Martha Shows Us How to Replicate Her Favorite Faux-Bois Effect in Our Own Homes
I first became enamored with faux bois (French for "false wood") when I purchased Skylands, my home in Maine. The house sits high atop a knoll known as Ox Hill, and is surrounded by tall trees. When we look out the large leaded windows, it feels like we're actually living in the forest, among evergreens. To play up this effect while adding an element of natural beauty to my traditional furnishings, I decided to decorate with faux-bois pieces—that is, items that resemble tree trunks, branches, or bark—made from a variety of materials. I searched antiques and garden shows and shops, and found tables, chairs, benches, settees, planters, troughs, pots, and flower vases. I also commissioned artist—most notably Carlos Cortés of San Antonio, Texas, who made several large faux-bois concrete tables for me.
Later, when restoring my farm in Bedford, I began experimenting with how to paint wood grain on my walls. I was happy to discover that the process isn't complicated or time-consuming. In fact, it can take just a few hours to do a room. All you need is paint, glaze, and a wood-graining rocker tool.
I enlisted the help of master house painter Stefan Lewicki, and together we plotted out the patterning and size of the grain (it's important to get the proportion right, so it looks realistic). I started with the wainscoting in the dining room, then painted the wall panels in the green living room. I was so pleased with the results that I continued on to the center hall and small dining room, which looked plain in contrast.
When applied on a smooth surface, the graining looks like Japanese cedar. I love hearing exclamations from friends who swear my walls have been papered, or think they took hundreds of hours to hand-paint. This technique is a very easy and economical way to create the look of wood, or of costly designer wallpaper. I hope you will try it in your home.
Roll with it
A detail of a freshly painted wall in Bedford.
Tools of the Trade
Go with the Grain
This method also lends itself to doors, cabinets, and bookshelves; you can practice on scrap wood to get the hang of it. Martha worked with Fine Paints of Europe to customize the colors she used here. The base is a medium taupe, and the contrasting glaze is a darker walnut brown.
First paint the wall a base color, and let it dry for at least a few days (the example here is continuing from a completed portion). Then mix a glaze in a contrasting color, lighter or darker (about one part paint combined with one part glaze; Martha likes a water-based acrylic one from Polyvine). Using a foam roller, apply a layer of the mixed glaze vertically.
Starting from the top, press a faux-bois tool, also known as a rocker, into the glaze while it's still wet. Draw it downward while rocking your wrist slightly up and down. (The grooves will scrape off the glaze, leaving a pattern behind.)
Find Your Style
The faster you move, the smaller the knots and grain will be; the slower you go, the more elongated.
Before starting the next row, wipe your tool with a cloth to remove excess paint. Using a level to keep the rows straight, apply the next strip of glaze, and reverse your direction with the rocker, working from the bottom up to create a natural look.
Repeat Until Complete
Repeat, alternating directions, until the wall is covered. Let dry completely.