Ask the Experts: The Decorative Painter

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

What is a decorative painter?
Someone who embellishes interiors using paint, pattern, and textures. Usually they’re hired by an architect or interior designer, but quite often you can hire them directly and they’ll guide you through colors and ideas and the sample-making process.

Decorative painting has a bit of a stodgy reputation.
Rather than mimetically quoting the past, I want to think about it, and reinterpret it into something fresh, appropriate, and tasteful. For one family’s dining room, they wanted an artisan’s interpretation of a handpainted paper from China. The panels I created turned out like old chinoiserie with a bit of Dr. Seuss. I added a bit of buoyancy and fun to the floral arrangements.

What types of finishes are in vogue now?
High gloss. I think it’s a throwback to David Hicks, who loved lacquered walls. We’ve had a decade of matte paint and people just want a little more pizzazz and glam. It also doubles the room and makes you feel like you’re in a bigger space. But it involves a lot of preparation and patience.

What are some other finishes you do?
I like to take precious metals and overlay a pattern to establish a completely bespoke idea. Faux bois is false wood. Many times, people have metal doors or existing cabinetry that they don’t want to rip out, so we’ll go in and grain entire rooms. It’s quite realistic and can be a time-saver, because they’re not hiring a woodworker to rebuild or cutting down more trees—for some people, there’s a green angle to this! We also do a lot of faux marbre, or imitation marble.

What could someone on a limited budget consider?
I’d say straight wall paint with interesting stripes, a translucent glaze, or a border stencil of a pretty pattern. The floor is always a great way to make a statement, too. For one client, we came up with a lovely painted floor finish that felt Gustavian and light.

What if you rent?
A glaze finish, patterned border, or stenciled floor would all be lovely. You can also paint on a floor cloth or a sisal rug. You could do a mural on a canvas and glue it to the wall. You could also paint a folding screen.

Could you paint a piece of furniture?
That would be a great idea. That way, it’s already prepped for you, and then you can spend $400 to $600 adding something fabulous to it, like a gilded pattern, Brazilian rosewood, an iridescent stencil. If you’re renting, that’s something you can take with you!

Trick of the Trade
“If you’re stumped for a pattern idea, hunt around the fabric collections at museums for antique textiles. The Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Met and the V&A Museum in London are particularly wonderful.”

Ask the Experts: The Decorative Painter