Artful Walls

The Transformative Power of Wall Treatments

  |  By   |  Photos by Roy Gumpel
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Each wall of your home is a canvas, but color isn’t the only way to create style and express your personality. The work of three talented Hudson Valley artisans demonstrates how the use of special finishes can add a range of depth and interest to walls, altering the character of a room far more dramatically than simple paint. Contemporary wall finishes include faux painting, plastering with nuanced variations in color, and lavish murals. Most options are as resilient as they are beautiful, and some even have the added bonus of being all natural and healthy for both you and the environment.

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Angelica Gumpel of Angelica’s Clay Walls, based in Accord, has been hand-plastering walls for nearly a decade. “I love working with clay,” she says. “It’s the oldest surface, and it’s 100 percent natural.” Her colors, too, are all mineral-based pigments. “These walls breathe—they are alive,” she says. When experimenting with with clay walls, Gumpel recommends starting in the bedroom. “Clay pampers you,” she says. “Once you have one wall finished this way, you want more.”

A wax coating waterproofs the clay, allowing it to be used in bathrooms and kitchens, and brings out nuances in color, making the clay surface more vibrant. On the subject of color, Gumpel notes, “I used to be conservative, but I’ve had a repeat client whose dining room I finished in purple. She was so brave, and she showed me possibilities I never would never have dreamt of.”

Diane Boisvert, who undertakes projects all over the United States and Canada through her firm STONEGrey Inc., based in Kerhonkson, has decades of experience applying plaster and cement finishes, starting from when she studied with artists Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Dimitroff, both disciples of the great muralist Diego Rivera.

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“The materials I use are all natural,” Boisvert says. “My techniques are as close to the old-fashioned ones as possible, too.” This allows her to achieve wall surfaces that look like those of an Italian villa or French country house. One of her specialties is faux limestone block, a painstaking process that she has successfully used on enormous projects—a recent 4,000-square-foot project in Pound Ridge took five of her workers a month to complete. The impression is refined, but Boisvert’s materials are tough and hold up to years of hard use.  “My outside corners are always perfect and beautiful,” she says.

Kingston artist Kevin Paulsen paints works on oversize canvas, which he applies to entire walls. Though his subjects are fantastical, there’s also a bit of a Colonial American influence in his work—in fact, he lived on the island of Nantucket painting walls in historic homes for 15 years before relocating his studio to uptown Kingston in the late ’90s. Paulsen’s fanciful murals, mostly landscapes, are individually created to enhance each client’s home.

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“I think about atmosphere and environment,” he says, “and not so much about materials and design. I try to make my murals as beautiful as I can, but my paintings are very conceptual, with shapes and color and form.” Paulsen is currently at work on a decorative wall treatment for which he’s applying a bright red glaze over yellow paint and then adding burlap.

Special finishes are more complex, and therefore more costly, than simple paint. The cost for a straightforward paint finish for an average 12-ft.-by-15-ft. room (about 500 square feet of surface) runs $2.50 to $5 per square foot, or $1,250 to $2,500 for the room. The cost to wallpaper that same 12-ft.-by-15-ft. room can range from $4 to $10 per square foot, or $2,000 to $5,000, although that cost can escalate further if high-end specialty wallpaper is used.

By comparison, according to the artisans featured here, clay walls start at $6 to $10 per square foot, but the price climbs for more complex finishes such as faux limestone block, which ranges from $25 to $35 per square foot, or even more. Custom-painted and applied finishes such as murals are priced by the space, but expect them to be very costly.

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