Textured Fresco Walls; A New Technique for ANCIENT Houses

by Anita Sands Hernandez

After spending a month looking for an apartment, and finding only ghastly, overpriced cracker box units, I decided to rent an 80 year old, 1 story Spanish house. It was in a weird part of town but it was much LESS money than an apartment. I asked the home's owner to give me a deal as I'd paint, tile and carpet the thing. The man thought about it and agreed to l00$ off. I was ecstatic and moved in, 3 bedrooms for 950$ a monthFirst day, all my so-called friends stopped by. From them, I learned this was the wrong side of town. It was the barrio and the house was a 'White Elephant.' It would take ten men to paint it. Yes, I responded but I needed exercise, I craved big, empty spaces. Besides, I loved ethnics. Hadn't I keep the kids' daddy's last name? You'll need to put it on the mailbox then, they said, to SURVIVE. “And besides a Rottweiler, you'll need roommates, who pack heat.” I'm not that social, I responded as I showed them the door. Newly on my own, I didn't want roomies. I'd turn two of the White Elephant's 3 bedrooms into work rooms. Having a single office space had NEVER been enough. My old office was crowded with computers, reference books; shelves of computer discs in different sizes for different machines; shelves of scripts. Then, at cross odds, an entire section of astrology chart files for clients, and all this clutter made it impossible to do the reflective but messy work of sewing and painting in the same room. The disciplines were mutually antagonistic.

For art work, I needed a great deal of light, large work tables at chest height, plenty of space and a good music system. One corner had to be dedicated to storage shelves. For scripts, I needed to do manuscript sorting along with shelving and filing. Couldn't do that in my primary office where I must type daily and see astrology clients, and where I require neatness, clarity of mind. I have lost some of my best scripts in the mess that used to be in my primary office, not to speak of clients who take a dim view of psychics with clutter. I really needed two work rooms, maybe three ---as I didn't want to place OLD computers in my typing, client-seeing, primary office. Doing 'On line' astro-prediction services with a 24 hour modem was in the back of my mind too. People who refuse to work for corporations, and won't hoe anyone else's row, need home work areas with computers and modems. 

Cottage industries are based on having clearly defined work spaces for clearly defined chores. So I wanted multiple work rooms. This old house was going to make freelance survival in the city possible.

My kids came over with house plants and shook their heads, warning me against the omenous echoes their footsteps made, the huge footage, all those nasty walls with peeling wallpaper. "You don't expect we're going to help you make it habitable, do you?" Not me, I crossed my heart. Painting four huge rooms would be great exercise. If I went to La Costa Health Spa for the 7 days I was planning to spend painting, I'd have paid ten grand for so much exercise and exhilaration. I am going to save ten grand, plus get my house painted. I'll do all the work in a week, and turn these distressed spaces into a new living room, bedroom, office, and sewing room. Why should I want to share all that joy with kids?

The kids' eyes narrowed into a suspicious squint. I could see they didn't believe me and after cleaning out the fridge, they went out the door grumbling about having a daft mom, leaving me to my Ecstatic Nest Syndrome. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. 

Little did I know that I was to discover an innovational technique for resuscitating the crumbling, wallpapered walls of old homes turning them into magnificent 90's, post-modern, textured finishes that drop the jaws of all who see them. I didn't see the possibilities myself at first. The first room --the planned sewing/art room--had layers of peeling wall paper and window shades. It was murky and disturbing but when I tore off the shades, I saw a magnificent southern exposure with waving palms, ferns and bananas outside, a lot of So Cal light. Sure, in the brightness, one could see that the wood window trim had small pox. Previous inhabitants had stapled up curtains, pitting the wood. The walls were in really bad shape, crumbling plaster, torn wall paper, weathered moldings, nicked wainscoting. Little did I know that all of these were going to be ASSETS. 

The thing is, don't stop to get depressed. Plug in KPFK-FM, * (live link,) politically conscious talk radio and get right to work with a claw hammer. Entertained by Roy of Hollywood, Noam Chomsky and Blaise Bonpane I first tore out all the seedy carpets. I cannily left the carpet tack strips on. Why? Well, underneath, the wonderful, hard wood floors were amazingly ugly, scarred, combination puppy-pee stains and rainwater leak spotted floors. It wasn't my house, I was renting, I didn't need to invest in the infrastructure or improve the home's value. An ancient Buddhist text says 'he who can accept being imperfect is the most perfect.' Buddhist to the end, I accepted the room's blemishes. I didn't want to rent a machine sander, much less use it or go near eco-toxic varnishes. I prefer the luxury of carpets under foot. I decided to go for free carpeting. One visit to a carpeting company and I'd arranged a trade. I'd do fortunetelling for parties in exchange for a four rooms worth of carpet ends. All carpet men have ends the size of the average room, or slightly damaged goods, still sprightly. He did.

I wasn't worried about installation. I wasn't going to pay huge bucks for padding, laying. I knew I could find Mexican carpet layers on street corners outside carpet stores and get them to lay carpet in four rooms for a tenth of the price a carpet store would charge me for their guys. I'd find them later. I gave the carpet man a few days to find the end pieces, meanwhile I rolled up my sleeves 

There was a lot of badly applied wallpaper on all the walls. I wasn't working at my daily job; I didn't have money to rent a steamer to get the wall paper off, nor did I have a lot of time to fuss as I have to get back to earning money, i.e. to my various cottage industries, painting, writing scripts and articles, seeing astrology clients, talking on psychic hotlines, running the L.A. Free Screen Writing Co-op, my hobby. So I decided to paint over all this guck. Again, it wasn't my house and time was a factor. This health spa exercise vacation could take no more than seven days. I needed an EASY, fast method. So I steeled myself for just painting over what was on the walls. Little did I know then, that this would accidentally be the most beautiful tack to take. 

As I studied the ancient house with its many antique-y architectural features, I remembered I loved Jocasta Innes* books on painting walls and always had wanted to do a room with Renaissance crumbling textures that imitated the ancient, multi-colored hues of crumbling, faded frescoes. Why not use all that crud on the walls as texture? Just paint over it like fresh lava boiling over Pompeii. I made the decision and have forever since been glad I did.

The next fortuitous accident was the fact that I was too broke to buy just one shade of paint. Painting ten rooms would mean spending on fifteen gallons of paint. Or would it? I looked in the garage of this home and found a dozen cans of paint, in all colors. Lavender, white, pink and a great many partially filled gallons of different deep copen blues, icy pastel electric blues and some bright ceruleans all left over from some tenant in the Rainbow Flower child 70's. Well-sealed, they were all in perfect condition. 

I went to the neighborhood Paint Store, which has a nice habit of remaindering custom-tinted paints that clients return, in other words, giving you the best and most expensive for the least cash. There, among a stack of cans, with swatches painted onto their lids, I found a flat exterior water based paint which the clerk warned me was gritty with textures I might not want, as well as very slow-drying. It cost 1$ for almost a gallon as it was a remnant. I opened it, found griege muck with a lot of texture. (HOMEDEPOT now remainders for 5$ a gallon)

I ran home and slapped it on the walls and ceiling. When it hit the wallpaper, the paper bubbled up in places. A day later, still damp, pieces of the paper were actually coming loose. I slapped them back on the wall haphazardly, not necessarily where they'd come from, either. The paint dried---this mess hardened. Now it looked like a real, stone wall, rampant with texture. PERFECT!

I started on the second layer of paint, but really the first color as the first layer was just texture. This layer was the background color (so it has to be the darkest of all the colors you have on hand.) It was rolled onto all five surfaces smoothly and evenly. I had chosen a bright, dutch iris shade of dark blue. More loose wall paper pieces came up here and there and all the cracks in the wall paper started to gape. I deliberately ripped them open. Gashes appeared at intervals. 

My daughter came to visit and says 'Mommmm, you should have steamed it off first, are you crazy? "Like a loon" I say, 'see what empty next syndrome has done to me?' and I keep slashing. I cover the entire room, gashes and all, with this icy, dark pastel blue. My daughter leaves, shaking her head.

By the time this coat was dry, I mixed a second color (two shades lighter, like blueberries and cream) and I begin the interesting work; using a wide brush dipped in paint then rubbed clean on the edge of the paint can, almost a dry brush, as there can be no dripping paint, I start 'brushing' the cheeks of the room. Now here is the sole technique. The brush is held sideways and loosely so the flat of it from wood head to tip, simultaneously and lightly brushes across the wall, catching all the crud on the wall. I tickle the cruddy wall, like stroking a baby, with the flat of the brush covering a foot long swatch in a single brushstroke. The trick is, the paint only catches the prominences. In the hollows is the original, dark, iris blue paint. And, as I'm using a paler and warmer pastel cerulean, the contrast brings out all the gritty textures. I go over the entire room, four walls and ceiling. 

It's light, careless work, Jai Uttal is blaring –( PLAY this guy, his amazing, spiritually ZINGY HINDU MUSIC, and google around and find some SARANGI MUSIC for quiet moments, but the best and most lively is JAI UTTAL. ) and with that music, the work goes fast. The only hesitation is having to climb off the ladder, move it a few feet and climb up again.

There are now two colors on the wall. It's a little tame for my taste, so next I mix a bucket of cerulean with white paint to pale it down like melted, pale, sky-colored ice cream. I baby-kiss the walls on all 5 surfaces so the pale sky texturing is set off against the two darker blues. 

I have now tickled every surface twice and textured it once and painted it once. A total of four times over the surfaces but tickling goes fast. Now there are three colors in overlaying layers. The room starts to look as if it were all ancient, crumbling, sky-blue stone. Or, in my daughter's eyes, as if a really bad painter had hit it because the work is different everywhere. In places, you just can't get an even texture and you see brushstrokes. Some of my friends say they like the natural stone look, others prefer the brush-strokey areas and a third group, my kids, are telling me it's ALL a big mistake and if I move quick and far enough, the owner will never find me.

But I dip my last dry brush in white with a little pink and whisk it over ceiling and walls frosting the peaks, leaving the most contrasting of all the three color changes on the highest points of four walls and ceiling. Then, I add a little blue so it's pale lavender and whack a few areas and now the wall has depth, texture, grit, an almost iridescent winter dawn glimmer of four shades of pastel. The brush strokes for the most part have disappeared all that's left is this pulsating rainbow acid trip.

I stand back and am dazzled. I proudly invite the kids back. They only see how all the walnut varnished pine lumber on the window sashes, floor and wainscoting trim doesn't match this candied, pastel-paint theme but I spackle the staple gun scars, sand lightly, take a piece of thin cardboard, lay it on the glass, and start doing the window sashes, wainscoting all in frosty white enamel. They shrug, clean out my refrigerator and leave, but I see the effect is dynamite. I excitedly call the carpet man asking 'do you have a 12 x 13 piece yet? He responds: 'Hey, some decorator borrowed a piece twice that size for a video shoot, and left this big piece out in the rain, go get it. 

I do, driving into Hollywood, --hoping it's not brown, gray,  black or red. Those are the colors that will turn me off and make me leave this freebie in the rain. But it isn't. I get there and see a neutral putty beige which will look terrific against the wall's icy blues. I go to throw it in my car. The piece weighs 500 lbs. wet. I can only hope it'll dry to 400. I drag it and huff and puff and can't move it. Do I really need it? The floors at home are spattered with five kinds of blue paint. I need it. I commandeer a male stranger off the street and together we load it into the trunk of my 83 Honda Civic.  Perspiring, I drive triumphantly home, and unload it into the driveway. after scanning the skies for signs of another rain storm and not seeing one, I unroll it flat, envisioning the sun drying this piece in a day or two.

As I opened the front door of this huge old Spanish house, I thought how wonderful it was to rent. If I'd owned the house I'd probably have sanded the hard wood floors and varnished them, given myself brain cancer from inhaling old lead paint and new solvent. I'd have steamed off the wallpaper and sanded the old walls, filling my lungs with zinc and more lead. And if I had done all that perfect-mundo and survived, I'd still have missed the miracle of what the four layers of paint did in all the places where the wallpaper melted off. Anyway, when the bank foreclosed all the work would have been lost. Renting gave me cheap, free, fast and easy, disposable, innovative and last of all, but not least, worth writing about.

When I went into my new art/sewing room and look up at the iridescent stone walls I again see that it is precisely on these surfaces of multi-layer textures where dry-brushed paint collects. They're prettier than the flat places. I've turned rot and crud into crumbling frescoes like those of Ancient Pompeii. I am inspired. Why not start a new business. POMPEII PAINTERS, "the old is new, the new is old." Click and you'll see the finishes such a business does, though not that name, I give you that name, btw. But elegant walls for 250 a day, Cruddy walls for 150$ a day. I decide against doing the biz as hey, I already have too many cottage industries already, astrology, baby fruit trees, writing articles for Dell Horoscope mag.., but seeing my own ancient walls, I am reminded of Darryl Hannah playing a decorator in 'Wall Street,' a kind of villainously chic perfect foil for the ambitious Charlie Sheen. She decorates this very plain, square four walls condo he buys, and does a torn-paper-with -bricks-peeking-thru effect over all over the walls. It's supposed to speak of the insanity of the woman. That's pretty much what I did here, but the progression of blues from stormy to pale to white foam isn't Manhattan sophisticated. It's kind of foamy sea cottage looking, especially with the white trim, and has a Victorian look. 'Fanny and Alexander' was on the t.v. and I was satisfied to see how my new room looked just like their airy, summer cottage in Victorian Sweden. 

The next day the sun had dried the carpet; I went to a local barrio carpet store and asked the owner if he'd lend me one of his carpet layer guys. "Sure, any morning, I've got a lot of freelance guys here. Take your pick. Negotiate with them." I came back the next day and found a nice Mexican gentleman who didn't speak English but who knew how to say 'twenty' and who laid the carpet in an hour. Now the room was beige and blue, spiffed with white trim into a bandbox effect and totally immaculate. I moved in every book case in the house, some extra desks, tables, hung pictures and created my new work space with my tools: easels, paint stands, sewing machine. 

I ran out and got a lot of dime store sheets, dark blue with big pink roses, hemming them in an hour and layering them with my old white cotton drapes and hung them on brass rings, achieving a country effect. I put lace curtains on brass rods on the lower side of the window a la Fanny and Alexander, sat back and typed all night on this article in my finished office.

My hands ached, and so did my back, but the very next morning, I painted the living room, and the day after, moved on to the bedroom and art room. The ancient wallpaper of these rooms never failed to buckle and peel, gash and tear all of which I incorporated into the mess of textures and covered with slow-drying gritty paint, then the rainbow layers. On the fifth day I did the bath in semi-gloss and on the sixth day I did the kitchen. 

A kitchen is a special project requiring two items you don't use in the rest of the house: TSP for scrubbing oily food scum off the walls. Next, semi-gloss paint, not flat. But I use water soluble semi-gloss, not oil as I don't want to gas my cats who like to sleep near the oven and are half-gassed anyway.

When I finish giving the room 3 or 4 shades of deep to pale turquoise to navaho sand and frosted with snow white, I add an extra fillip, possible in the oil and gloss world: I took oil-based ultramarine blue color pigment, (I used Sherman Williams silk screen paint but artist's oil paint would have worked just as well,) thinned it with liquid 'scratch-cover' furniture wax. I glazed every surface, then rubbed it off with a rag, antiquing every wrinkle.

On the seventh day I rested. The rented house was transformed. It was a pleasure to walk in its quiet, airy rooms which carpeted, no longer echoed.

I begin to decorate. As I drive around the city, trash night yields unassuming treasures. Can movie star John Philip Law imagine how good that huge, Philippine wicker armchair he left on Miller Drive looks in my office? Or how his wrought iron bathroom shelf looks holding paper and seashells next to my toilet? 

Thrift stores and garage sales beckon and yield up furnishings for my home's huge, empty spaces. Ancient couch frames get Tahitian cotton staplegunned to them. Quaint old tables get stapled-on skirts; chest of drawers get a coat of white enamel which I sand off in places to create instant Fanny and Alexander rusticity.

To stand or sit in the house's ancient quietness is a kind of prayer. And what does one pray? Principally that at the first kiss of autumn rain, the five layers of paint on that ancient wallpaper don't give up the ghost, slide off the walls and buckle down onto the floors in a rumpled, soggy heap and that Mrs. Beverly Hills princess doesn't get a staple in her butt while she's getting her palm read. 

My children tell me the house has been 'Mickey-Moused' from ass to candlestick and that it will all fall in, that chaos will return. But as this beauty was born out of my acceptance of chaos, and I was surfing the river the way it was pointed, I somehow doubt it. 

The wind catches in the chimes outside the windows and the still, quiet, gentle voice of my 80 year old house whispers that she can hold out another 80 if I require her to. So, I shrug and tell my children that, until the Iraqis bring in the first suitcase bomb and doom hits Hell-A, I'll enjoy this crummy house. 

But I pronounce the word 'crummy' the way the Ancients did, when they called their newborn babe a 'ratface' so the Gods wouldn't covet him. Kind of with a wink.

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*THE VERY BEST BOOKS ON DOING THESE PAINT FINISHES are the many titles of JOCASTA INNES and I’ve found these big BOOKS full of color plates for a dollar each at ABE BOOKS.comgo look, PUT the authoress' name into the ADVANCED SEARCH ENGINE, not the REGULAR. PICK THE COUNTRY YOU LIVE IN, TIPS ON HOW TO ORDER. HERE. Sometimes if I want, I put in the title but it's not necessary. PUt author in search box you get page. a dozen vendors pick one who has paypal. I do. I love paypal. (LOOK AT BOOK VENDOR INFO to see if he will) THEN hit his WEBPAGE, get the addie, the email blank say what I just said THEN, go to SEARCH THIS VENDOR's PAGES. You get a blank, a no, then back up and do it again. Always go backwards if it says no books by him. So again, you put in another fave author. Keep trying 'til you find a few books from this vendor so S&H comes down. If all fails, I just put HISTORY in the title section or CIA and I can get big choice of history books. Always interesting!

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Our POSTER is ANITA SANDS HERNANDEZ, Los Angeles Writer, Futurist and Astrologer. Catch up with her websites  TRUTHS GOV WILL HIDE & NEVER TELL YOU, also The  FUTURE, WHAT'S COMIN' AT YA! & HOW TO SURVIVE the COMING GREAT DEPRESSION, and Secrets of Nature, HOLISTIC, AFFORDABLE HEALING. Also HOW TO LIVE on A NICKLE, The FRUGAL PAGE.* Anita is at astrology@earthlink.net ). Get a 15$ natal horoscope "my money/future life" reading now + copy horoscope as a Gif file graphic!

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