Made in Sarasota

By staff January 1, 2003

The first time Jon and Alene Pettus quarreled it was about crown molding (she was redoing his Boston-area condo). They weathered that spat, going on to marry and begin a now 12-year-old collaboration called Architectural Painting and Renovation. With Jon's background in custom woodwork and Ringling grad Alene's fine art education, the couple creates decorative finishings that transform walls, ceilings and columns in homes and businesses up and down the eastern United States.

It's a profession both are amply prepared for. Alene studied painting in college and worked for a furniture designer. Later, she spent time with a restoration company that worked on churches in New England. John followed in the footsteps of his father, a custom homebuilder in Connecticut, and owned his own kitchen and bath business for six years in Boston. When the two met, they combined their skills and talents, and often commuted to Sarasota for projects before moving here permanently.

Now, with an established roster of high-end clients, Alene spends hours in research (sometimes traveling to Europe to study techniques) and in creating samples for projects, each of which the couple handles personally to keep tight control on quality. They work closely with designers, using fabric and color selections to create sample panels. The Pettuses also mix the paint themselves and leave touch-up kits with their clients.

Their results go far beyond the sponging and glazing typically associated with faux finishings. In one house, the pair handmade exquisite steamed clay wall and ceiling details with 24-karat gilding to create a neoclassical look. In a foyer with a travertine staircase, Alene created a finish that mimicked the marble on the wainscoting and the back of the stairs; for a wine cellar, she used an uneven, multi-layered approach to produce the texture of a rough stone ceiling.

"Jon calls me Xerox," Alene jokes. "I can match anything."

Not all their finishings are faux. One centuries-old-and increasingly popular-European technique Alene has perfected is Venetian plastering. Layers of plaster are hand-applied with a knife and then polished, waxed or stenciled-even dusted with a feather duster-to give a distressed antique patina or slick modern sheen, depending on the look Alene wants. Jon explains that the technique can still be seen in old European castles. The couple noticed the resurgence of interest in Venetian plastering during a research trip to Europe, and diligently studied until they had mastered the technique to create a variety of looks. Jon often makes boutique furniture and accessories to complete the look of a room, and they work out of one of three studios and offices in which folders and sample boards for each project (they've worked with some clients for years) are arranged in pristine order. Every surface is treated like a piece of art: "Our paintings are 2,400 square feet," Jon jokes.

"I like to do finishes that are backdrops," Alene says. "Every wall is a canvas. It has a composition; yet it's not screaming at you."

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