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Best Trompe l’Oeil Painter

  • James Alan Smith


    The term, French for “fool the eye,” may not roll off your tongue, but you’ll know trompe l’oeil work the moment you see it in a Park Avenue dining room: a mural that, at least for a moment, gives the illusion that you’re looking out on the grounds of a Tuscan villa or Bordeaux château. It takes you by surprise with its depth, and it takes serious talent to produce. Like that of James Alan Smith, a dancer turned painter who can create any fantasy on a wall, from a Tiepolo-inspired panel to a wall of chinoiserie. His legerdemain includes faux marble, wood, and stone, stenciling, and even mock marquetry on the floor (the latter could cost anywhere from $3,500 to $10,000). A recent over-the-top project involved an entire room that Smith called “a decorative painter’s dream” that added up to $30,000. But he’s not above smaller jobs: Recently, he did a charming faux-water view on a backsplash in a Southampton home, replete with a trellis and morning glories ($3,000), and a very simple faux-marble fireplace starts at $1,600. No illusions there.

From the 2006 Best of New York issue of New York Magazine