Tour de Faux
By TYLER CHRISTENSEN of the Missoulian
This article appeared in the Missoula.com Magazine
Cookie Hanson can make a concrete floor look like a Persian rug. She can make a tube of PVC pipe look like a beam of solid cherry wood, or perhaps oak.
Using plaster and marble dust, she can replicate the look of French toile lace. In fact, Hanson can make nearly any surface look just like whatever her clients request, be it marble, metal or animal skin.
“There’s not a surface I can’t do,” she declared while touring the showroom of her Missoula business, called Tour de Faux. “I can redo cabinets and furniture probably 80 different ways. I do wood 500 different ways. It’s rare a client wants a finish I can’t do.”
If she does run across a finish she’s not familiar with, Hanson will find a class that teaches it. She boasts 17 certifications in more than 200 faux finishes and European plaster techniques from some of the leading training centers in the nation. Just this week she returned from a continuing education course in San Diego that demonstrated how to work with decorative cement.
Decorative cement, she explained, is not the same as the stuff that’s used to pour sidewalks. It goes on only 1/32 of an inch thick. But if cement isn’t your thing, Hanson also works with glazes, hand-dyed papers and castings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Other materials in her arsenal include crushed quartz, marble paste, wax, Italian mica powder and foil.
In fact, there’s really only one material she doesn’t use: paint.
“You cannot do what I do with paint,” she said. “I don’t do paint and I don’t do sponge. I do things the old Renaissance way.”
There’s a difference, she explained, between painters, faux finishers and decorative artists. Painters apply paint to a wall. Faux finishers work with paint or glaze to make the surface of a material look like something it isn’t. And decorative artists manipulate various materials to achieve a range of effects.
“I try to bring to Montana what nobody else does,” Hanson said. “I try to have a niche.”
Hanson’s is a niche within the specialty finish niche, currently one of the hottest national trends in home decor. It’s in high demand in Missoula, too, but only a select few locals offer the service professionally — and they have long waiting lists.
Pam Schultze, for instance, does faux finishing exclusively, and she’s booked solid for the next two months. Schultze uses paint and plaster, primarily, but the trend has been fed in recent years, she said, by a rapid expansion in materials, techniques and styles.
“The basic materials and techniques have been around for centuries, really,” she explained. “But more and more people, it seems like, are wanting to mimic the old world look, so it’s being reborn again. People are wanting something different; something different than just paint.”
The range of choices can be overwhelming sometimes, said Donna Hefty of Hefty Designs. Some of her customers know exactly what they want, but most are looking for at least a little guidance, and that’s one of the reasons she provides the full range of interior design services, including painting and faux finishing.
Murals are her favorite projects, she said, but “when you work in Missoula, Montana, you do everything.”
Her customers tend to be creative-minded folks who want to use a specialty finish to round off the look of a room or add a unique touch, she said. The trick is to fit the finish to the overall ambiance of the room. It can be expensive, Hefty admitted, but when it comes to their homes, people are willing to pay for a professional-looking result.
And it’s not hard to tell a professional from a do-it-yourself job, said Roy Chacon, an owner of Montana Stone Gallery.
The Chacon family hired Hanson to do a number of different finishes inside their newly built home, and it won first place in the 2005 Parade of Homes, he noted.
Hanson gave Chacon’s home office an application that looks like animal skin, and covered one of the powder rooms in a finish that looks like antique wallpaper. She even balanced atop a 35-foot-high scaffold to reproduce Michelangelo’s famed “hand of God” scene on the Chacon’s ceiling.
In all, Hanson covered roughly 3,000 square feet of surface, Chacon said.
“It was definitely worth the money,” he said. “When you build a house that big you want to make sure you get the best. You can tell when people cut corners. It comes down to, it’s really not even about the money, it’s about making sure you get the best.”
People’s home environments mean a lot to them, Hanson said. Decorative art gives them something they can appreciate and enjoy, and guarantees a home accent that is completely unique.
In fact, most decorative artists can tell each other’s hand, she said. Her own form, for instance, tends toward the impressionistic, although she can handle contemporary, art deco — pretty much any style imaginable. Her mural styles include perspectives and trompe l’oeil, French for “fools the eye.”
This isn’t just paint on a wall, she emphasized. It’s art. In fact, Hanson has applied her techniques to canvas and done quite well selling them as framed pieces.
She got started seven years ago, when she asked her husband, Greg Hanson, to send her to a faux finishing class in Florida for an anniversary present. That class sparked interest in another, and eventually it just made sense to open her own business. She opened a by-appointment-only showroom out on Expressway, where she also has a studio and teaches classes.
It was slow going at first, she said, because Missoula is a hard market to break into. She’s spent a lot of time explaining the difference between a decorative artist like herself and a self-taught do-it-yourselfer.
“It’s like, do you want somebody who taught themselves electricity, or do you want a professional contractor who went to electric school?” she explained.
She also has to convince some potential customers that hers is an affordable service. Her prices ranging from $2 to $20 a square foot, depending on the size and complexity of the finish, she said. The Hansons also operate window- and carpet-cleaning businesses, so she doesn’t have to charge more to cover overhead costs, she added.
The biggest investment she’s made into the decorative art business, she said, has been the $3,000 to $5,000 she has spent on classes, not counting airfare, hotel and car rental. In total, she estimates she’s spent $70,000 on her education alone.
Hanson has seen steady growth in customers since she started seven years ago, and now she is booked for the next six months. Her work has been featured in a Tour of Homes home, six Montana Parade of Homes, as well as on a Home and Garden Television network show and the next issue of Faux Finisher magazine.
“I stay pretty busy now,” she said.
In fact, she now hires a sub-contractor to take care of all her prep work, so she can devote her time to “the fun part.”
“I still love it,” she said. “Every job is a challenge. Every job is an opportunity to use my creativity.”
See to believe
Check out Tour de Faux’s finishes online at www.tourdefaux.com