Even if the bookcase, a focal point of the room, could be stained the exact color of the desk, the wood wouldn’t have the distinctive, intricate grain of mahogany.
Curd’s solution? Paint the bookcase.
Paint it, but not the easy way with gallons of latex to match the room’s trim or walls. She painted it mahogany. Not just mahogany-colored — mahogany, grain and all. She used a faux painting technique to mimic the hardwood’s hallmark characteristics.
Curd was so pleased with the result that a picture of the finished product adorns her company’s vans.
“Before we start, I ask clients to give me a sample of what they want,” said Curd, the owner and talent behind Arte Bella Decorative Painting. “When we finish, if they can’t see where the sample is, then we’ve done a good job.”
Curd discovered her talent for decorative painting shortly after she moved to the Tri-Cities from Connecticut in 1996. Her late husband’s job as a computer analysts had him on the road Monday through Friday, so to meet people, she joined the Johnson City Newcomers Club.
“It was my salvation,” she said, and the group’s craft projects were “cheap therapy.”
During one the craft projects, Curd found a new love.
“I started doing decorative painting on a small object, and I was hooked,” she said.
That led her to faux painting, which led her to classes and workshops, locally at first, and then around the country.
Curd honed her art under the guidance of some of world’s best decorative artists, some of them European Master Painters. Decorative painting as been around since the first hunting party was depicted on a cave wall, but it came of age in France under the oh-so-hard to please Louis XIV. During the Sun King’s 72-year reign (1643 to 1715), artisans working at the palace at Versailles developed techniques to please his majesty’s sensibilities. Since then, painters have studied those techniques and innovated with new material and equipment. The idea is basically the same: make something look like something else.
Curd polished her skills and when her husband, who died in September, became disabled and unable to work, she stepped up her game and turned her hobby into a thriving business.
Arte Bella began with faux finishes and later added a crew of contractors and began offering standard painting.
Roger and Diana White have used Arte Bella for a variety of painting projects as they’ve been updating their 1969 Tanglewood home.
Roger chose a Venetian plaster finish — Curd’s favorite medium — to conceal the dark wood paneling that covered the foyer walls when he moved in two years ago. Curd likes working with Venetian plaster because of its versatility and its texture.
“Venetian plaster can go from an old-world to contemporary settings,” Curd said. “Plus it feels like an old leather purse. It’s just got a beautiful feel to it.”
Around the corner from the foyer, the Whites’ kitchen walls have a deep espresso finish of LusterStone, a new product that contains marble dust suspended in an acrylic polymer for a rich sheen. Above the cabinets, Curd stenciled a coppery design for added depth.
Faux finishing isn’t just for high-end decor, it also can be a money saver. Dated laminate counter tops can be painted to look like granite, marble, limestone at a fraction of the cost of natural stone. “If it’s done right, you don’t know the difference,” Curd said.
If it was good enough for the Sun King ...
To learn more, go to Facebook and search for “Arte Bella.”