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The House that Faux Built: Transformation [elan magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
elan magazine
June 2006

Pictured here: Gentleman’s room with wood graining and faux marbling on walls, and master bedroom mural of Indian woman by Pierre Finkelstein, Sean Crosby, Nicola Vigini and Pascal Amblard; young girl’s bedroom by Amy Ketterman

Adrienne van Dooren has brought the decorating world’s best faux artists to Arlington to turn a fixer-upper into a must-see work of art. The idea came to Adrienne last summer after she went to check out a model home in southern Virginia.

After perusing the giant rooms and great artwork, she asked the designer who had created the extraordinary faux painting on the wall—but the woman wouldn’t tell.

“It really made me angry because I’m a faux painter, and it didn’t seem fair that she wouldn’t give credit to the artist,” explains Adrienne, a go-getter who at 42 retired from the Army and went back to school to become a faux painter. “I decided then that the only way to liberate faux artists was to showcase them.”

In only a few months, she got commitments from more than 50 faux painters who wanted to participate in a project that has come to be known as The House That Faux Built.

“I had this idea in my head that it would be very cool if we bought an old house, fixed it up by painting every square inch with faux techniques, then turned the results into a beautiful coffee table-style book so the average Joe could duplicate it in their own home,” she says.

In the fall of 2005, she did just that.

With the help of friend / realtor Suzanne Leedy of McEnearney Associates, Adrienne purchased a run-down three-bedroom 1940s brick house in Arlington’s Westover neighborhood. By December, dozens of artists had poured into town, bringing with them paints, plasters, tools and ingenuity.

In the dining room, for instance, Tania Seabock of Sterling took the lead by transforming a dilapidated side porch into an elegant formal dining room. On the cement floor, she used a high-end finishing technique that transformed it into what appears to be an inlaid marble and walnut masterpiece. And a simple pine bay window, donated by Thomson Creek Windows, was faux-painted to match.

The most breathtaking part of the room, though, is a faux 7-by-11-foot ceiling mural in which Tania meticulously hand-painted scrolls, gold mosaics and a faux wood-grain trim.

“It’s not easy to paint a mural on a ceiling,” admits the painter who has been commissioned to faux paint a $30 million apartment at Trump Plaza in New York, the McLean home of the prince of the United Arab Emirates and several ceilings of the Treasury building in
Washington, D.C. “But it does make me feel a bit like Michelangelo.”

It is hard to believe your eyes as you wander through the 1,500-square-foot home, for nothing is what it seems-and yet, everything is remarkably beautiful.

Sanders and bleach, for instance, helped Ann Bayer of Arlington remove cat urine stains on the living room floor so she could paint the parquet floor to look like pricey oak. In the middle of the room, Melanie Royals of San Diego used an adhesive stencil to create an
intricate design resembling an ornate carpet.

In the kitchen, master faux artist Caroline Woldenberg chose a Tuscan theme and painted a wood veneer finish over the refrigerator and dishwasher to match the wood cabinets purchased at Lowe’s. These were painted and glazed to look like custom built-ins. The backsplash was then troweled to look like Italian marble, and the old cream-colored Formica countertop now has the appearance of black granite.

A highlight is the kitchen table. Bought at a yard sale for $ 10, it was transformed by Maryland artist Patti Irwin to match the detail on the embroidered drapes that hang on the windows.

Heading down the stairs into the once water-stained basement, visitors find another treat: a wine cellar featuring a “stained-glass: panel (actually acrylic on Plexiglas) by Kate Nagle. A tiny window lets in enough light to showcase a trompe l’oeil mural of a French vineyard. Against the far wall is a giant wine rack and wine-tasting bar troweled by Wanda Timmons of Warrensburg, Illinois, to look like tumbled marble.

Its tempting to sit down for a glass of cabernet at the cocktail table (which is actually a blue plastic industrial barrel fauxed by Ann Marie of Main Street Art in central Maryland, to look like a wine barrel), but first you’ll want to saunter over to the adjacent gentleman’s room.

Two brown leather recliners and a faux silk rug (donated by the Leesburg company, Oriental Rugs and More) are the only unpainted features of the room. Tania Seabock again worked her magic here, as did Julie Miles, and they applied techniques that gave the drywall the appearance of being covered with rich walnut panels and hand-embossed leather.

Along the primary staircase in the house is another eye-catching element: eloquent quotes from The Color Purple, Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby. Stencils for the pattern were donated by The Mad Stencilist of Lenexa, Kansas, and applied by Maryland artist Andra Held. All around them, Northern Virginia artist Amy Ketterman painted a breathtaking mural that reaches the length of the staircase leading to the second story.

Here we find one of the crowning jewels of the house, the master bedroom. Using a luxurious red Venedan plaster, this room transports visitors to the heart of Bombay with the help of a giant mural that covers an entire wall. Donated by four internationally acclaimed trompe l’oeil painters (Pascal Amblard, Nicola Vigini, Sean Crosby and Pierre Finkelstein) who painted it when they gathered at a salon in Europe last year, it features a magnificent sari-clad Indian woman sitting on a balcony above the city.

“If someone were to pay for a house to be fauxed like this, I estimate it would cost them more than $250,000,” says Adrienne.

Through June 15, she’s inviting all Washingtonians to come in for a tour the magical abode at 1457 North Longfellow Street in Arlington. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door, and proceeds go entirely to benefit Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.

“Just as I was getting the project underway, Hurricane Katrina struck and I wanted to do something to help those people who were suffering,” explains Adrienne.

Also, because so many faux artists wanted to participate in the project, Adrienne launched a Bird House contest last winter, and more than 100 artists sent entries. Those intricate works will be auctioned off later this summer, and proceeds will benefit Noah’s Wish, a California-based nonprofit that rescues and shelters animals during natural disasters.

If she hadn’t accomplished enough in only 10 months, Adrienne also sent a team of faux artists into the Church of the Atonement, in Chicago, where her brother John David van Dooren is the pastor. They worked their magic on six rooms, including the rectory and chapel. The results of that restoration will also be open to visitors this summer.

For those who can’t make the show, the book is for sale here: www.fauxhouse.com.

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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