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The following story appeared in American Painting Contractor, March 2004

Creating the Majestic with a Tuscan Palette

Gary Lord Wall Options imitates Europe with talent and texture.
Photos by Robin Victor Goetz

"The Villa on the Hill" is the English translation of the Italian name given to this beautiful home that sits high upon a hill overlooking the scenic Ohio River Valley. With this inspiring river view, the homeowners of La Villa Sulla Collina hired Gary Lord, owner of Gary Lord Wall Options and Associates in Cincinnati, to create the feel of a majestic Italian Villa for their empty-nester dream home.

Lord explained that the homeowner and designer knew they wanted a variety of European textures with varying shades of golden Tuscan colors as their main palette. The lightest value of this Tuscany palette would be mostly showcased in this three-story home's open foyers found on each floor and its stairwells. Lord suggested using PlasterTex, a white pigmented finely ground plaster that has a slight sand additive in it, to create the soft texture on the wall for these areas.

The crew first applied a rolled-on scratch coat of the PlasterTex to the primed walls. Once dry, they used Japan Scrapers to hand trowel on a one-eighth to one-fourth inch skip-trowel dimensional texture coat using the same PlasterTex material covering about 80 percent of the surface area. The final color was made by using Aquacreme and coloring it with small amounts of different Aquacolors. "We misted the surface first with water and then applied the glaze using a nylon brush affectionately called "Leon Neon," said Lord. "When the walls were complete they had the warmth and glow of soft brushed suede."

The study, family room, main bathroom and kitchen all flowed off the third floor foyer, allowing these spaces the most elevated view of the river valley below. The study had a barrel-vaulted ceiling that Lord decided to play up in the European theme. He used Aquastone, which is a white marble dust impregnated into an acrylic polymer, to create the texture on both the walls and ceiling.

While the Aquastone was still wet, the crew used a 6-inch drywall taping blade and smoothed the texture with a slight skip-trowel technique. Then two glazing colors were mixed, using the Aquacreme and Aquacolors, one in a warm golden tone and the other in caramel brown. The walls were once again misted with water and the two colors were blended wet into wet onto the dried Aquastone using the Leon Neon, for a soft deeper color than the foyer. To finish the look off, Lord accentuated the edges and corners of the room with the caramel brown glaze and a chip brush to bring out some interesting architectural elements.

The kitchen texture was a multi-layered dimensional finish with the greatest depth of color. Lord used a tight random sponge pattern with the PlasterTex, followed by manipulating tinted Aquastone and Aquacolors into the surface with brushes and rags.

The designer wanted a soft, dusty, aqua damask pattern in the main bathroom. Lord explained that the problem with this was that the space was very chopped up and would take a long time to paint a full damask pattern in. So he suggested handmade wallpaper with the colors and design of their choice to speed up the project and reduce the cost of the room. The unique feature of this wallpaper was the creation of the lost and found edges executed by using a production size stencil, a Hairy Larry and the exact same color as the glaze but diluted only one part paint to one part glaze.

"It was by the pressure and amount of paint on the Hairy Larry that created the lost-and-found edges of the stenciling," said Lord. "Firmer pressure, more paint, equals darker pattern; lighter pressure and less paint equals lighter pattern."

The crew also used hand painted paper in the lower level bathroom. The designer asked Lord to replicate a moire wallpaper that had been discontinued. Lord created the moire pattern by slightly rocking a wood-graining tool on the still-wet glazed 60-pound craft paper.

The lower level had a gaming area and two guest bedrooms. JaDecor, which Lord points out has been used in Europe for over 30 years, was used in these areas of the house. JaDecor is an elegant natural cotton wallcovering that contains other natural materials, such as mica plant fiber and yarn. The mixture is troweled on the wall in a continuous plastering process leaving no seams to come apart or become unsightly. Lord customized the pattern to go with the clients' decor.

The crew was also asked to do mural work in two areas: A fresco-style mural in the main foyer and a hot-air balloon mural. The fresco mural was painted directly on top of the already completed PlasterTex wall finish in the foyer. They used chalk to lay up the design and diluted acrylic paints to fill in the patterns.

The hot-air balloon mural was painted inside an elevator cab with the intent that viewers would feel as if they were up in the air looking down on the actual view of the Ohio River Valley. The basket weaving, clouds and balloon fabric all benefited from the use of an airbrush to help create this wonderful trompe l'oeil effect.

The exterior of the house had a limestone front, and the client wanted to mimic the limestone on the balustrades to help reduce cost. The glaze mixtures of warm gray and pale umber were brushed onto the surface and stippled out using the Hairy Larry. While the colors were drying, the crew repeated the glazing process in selective areas, reactivating the colors below and partially removing some of the colors in a layering technique of positive and negative applications.

Once again, Gary Lord and his crew have succeeded in delivering an awesome project. "I am blessed to be surrounded by many fellow talented artists that work with me every day and their work is reflected in this entire project," said Lord. A talented group indeed! Congratulations to Gary Lord Wall Options for creating an exquisite European air with talent and texture!

Gary Lord Wall Options crew members include Micah Ballard, Shari Evans, Kris Hampton, Richard Seiler, Jeff Sutherland, Joe Taylor, Dave Texter and Robin Vadnais.