Painted Decoration

by Alan Noel

As interior design evolves from trend to trend, and new finishes are introduced, the need to develop new techniques is required to stay ahead of the game. One area of decor that has seen a definite surge are monochrome and polychrome surfaces or, painted decoration. During the early years of my business, I was often asked to paint a piece of furniture. I really hated to comply with my clients wishes, especially when it was a nice pencil post bed, chest of drawers or the like.

After realizing I didn't have to "live" with the work, and that I actually liked some of the decorative elements and characteristics the pieces took on, I slowly started to change my attitude towards painted finishes and began to develop an approach that suited my own sensibilities about my work and the pieces I was working on. Besides, paint has saved many things from rotting away that are in my house today!

    Here are some tips that I've developed along the way:
  • Clean the entire piece with a waterless hand cleaner to remove any grease and grime. If the piece is devoid of oily stuff, then just use soapy water followed with clean water. Work as fast as you can.
  • If the finish is in good shape, sand the entire surface with 220 paper to "rough up" the surface and give the paint a "tooth" to grab on to.
  • When the piece has no finish at all, apply at least one or two spit coats of shellac or varnish. This will make getting the paint off much easier in the future, should you want to go back to a wood finish.
  • After painting and decorating with stripes, borders, etc., apply a coat of clear paste wax. This will make the colors more vibrant. Or, if you want an aged look, sand off areas for the "antique" effect and then apply any color silicone-free shoe wax that suits the look you are after. Black shoe wax looks very good over bright pastel colors like mint greens, bright blues and yellows usually used in French decor. Brown shoe wax looks best, to me, over the primary colors, red, blue and yellow. I use oxblood or cordovan on browns and reds along with another color for depth.
  • Make sure to use silicone-free wax or you may have fisheye problems, should you decide to refinish the piece in the future.
  • When using the wax, add a few drops of mineral spirits to the cloth. This will make applying a coat of wax much easier over a large surface. This is also true when waxing any finished piece of furniture.
  • As always, experiment on scraps first.
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