Ask the Experts

By staff May 1, 2004

Q. What does it mean to ebonize a piece of furniture?

A. Designer Wilson Stiles is partial to ebonized pieces and collects them. He advises: "When you want drama and contrast from wood pieces but don't want to obliterate the grain, ebonizing is a fine solution.

"You ebonize wood when you apply a black, translucent stain to it. The idea is to give the wood some color but allow the interest of the grain to show through. How many coats of stain you apply determines how much grain or how much of the underlying wood color comes through. Sometimes the result will be a brown-black or even a purple-black. When I ebonize a wood such as ash, for instance, I want a black, dramatic look, so I put on several coats of stain because I don't want any yellow coming through. When I ebonize mahogany or maple, I generally want a little of the rich redness coming through. You can use either an oil or water-base stain, and always put a sealer over it.

"Ebonizing, which dates back to the Renaissance, works well with both antiques and modern furniture. If the wood grain is unattractive, however, just paint the piece, don't ebonize it." Wilson Stiles, Wilson Stiles, Inc., 366-8282.

Q. In model homes lately, I'm noticing mural wallcoverings. Hard to apply? Expensive? Easy to find?

A. Janet Mattson of M & M Wallcoverings and Blinds has got you covered: "Murals have a long history in wallcoverings. The paper used to be hand-painted or hand-blocked and very expensive. Today, because of digital photography and other technological advances, mural wallcoverings are affordable and practical. You could select a mural for one focal wall. Or you could opt for a small trompe l'oeil mural, one that, for example, visually creates a niche by putting a window where there isn't one.

"Generally, murals come in 18-inch sections. They are pre-pasted and washable. Ideally a mural should be applied by a professional paperhanger. Scenes range from sand dunes at the beach to a stand of palm trees, a golf course, a Tuscan village, a pirate ship-you name it. You find murals in those big books in wallcovering stores such as ours. They range in price from $40 up to $500 depending upon the size and quality. A mural definitely adds dramatic interest to an ordinary space, and that's why this new generation of mural wallcoverings is so very popular." M & M Wallcoverings and Blinds, 4801 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 925-7800.

Q. I've accumulated several fancy frames that once held paintings, I assume. What are my d├ęcor options, other than finding oil paintings to fill them?

A. Interior designer Susan Mignone has the big picture for you to consider: "I use fancy frames for things other than paintings. One of my favorite framed pieces of art is a tribal Indonesian wedding costume. I had it framed professionally, and you should, too, since you might want a shadow box treatment or a specialty mat. Professionals can suggest all sorts of wonderful ways to frame an object.

"Inside those pretty frames of yours, you could consider showcasing vintage piano sheet music, old handwritten recipes, lace, a scarf or other precious pieces of unusual fabric, a baby's christening outfit, a series of baby bibs. You might frame a collectible book jacket or album cover. How about going with a gardening theme and framing seed packets? You could take your favorite poems from a book and frame them. Or fill your frames with intriguing black-and-white photographs. Of course, you could always transform a picture frame into a lovely and useful mirror or perhaps a chalkboard or even a cork bulletin board. Finally, you might want to consider the frame itself as a piece of art and hang it empty on a painted wall or one that has been wallpapered. You could group your empty frames or simply hang one large and ornate frame on a wall all by itself. Suddenly, it becomes a focal point that people stop and notice." Panache Interiors, Inc., 8318 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota. 312-0625.

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