Saturday, January 3, 2004

Furniture answers call to the colors

Painted pieces stand out as expressions of art and personality

By Joy Kraft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Sue Calardo (left) and Patti Olberding are the painting ladies of Painted Ladies at From the Heart in Madeira.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
Painting furniture has long been a quick trick to disguise low-grade wood or the wear-and-tear of a rough life.

It still works. But now painted furniture has been to finishing school.

These days, subtle or sassy-bright, painted furniture is a prime pick - not a last resort - for buyers looking for furniture with personality.

Kim Hermann of Fort Thomas wanted "furniture that will make me smile." She's partial to the whimsical pieces with a Southwestern bent at the Blue Moon in Madeira.

Donna Briggs of Westwood wanted a custom piece that would bring a Christmas grin to her grown daughter. She had a '50s buffet painted with bright Big Apple scenes for her daughter from the Painted Ladies - Patti Olberding and Sue Calardo - in Madeira.

Also helping to satisfy such shoppers is Jennifer Wintermeyer of Mount Healthy, who turned her knack for creating white cottage pieces from tag-sale markdowns into a line and a booth, Something Chic, at the Brass Armadillo Antiques Mall in West Chester Township.

There are as many reasons to buy painted furniture as there are styles, which range from folk art-inspired to solid-color Shaker, elegant Asian influences, European rustic and custom pieces.

Some, like Hermann, love color and want more than function and a graceful line. Others are looking for one-of-a-kind art.

Moderation is the key to adding painted furniture, especially if you are just starting. If all-over color is just too radical for you, look for pieces with insets of color or color washes so the grain shows through.

If choosing pieces to paint, look for interesting lines, details and trim to maximize the benefit of color.

Introduce painted furniture that brings a new element of style into the space. It's the subtle details like the accent color of paint on a coffee table duplicated in the sofa pillows or the beading on a light fixture that pull the entire look together.

Mix more modern, contemporary styles with ethnic, antique-looking designs.

Embrace pieces with a variety of finishes. For example, the panels of a simple armoire can be brushed with black and gold filigree accents while the casing is deep-waxed stain, allowing the natural wood grain to show.

Source: Arhaus Furniture

Painted Furniture: Decorating Ideas & Projects (Meredith Books; $14.95) by Linda Hallam. Categorized into rooms, with how-tos on everything from painting existing furniture to accentuating a room. Complete instructions and stencil patterns for each project are in back.
Painting and Decorating Furniture (Firefly Books' $29.95) by Sheila McGraw. A good start for beginners with simple, easy-to-follow projects, furniture preparation and materials.
Simple Painted Furniture (Grove Press; $22.50) by Annie Sloan, David Murray, Michael Murray, Kate Gwynn. Photos of projects, simple instructions and tips with most paint and design techniques.
Painted Chairs: 25 Fresh and Fun Projects (Martingale & Co. Inc.; $21.95) by Jennifer Ferguson and Judith A. Skinner. Many designs use stenciling technique but beginners will need help following directions.
One thing is certain: More buyers are going beyond the grain of unpainted.

"Hand-painted home furnishings are taking center stage in the home, adding a world-inspired flare and style to the overall decor," says Gary Babcock, vice president of merchandising and fashion at Arhaus Furniture, which has locations in Springdale and Blue Ash.

"The big trend is people more interested in personal artifacts for their home," says Karen Kaplan of From the Ridiculous to the Sublime in O'Bryonville. That shop carries Sticks hand-painted, carved pieces from Iowa. Sticks designs, rooted in folk art, are drawn free-hand and painted by artists with no stencils or patterns and often lettered with sunny sayings such as "Live life to the fullest."

"People want something meaningful, rather than buying just another piece of wood," says Kaplan.

The move to painted furniture "kind of correlated with the trend toward color on walls," says Tamra Honeycutt, who owns Blue Moon with her husband, Dwight.

"I would say it heated up in the past three years when those DIY shows started popping up" on TV. "People started moving away from the off-white wall concept and are utilizing color. When you start experimenting with color, it opens people's eyes to color furniture."

David Marsh creations

Blue Moon is one of 30 dealers in the country for furniture by David Marsh, a Texas artisan who uses environmentally friendly wood - U.S.-raised Ponderosa pine or remilled cuts - to create pieces for which color plays a big role but spotlights the wood's natural grain. Each creation is signed somewhere by all the people who have had a hand in the production and often carry pithy, and sometimes puzzling, sayings about the enjoyment of life. One example: "smilnuffduya."

"There are some scribbled sayings I am looking at 10 years later, still trying to figure out," says Honeycutt, who first saw Marsh's work in a small Colorado shop and wrangled nearly a year to get the regional representation about 10 years ago. It was worth the trouble.

"People gravitate to his pieces. He has a lot of middle-ground pieces that people don't feel like they are going out on a limb to buy. It's functional art that doesn't shout at you."

Hermann "fell in love at first sight" several years ago with her first painted piece purchased in Atlanta and has Marsh's work or other painted pieces in almost every room of her home.

"For me, it's the unexpected," she says. "I like furniture that makes a statement so that when people come in they say, 'Omigosh, that's really different.' The colors, which aren't so bright they knock you over, just energize me."

She even mimicked Marsh's use of stone and colored glass pieces by creating a chair rail around one of his dining room sets using chunks of coordinated glass glued to the wall.

The Painted Ladies - Olberding and Calardo - take the artistic route with their business, formed when the two designers decided to leave a furniture company that employed them both.

They turned the back-shop space of From the Heart gift shop in Madeira into their showroom.

"Everything we do is an antique or used furniture we give new life to, with about 50 percent of our work from folks who bring in pieces with specific ideas," Olberding says

Pictures, paint chips used

The duo works from an intended room's paint chips or magazine pictures, to give the customers what they want.

Briggs, who ordered lively Red Grooms-style New York scenes on a buffet, brought in a set of placemats and pop-up postcards from a New York trip.

The piece was a surprise for her daughter, who recently moved back to Cincinnati from New York.

"She's terribly creative," says Briggs of Olberding, "and they can do any style, from playful bugs on leaves for a mirror to Victorian pieces with flowers. It's all a matter of style."

Wintermeyer of Something Chic, whose work appears in the winter issue of Country Decorating Ideas, picked up her painting craft as a child.

"I grew up watching my mom take something ready for the trash and turn it into something people would say, 'Omigosh, that's beautiful.' "

She knew how well she learned when a refurbished $2.50 coffee table from the Salvation Army prompted a bidding war among friends.

"By the time I got done with it, it looked like a million bucks," she says.

Quit her job

Her glazing, painting and distressing - often with the aid of a few thwacks of a hammer or pokes with nail - have proved a profitable combination, so much so she gave up her job at Montgomery Inn Boathouse to focus on furniture.

Fully painted isn't the only style that's catching the customer's eye.

The rustic and European influence that started three years ago at Arhaus with the release of its hand-painted San Remo collection is branching out, transitioning into Asian influence with black and red, as well as variations in oranges, blues and unexpected colors.

Pieces such as a Sam Remo armoire mix natural grains with hand-layered and hand-painted insets, making it easier to incorporate them into an existing decor.

"That way, people can update a room without chucking everything," says Honeycutt. "Sometimes people get a va-va-voom piece just to put some pop in a room and use that opportunity to play off a color in the piece, use it as an art element, picking it up in toss pillows or accessories."

Moderation and subtlety are the keys to success in incorporating painted furniture in a room.

"You have to be careful not to overkill, especially with a painted design" says Olberding.

"It's like a piece of artwork. You don't want it all over the walls. You want to have some moderation."

And color. Don't forget the color.

Arhaus Furniture: 35 Tri-County Parkway, Springdale, 326-5100; 9405 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, 792-7300; Blue Moon, 8118 Montgomery Road, Madeira, 985-0800; Brass Armadillo Antiques Mall, 10132 Business Center Drive, West Chester, 874-7855; From the Ridiculous to the Sublime, 2030 Madison Road, O'Bryonville, 533-0500; Painted Ladies at From the Heart, 7754 Camargo Road, Madeira, 561-1555, 561-5102.


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