Modern Paint Effects

by Annie Sloan

Published by Firefly Books

128 pages, 2000

The Painted Kitchen

by Henny Donovan

Published by Firefly Books

128 pages, 2000

Debbie Travis' Weekend Projects

by Debbie Travis with Barbara Dingle

Published by Clarkson Potter

192 pages, 2000







House Beautiful

Reviewed by Monica Stark


A lot of noise tends to get made about how spring is the season for remaking your world. You know: spring cleaning, spring sprucing, renewal and so on. To me, spring is the absolute wrong time to do it. At least, around my house, that's not when it gets done. When the first golden light hits my little world and the days stretch out tantalizingly, I'm out the door and my house doesn't actually see too much of me until the days begin to get shorter and the weather forces me indoors. In the autumn, not only am I inclined to see more of my own four walls, but I know that other people will be seeing them soon, as well. Autumn, then, is the season of my own discontent and the time of year I start handling paint chips to see what I can do to make the prospect of the coming season spent indoors more bearable.

Annie Sloan's Modern Paint Effects provides the perfect inspiration for those, "What'll I do with that wall?" blues. There's no room for simple paint chips here, Modern Paint Effects begs you to invite real and living color into your home. "Paint is today's essential home accessory," Sloan begins. On the pages that follow she puts her words into action, applying paint to almost anything that doesn't move: walls, floors, chairs, frames, almost nothing escapes this daring decorator's brush. And we're not talking about painting the way your mother ever did it. Sloan's walls breathe personality and invite you to insert your own. Sloan demonstrates stripes, checks and even circles in addition to standard stippling, stenciling and stamping techniques.

What's especially nice about Modern Paint Effects is that the work demonstrated here seldom resembles the faux-style painting popularized in the early 1990s. Sloan's work looks like an evolved extension of those earlier techniques. Techniques that are, for the most part, more considered and finished, the results more polished and professional. And Sloan's instructions make it all look quite within the average grasp, as well.

Functioning under the old, "A picture is worth a 1000 words," theory, Modern Paint Effects boasts more brilliantly colored photographs than words with a photo of each finished technique as well as a few how-to photos on the path to getting the job done.

Since a lot of holiday gatherings are focused around the room that produces food, starting with that area can be a good decision at this time of year. After all, if you are going to have scads of people over for a bit of holiday revelry, it makes sense to have the kitchen looking as finished as you can get it. Nothing like Old Uncle Bob peering disaprovingly at scratches in the cabinets while on an inspection tour to greet the turkey. Life is just too short.

One of the very best things about The Painted Kitchen by Henny Donovan is that it offers options to just ripping everything out of your kitchen and starting from scratch. Sure: in a perfect world, we'd all have the loot to do just that but, realistically, working with the cabinets and floors you've got, plus some paint and special rollers, seems like a pretty good option. Especially when there are the added bonuses of a) doing the work yourself, so saving even more money and b) getting the good feeling that comes from having done a special and artistic project all by yourself (or selves, as the case may be). In addition, there are times when making what you've got more beautiful is truly the best option. In an older home, for instance, where you might be dealing with the original wood cabinets and replacing them would seem little short of sacrilegious.

Donovan's suggestions for the remade kitchen range from the starkly elegant to the downright, well, kitschy. Organized by color, the book leads you through each project step by careful step and even the least aesthetically pleasing of the suggestions provides food for further inspiration.

The Painted Kitchen shares the same publisher as Modern Paint Effects so it's not surprising that the overall look of the books is quite similar. The Painted Kitchen also boasts excellent color photographs, some purely illustrative, others showing you the necessary steps. The content of the two books doesn't overlap, however. The Painted Kitchen stays very focused on its mandated room and while some techniques might work for projects in either book, Donovan takes it the next step: visually suggesting drawer pulls, for instance, that finish a certain style, feel or look.

Not up to tackling a whole room but still feel like you want to get your hands into some paint? Debbie Travis' Weekend Projects is a good starting point to get you ready for the really big project. Each of the over 55 projects outlined in Travis' book can be completed in under two days. And though paint and things related feature prominently in many of the projects, other mediums are included, as well.

All of the sections in Weekend Projects deal with beautifying or creating things best described as furnishings. There is a section on working with fabric -- accent cushions, floorcloths and so on -- a section on tables, storage, screens, frames and mirrors, lighting -- including various shades, candleholders and a sconce -- and, finally, things for the garden. All are things meant to enhance your own home or to make really fabulous gifts created by your own hand: with some help from Debbie.

As appropriate to a book of this nature, Travis spends almost as much time on preparation -- learning about tools and otherwise laying the foundation for the work that is to come -- as she does on the individual projects themselves. The result is like a cookbook of things to make and do for your home. Each project begins with a recipe-like list of the things you'll need to make it happen. For instance, the instruction for Pastel Planters for the garden includes a sidebar labeled, "Materials and Tools." This lets you know that you'll need:

  • galvanized metal buckets
  • white and pastel colors of exterior latex paint, high gloss
  • 1" and 2" paintbrushes
  • low-tack painter's tape.

At a glance, you're made aware of everything required to complete the project. A preamble paragraph lets you know what you'll be about and things you should be on the lookout for, followed by the numbered instructions -- in this case, one through three. The written instruction is enhanced by very good color photographs. A large one on the face page shows the finished project in use and three smaller ones are numbered and illustrate the steps in this particular project. As simple as paint by numbers.

The uninitiated should be aware that not all of these projects will work as well for them as it might for other, more paint-worldly, people. The inexperienced and the deeply untalented should keep an eye out for projects that will allow for a bit of a rough hand. For instance, the Distressed Wicker Chairs and the Tie-Dye Curtains (not nearly as frightening as they sound) both look fairly foolproof. On the other hand, the Faux Malachite Table and the Bombay Boxes both look as though they could be fairly horrible with the wrong artist at the helm. In honesty, however, the projects that would seem to demand experience or an artist's eye are fewer than those that look as though anyone could do them. | October 2000


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.