Faux Finishing Made Easy

Smart products and simple techniques help you transform a room

Paint is one of the most economical means of transforming a space, and taking it a step further with a faux finishing that can lend texture and a custom look to surfaces.

The term faux covers a wide array of applications, from simple decorative paint tricks to those that allow one surface material to masquerade as another. And even though they're done by hand, you don't have to be a modern-day Michelangelo to create a unique, satisfying result. A little preparation, practice and smart shopping will easily get you on your way to a stylish room transformation.

Know your faux
The first decision you'll need to make is exactly what look you want to achieve with your faux finish. Different applications will create different moods in a space, whether they appear on one wall or all.

A faux finish can also serve as either a strong contrast or subtle complement to existing furnishings and decorative focal points, so researching your options is a critical first move.

Faux Finishing Made Easy

Here are the general faux finishing application categories to consider.

  • Glazing. Glazing involves applying one color over another to achieve a layered, dimensional effect. It can be done in either an additive manner, with one paint applied over a dry base coat, or in a subtractive manner, where that second paint is applied over the base and then mostly removed with a rag, sponge or brush while wet to achieve the desired effect. Standard glazing techniques include sponging, where color is applied with a water-dampened natural sponge; ragging, which creates a different look with similar action using a cloth rag applicator; frottage, which employs squares of plastic pressed into wet paint to create a leather-like look; colorwashing, for a semi-translucent finish; and dragging, where a dry brush is dragged down the vertical length of a wall to create a fabric-like texture.
  • Plastering. Specially made paint products can provide the three-dimensional, old-world look of plaster in a modern drywalled space. All that's required for this faux finish technique is application of a few coats using a trowel-style tool, with the option of finishing with a topcoat of additional color.
  • Natural textures. You can also achieve the look of stone or sanded adobe with faux finish treatments that combine wall finishes with textural additives for a quick transformation. Simply roll them on over a prepped and primed surface to create natural warmth and a substantial feel.
  • Crackle. Often used as an accent, a crackle effect provides instant patina and an antique look to surfaces. To achieve years of age in minutes, the crackle treatment is applied between a base coat of color and a flat top coat, causing the top coat to randomly crack away and reveal the color underneath.
  • Metallics and pearlescents. Specially formulated finishes can lend luminosity to otherwise flat surfaces. Brush on antiqued highlights or a contemporary allover finish to add unexpected opulence.

Color scheming
Color selection also has an impact on the results of your faux finishing endeavors. Consider contrasts and color strength when selecting the ingredients of your effect, especially when it comes to glazing techniques, where the last color applied will typically be the most dominant.

Spend time reviewing the options at your local paint retailer's design center, where you'll find plenty of color samplers, step-by-step technique guides, and finishes and tools made especially for those who faux.

And just as you would with a standard interior paint job, do a test before you invest: apply your paint colors and finish technique to a piece of scrap board and audition the test panel in the room for a day or two to view the impact of changing lighting conditions.

Shop and prep
Once you've tested and selected your faux finish approach, gear up with all you'll need to achieve the effect easily and beautifully. That includes proper preparation of the surface, of course, so don't discount the need to repair, sand and prime walls just because you're covering them with a cleverly painted disguise.

Glamorous sheens will appear more effortless and textured effects more natural when they're applied to a well-prepped surface, giving you a result you'll enjoy long after the brushing, sponging and troweling of faux finishing are over.  

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