Ask the Experts

By staff February 1, 2004

Q. I saw Venetian plaster walls in a model home I toured recently. Now I want them in my dining room. What exactly is Venetian plaster, how expensive is it, and is the treatment permanent or can I paint over it years from now?

A. Surface artist Kevin Walsh, a Venetian plaster master with much experience in this complicated technique, covers the subject: The term comes from 18th-century Italian palaces; but the technique dates back to the Romans and Egyptians, who experimented with plaster, lime, wax and heat to produce wall finishes with the look and feel of marble. Venetian plaster has incredible depth that's achieved with several coats of plaster applied with a small spatula, then layers of a smooth translucent material that controls how the surface responds to light, and finally the wax. The process is labor intensive and the surface artist must be expert at mixing pigments and minerals, and blending them to achieve the exact custom look the client wants. The more minerals in the mix means the color will change over time, acquiring an Old World patina. Professionals should be able to show you sample boards to help you decide. All of our products are from Italy and I studied the application technique there. The cost ranges from $5 to $15 a square foot. The application is as permanent as you want it to be. It will outlast the house. But all of our products are water-based, so if at some point you wish to paint over the treatment it would be no problem. Walsh Decorative Painting, 915-8749 or 355-0300.

Q. I want to replace selected pieces of a French provincial bedroom suite so the ensemble does not look so matched. Should I consider some painted pieces for a bolder accent?

A. Interior designer Shirley Seidman, of Christe's Classic Furnishings, says an eclectic look is imaginative and gives a room sophisticated sensibility. She has several options: On one side of the bed consider a big, skirted table. The cloth should be floor-length and the fabric can be inspired by your bed linens. If your spread is floral, for instance, the table skirt can be a companion check or stripe, or even a solid color. A skirted table gives you marvelous extra storage space. You can put a lot of stuff under one of these beauties. On the table you can place a reading lamp, clock, books, magazines, hand cream-all the things that make you feel comfortable and pampered when you're relaxing in that room. On the other side of the bed I'd opt for something painted, perhaps a three-drawer vintage chest or an antique piece of wicker. And I'd make this piece of furniture higher than a traditional nightstand so that when you're sitting up in bed it's convenient to just reach across to what's there. As for your dresser, I'd replace it with a carved Country French armoire. Or, if you have sufficient closet built-ins and you don't need extra clothes storage, I'd use the dresser space for an upholstered chaise or a settee. This would soften the room and make it extra-relaxing. Christe's, 2030 Harvard St., Sarasota, 955-9222.

Q. I own a big, ornate, glass-lined silver ice bucket that came to me from a relative who entertained lavishly, frequently and with great enthusiasm. I'm not her, but I love the sculptural, classy look of my bucket and I'd like to display and use it for everyday. What can I do with such an object?

A. Designer Gary Pike, of Point West Designs, says your heirloom treasure is very versatile and can glam up a lot of rooms and spaces: Fill that gorgeous bucket with flowers or a dramatic plant and set the bucket on a dining room sideboard or a coffee table in a conversation area. You can switch out the foliage as the seasons change. Or fill the bucket with potpourri and place in on the dresser in a guest room. I love the idea of filling the ice bucket with bath pearls or bath salts in a bathroom. Don't forget to include a scoop. Or put rolled-up towels, fancy soaps and a back scrubber in it. Your ice bucket will look beautiful as a decorative element in a bookcase. At Christmastime, fill your silver bucket with colored glass ornaments or holiday greeting cards. Supply it with patterned eggs at Easter, and pack it to the brim with candy at Halloween. Finally, it's not so glamorous, but your bucket would make a useful bank for spare change. Point West Designs, 1524 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, 373-0300.

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