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Top 10 Wall Finishes

By E. E. Kane

There was a time when wallpaper was the best way to achieve depth and elegance in a room, but not today.  Modern day wall finishes are the fashionable way to update your interior with minimal cost and effort.  A few of the methods are perhaps a bit more complex than applying wallpaper, but wall finishes are far easier to maintain, and a great choice for uneven, rough walls. Try one or more of these methods in your home for a fresh new look.

1. Color glaze or wash

Glaze is essentially paint without pigment.  The amount of color in the product can vary from sheer to opaque.  Glazes are normally oil-based, and washes are water-based.  An easy wall finish can be achieved with a glaze or wash of a range of colors, or several shades of the same color. The base color is rolled on, then left to dry. The glaze is applied with a brush in small sections at a time with criss-cross motions. Before the glaze dries, a dry badger brush over the same area with criss-cross motions will mute the effect. The next section should be started before the wet bordering edge dries to avoid obvious lines. A third color of glaze more translucent than the previous one can be applied, if desired.

2. Combing

A comb used for hair might possibly do for this technique, but it is not ideal. Instead, pick up a combing tool at the hardware store.  After applying a base coat on the work surface, allow it to dry completely. Apply the second color (paint, glaze or wash) with a brush to a small section, then drag the comb to reveal the under layer of paint. The comb can be dragged in a steady line, or in zigzags or curves. Straight lines can be applied side to side and top to bottom, or diagonally in both directions for crisscross patterns. Continue the next section, working quickly to maintain wet edges.

3. Dragging

Similar to combing (above), dragging creates lines on a painted surface after a second color of glaze or wash is applied over a dried base coat. Since the dragging motion must be completed in one stroke, paint the glaze in sections from top to bottom or side to side, whichever direction the drag will go. Drag the dry dragging brush over the glaze, then wipe off the excess glaze with a clean rag before making the next stroke. The dragging technique is usually only done with one direction of strokes, but a perpendicular drag can be used to create a look of linen or denim to the wall. Simply allow the first coat of dragged glaze to dry, then apply the glaze again in small sections to beginning the new drag.

4. Stippling

A stippling brush looks a bit like a scrub brush, but is made of longer hairs from a boar or horse. Begin this technique by following the steps in number one (above). After applying a section of glaze to the work surface, tap the stippling brush in random spots over the entire area. Proceed to the next section quickly to maintain a wet edge. The effect of the random pinpoint dots hides flaws and adds depth and interest to a wall.

5. Frottage

Using the technique in number one, frottage involves using 3x3 squares of plastic sheeting over the layer of glaze. The squares must be crumpled up first, then flattened out again before applying them to the wet glaze. Overlap the edges slightly (1/4 inch) to avoid lines, and use a dry paint roller to fix the squares firmly to the walls. After an entire wall is covered in plastic squares, remove them, softening lines with a paintbrush. The subtlety of the faux finish depends on the intensity and contrast of the two colors.

6. Elegant stripes

This technique will add elegance to any room, and is ideal for a formal dining room. Paint the room the desired base color, then tape off stripes of seven inch intervals using a yardstick, level, and painter's tape. The stripes can be slightly wider or narrower according to taste. Vertical stripes are formal and traditional, horizontal stripes are chic and modern. Paint every other stripe with a pearlized metallic paint using a narrow roller, painting just over the inside edge of the tape to ensure good coverage. Wait 30 minutes and apply a second coat.

7. Stamped

Create the look of custom wallpaper with rubber stamps and your own combination of colors to fit your decor.  Stamping is easy, but requires a bit of practice on a scrap surface before the real task begins.  It is also best to measure and mark where the designs will be stamped before beginning. Place each stamp so that the mark on the wall is at the base of the stamp. Completely cover the stamp with paint each time before stamping. The stamp is rolled on, but not rolled off; instead, lift it directly from the wall 

8. Texture

Using plaster and a substance like sand, pebble or straw, the texture of a wall is transformed from plain Jane to Old World rustic. If plaster is too much fuss, buy a paint with a texturizing substance added.

9. Faux finishes

Marble, stone, wood, and leather are all examples of faux finishes. Leather is especially masculine, perfect for a study, library, den, or bachelor pad. To achieve a leather look to walls, choose medium warm shades of color for the base coat and the glaze finish. After allowing the base coat to dry, dab on the tinted glaze with a slightly crumpled plastic bag. Re-crumple the bag often to avoid a pattern. Soften excess paint with a brush. After the glaze is completely dry, roll on another coat of sheer glaze (only slightly tinted) to make the walls glow.

10. Trompe L'oeil

In French it means fool the eye, and this technique does just that when it is done well. These murals are made to look real, such as a door painted in the wall with such three dimensional properties that one might try to open it. Fool the eye with a simple design of stone blocks. Following the directions in number one for color wash, use a crumpled cheesecloth to further soften the brush strokes. After the wall dries, measure and mark the rectangular blocks, using a level to check for straight lines. Paint over the lines with acrylic paint in a much darker shade to define the stones. Highlight the stones with a thin line of white acrylic. Paint the white highlights to the right of all vertical lines, and above all horizontal lines. The defining dark color for the stones should be fairly even, but the thin white lines should fade out here and there to add dimension.

Wall finishes will hold up longer and clean up better if you apply a coat of varnish after your last coat of paint has dried. And for those projects requiring speed to look professional, an extra pair of able hands is always a great idea.

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