Monthly Archives: March 2010

An Italian groin vault ceiling… in America

How can one pass up a week in a Tuscan villa? Located just inside of Umbria, an hour from Florence, this to-die-for villa was all you’d expect it to be. (Villa pics coming later.) With the villa serving as our base, we roamed the surrounding areas and just soaked it all in.

While traveling through Arezzo (east of Florence), we fell in love with these groin vaulted ceilings in a non-descript deli. We walked in for lunch, looked up and that was it! So typical of Italy- there is such beauty at every turn.

Arezzo, Italy groin vault ceiling

A few years ago, my SO opened a boutique/cafe that was based on our passion of Italian design. We blew up our video frames of the dome ceiling that we loved in Arezzo to see the pattern and attempted to re-create those designs.

I started out with m-a-n-y sample boards to figure out the finishes; here is one of the final boards- I think I finally figured it out!

Sample board

The groin vault domes (formed by the intersection of two or more barrel vaults) began with a custom engineered metal frame.

Drywall was affixed to the metal frame and the entire ceiling, especially the many seams, was smoothed, filled, sanded, followed by filling and sanding and filling and sanding. The plasterer (Thanks, Dan!) did an AWESOME job.

Almost ready for us...

This is how the ceiling was when we received it. Gulp!

I first primed twice and basecoated twice before even thinking of the finish layers. Then I began applying the three plaster layers, using a custom mix for each layer. The first layer was ochre and lapis blue; the second and third layers were more of what you see- the whites and lapis blues.

Then we painted the designs, some freehand and some with a few specific designs cut in mylar to be consistent on site, trying to stay as close to the original ceiling design as possible.

Once the painting was complete, we added a layer of glaze to “knock back” and age the finish.

We only had 2 weeks to take the ceiling from the raw drywall and seams state to completion.

Still adding! These are the electrical guys for the chandelier installation.

Here we are at work...

The ceiling is 25 feet up there!

Adding details

Here is the beautiful Isola Bella groin vault ceiling, ready for the chandelier to be installed!

We're done! Just waiting for the chandelier

Closeup view of groin vault seam


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Filed under Ceilings, Design, Faux finishes, Inspirations, Plasters


…as in the book, Monochrome, by Paula Rice Jackson. I thought I’d share some of my favorite photos from this quietly elegant book on one way to use color.

While I love color, especially how Mother Nature combines them, there is something soothing and exciting when you walk into a room and you just feel the balance and harmony of the subtle nuances of color.

The funny thing about using one color is that it takes just as much attention to detail as it does when using a range of colors.

Designer: Nancy Corzine

Designer: Vicente Wolf

Designer: Vicente Wolf

The marble wall is beautiful, wouldn’t you agree?

Designer: John Saladino

The Venetian plaster walls in these photos are so…well, you just want to touch them! These monochrome walls are inspiring!

Designer: Philippe Starck

Designer: Philippe Starck

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Filed under color, paint, Plasters

Go For the Gold… As In Gold Leaf

An elegant addition to any décor is to add the touch of gold or silver leaf to furniture or accessories. Whether accenting the special molding on a table or gilding a picture frame, the gold surface adds a special opulence and shimmer that cannot be replicated with metallic paint. When held up to the light, the sheet of gold leaf is so thin that it is semi-transparent. As a result, gilding should be done in a draft free environment. Any drafts of air will cause the leaf to literally blow away.

My own gilded table

Gilded frame

Darnell Demilune Commode by Amy Howard in House Beautiful

Silver leaf table legs

There are two methods of gilding: oil gilding and water gilding. Oil gilding uses an oil size upon which, once it dries to a slight stickiness or “tack”, the gold leaf is gently laid on the surface and carefully pressed. Water gilding is a highly specialized craft used for applying gold on frames and furniture.

Create a screen like this with the fabulous stencils that are available now. An online search will bring up many stencil companies, such as Royal Design Studio or Cutting Edge Stencils.

Gilded screen Photographer: Erik Johnson

These arches were gilded with an oil size using Dutch (composite) leaf and sealed with Liberon wax.

Isola Bella gilded arches

Please join me again for Part two on gilding. I’ll explain the various types of gold leaf and offer reliable sources for supplies, books  and instruction. If you’d like any other facets of gold leaf gilding to be covered, please let me know.

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Filed under Design, Faux finishes, Gold leaf gilding

A glossy ceiling? Really?

One of the widely followed home design maxims is to avoid the glossy ceiling. Flat paint it is! And most of the time, the ceiling is white (a totally different subject).

I would like to differ.  I love the shiny ceiling! The way it reflects the room and makes is seem more spacious. It amplifies the available light and gives the ceiling a much lighter feel.  The glossy effect can have a full range of finishes, from the imperfect to the mirror-smooth.

However, it does need to be pointed out that a high gloss finish will highlight any flaws in the surface. If absolute perfection is important to you, then either go flat or first have a plasterer / finisher skimcoat the ceiling so that it’s smooth. Then the painter (you?) can roll on the finish coats.

I happen to believe that the imperfect ceiling surface adds character! If you don’t mind a little waviness or imperfections, then a high gloss paint, a metallic paint, metallic leaf or Venetian plaster can add a beautiful shimmer to lift the room.

Elle Decor Photograph by Eric Piasecki

Elle Decor, Photograph by Eric Piasecki

If you’re going to use paint for as smooth a finish as possible, you should use a foam or short-napped roller and try to keep a wet edge. Coarse naps leave texture, and a dry edge can leave visible lap marks. If you use a metallic paint or metallic glaze, try the microfiber rollers for metallic paint. And add a paint “extender” for additional “open time” that allows you to roll on the paint with more ease and slows down the drying time.

These glossy ceilings are to die for:

Metropolitan Home, Larry Laslo Designs

Veranda magazine Photograph by Peter Vitale

Silver leaf ceiling John Saladino- Style by Saladino


Filed under Ceilings, Faux finishes, Inspirations

You Can Find Color Here (as in Peacock)

Do you dream in color like I do? One of my inspirations just happens to contain some of my fav colors in the fabulous, showy package known as the peacock. The brilliant blues, shades of green, accents of yellow, brown and black…

And (how timely) Pantone selected Turquoise as their color for 2010.

Full peacock feathers

Did you know that the luminous, brilliant colors of the peacock feather do not come entirely from the chemical pigments, but rather from the structure of the feather itself? The straplike “twigs” which come off the branches of the peacock feather measure differently for each color region. These produce the peacock’s iridescent hues, which shimmer and change, depending on the angle of light. The magnified feathers look like this:

Peacock feathers x 50 closeup

Peacock feathers x100 closeup

Lately, I’ve seen the peacock feathers featured as a décor item. Perfect accents, wouldn’t you say?

Voyage Arabescue silk fabric

Rouge Living peacock pillow

Rouge Living peacock pillow

The Rug Company

Halycon carpet, Loomah's Roscoe Collection

Halycon carpet, Loomah's Roscoe Collection

Mosaic of peacock feathers

You can find the peacock colors everywhere!

Grottesca by Carolina D'Ayala Valva

Carolina D'Ayala Valva's Grottesca with closeup of peacock feather

Great blue and green!




Filed under color, Inspirations

What is scratch coat plaster anyway?

My favorite interior designer, John Saladino, recently featured scratch coat plaster walls in the January-February 2010 issue of Veranda magazine. The article, Saladino in SoHo, presented John’s designs, inspired by the Vermeer-based film Girl With a Pearl Earring, for the Veranda NYC show house.

Photography by Antoine Bootz in Veranda magazine

Photography by Antoine Bootz

Photography by Antoine Bootz

Saladino often features walls made with plaster that appear less “finished”.  He describes the walls as scratch-coat plaster or brown-coat plaster. What are they?

Back in the days before drywall, the walls in a home were made out of real plaster. The plaster application usually consisted of three steps: the scratch coat, followed by the brown coat and ended with the finish coat.

The first “scratch” coat (also called the intonaco) is embedded onto a wood lath (today metal lath is available which will not warp) and is the base coat. The scratch coat gets its name from the fact that it is physically scratched with horizontal marks. These scratches create the “key” for the next coat to grab onto. The second coat, the brown coat, is applied very thin and creates the flat surface for the finish coat. In Tuscany, this coat is called velo, meaning veil, since it is so thin. The final “finish” coat is a very thin coat that must be kept wet and troweled to a smooth, hard finish. When dry, it will be rock solid and shiny like marble. The finish coat is the thinnest of the coats, and its purpose is to impart a decorative surface to the plaster. The smoother the wall, the more labor involved.

Scratch, brown, and finish coats all have slightly different proportions. Scratch coats are mixed at 1 part cement to 2-1/4 to 4 parts sand, brown coats are mixed at 1 part cement to 3 to 5 parts sand, and finish coats are 1 part cement to 1-1/2 to 3 parts sand.

If you like that look, be sure to check out Saladino’s first book, Style by Saladino. It is full of similar looks. In one, he mixes instant coffee with the plaster and then dried it with the radiator turned on full blast to cause parts of the plaster to dry faster than others, causing the dried colors to vary.

Saladino's wall of brown scatch-coat plaster using

Saladino's wall of scatch-coat plaster using instant coffee with the plaster Photographer: Lizzie Himmel

Scratch coat plaster in John Saladino's book, Style by Saladino

Axel Vervoordt, a fabulous Belgian designer, also favors walls that are more “natural”. Here he mixes lime with powder pigments and earth found locally on the property. Scratch coat plaster walls and these lime and pigment walls are both ancient and modern… and very “green”.

From Axel Vervoordt's book, Timeless Interiors

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Everywhere We Look: Yellow and Grey

Have you noticed lately how yellow and grey are one of the most popular go-to paint combinations? The color combo is often accented with black and / or weathered, bleached wood.

Yellow and grey can range from bold and bright to mellow and subtle to a well-tailored, clean and sophisticated.


From the Grandezza collection of JAB Anstoetz

Yellow and grey in Lee Jofa's Eric Cohler design

Sasha Adler in House Beautiful

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