- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Candy Avon and her husband, Mark, of Fairfax, eat breakfast in their kitchen nook every morning. They enjoy watching the sun shine through their large windows and French doors, which lead to a deck and garden.

To bring the outside environment into the home, they decorated the room with two wallpaper murals with ornate flowers and framed them with wood. They also hired an artist to stencil the same flowers from the wallpaper around the wood.

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“I was so pleasantly surprised when it was all finished,” Mrs. Avon says. “I knew we could bring in a lot more color that way, but I had no idea how much it would contribute to the room. The design is gorgeous.”

Stenciling is a way to add a little spice to a home. Pre-made patterns of everything from fruit to animals to flowers can be bought. Original designs also can be made to complement other motifs in a room. As long as it’s not overdone, it works nicely on many areas, such as walls, floors and doors.

When trying to bring a room together as a whole, stenciling can be the key, says Peggy Golden, owner of Golden Interiors Inc. in Fairfax Station.

“Your mind can create whatever you need,” she says. “It opens the possibility to just about anything you can design.”

For instance, between the crown molding and the trim molding on a wall, there is usually about 5 inches of empty space, which is ample room for a stencil border. Homeowners often overlook this space as a possibility for embellishment.

Further, in newer homes where the ceilings are high, stenciling can break up the space and make a tall ceiling seem shorter. Other places for a border might be in a dining room above a chair rail or in a kitchen above cabinets or a counter.

Also, if wallpaper, paint or murals would clash with an existing theme of the room, an original stencil design can be created to match it. The stencil would be coordinated with other patterns in the room, such those found on curtains and pillows.

When Mrs. Golden’s son, Steven, was 6 months old, she hired an artist to create a stencil to match his bedspread. Before painting began on the wall, Mrs. Golden approved hand drawings of the pattern.

Even though Steven is now 8 years old, he still enjoys the design and won’t allow his mother to remove it. The 18-inch border runs in the middle of the wall, where a child can appreciate it, with a caravan of elephants, palm trees and baby blocks.

Although Mrs. Golden considered having the artist create a mural, she didn’t want it to dominate the area. She wanted to avoid a busy pattern of which her son would grow tired.

“Instead of putting it all over the wall, you use it sparingly so it’s not overpowering,” she says. “A little bit of stenciling can add enough character without overwhelming the space. … You can get a little bit more pizazz.”

If homeowners decide they want to stencil by themselves instead of hiring an artist, Mrs. Golden suggests that they first try painting the design on a piece of cardboard before attempting to put it on the final surface.

They should be sure to buy a stenciling brush, in which the bristles are cut specifically for the task. They also should experiment with color combinations.

Having a steady hand is the key to creating a successful piece of work. Blot excess paint onto a paper towel until the brush seems almost out of paint. Also, firmly holding the stencil in place so the paint doesn’t seep onto the wall is important, especially because mistakes can’t be erased. Errors either need to be dabbed away quickly or painted over.

“Don’t practice doing this in the foyer of your home,” Mrs. Golden says. “At least do it in an upstairs bathroom.”

In addition to borders, stenciling can be used to bring the finishing touches to hand-painted work, says Carolyn Schebish, owner of Design Exchange in Fairfax. For example, when creating a mural in which a vine crawls up a pillar, the artist working on the project used a stencil as a guide for the vine.

In another instance, Mrs. Schebish says, an artist sponge-painted the walls with peach and cream colors. Then she stenciled a branch with flowers and leaves in the corners of the walls.

“People are surprised that it’s a stencil,” she says. “Someone who’s not a professional probably wouldn’t make it look quite as natural, but they would get a fair interpretation of it.”

Stenciling also can be used to create an “inlaid wood” effect, says Victor Shargai, president of Victor Shargai and Associates Inc. in Northwest.

It is often done on a wooden floor with arrows, ropes or garland. Other modern designs can be used as well. Stenciling the patterns is less expensive than purchasing true inlaid wood. Doors, such as in a bathroom or bedroom, also can be stenciled with patterns.

“Even if you live in an apartment that you don’t own, you can stencil doors and wash it off later when you leave,” Mr. Shargai says.

Despite the wonderful possibilities of stenciling, Mr. Shargai warns that it shouldn’t be overdone. For instance, he is redoing a house for a client in Oxford, Md. Before the former owners moved out, they spent a substantial amount of money to add quaint stenciling patterns throughout the house. It was too much, and Mr. Shargai has been forced to paint over it.

“You have to make sure it’s appropriate to the space, which is the main rule of design,” he says. “It should add to something and not distract from something that’s already there.”

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