To those who know the brassy, funny redhead, thinking about Heather Dunn going to finishing school is likely to end in a fit of giggles.
However, she did go, just not to the kind of finishing school where you learn which fork to use and how to walk with a book on your head. Located in Floral Park, this was a school, one of the most famous in the world, that specialized in texturized walls, faux finishes, wood graining, trompe l’oeil, and other ways of adding both look and feel to interior walls, ceilings, and floors.
Additional study in Venetian plaster and creating medallions, combined with more than 20 years of experience, has led Dunn to become one of the foremost experts on faux finishes in New York, if not the whole country. Her work ranges from the barely noticeable but massively difficult — especially when she is matching existing wallpapers or antique paint that no longer exists — to the ridiculously original, like the rabbit and mushroom themed wallpaper she recently installed in an East Hampton home. She also paints wallpaper, as well as hangs it, everything from Chinoise to modern art canvases to a difficult grasscloth paint job which imitates the much more expensive grasscloth wall covering, which she also installs. She also paints brick fireplaces, to give them a fresh, textured look.
But the most challenging times, although not the sexiest, are those when she needs to match color and texture on a wall that no longer exists.
“I had to match an old wallpaper at the Barbizon Hotel,” she said. “It looked a little corklike; I had to figure out how they made it. I had to be like a detective and work backward.” Dunn takes her work seriously, but always with a sense of humor too. “No one walking by that little section of the Barbizon would ever know what I went through to make it look good,” she said with a laugh.
Recently she finished a job in New York City where the walls were suede, actual suede in shades of blue and beige, which Dunn cut into geometric patterns for installation. “It wasn’t easy, but it looks amazing,” she said.
Rooms That Breathe
But what really excites Heather Dunn is the increasing popularity, especially in Europe and other places abroad, of paint made from natural materials, which actually filters the air in a room.
“It’s in keeping with this return to the look of natural fabrics, or like the suede and grasscloth, or the wood grain,” she said. “But this is actually good for you. It’s healthy, it’s zero VOC [volatile organic compounds]. It filters allergens. This is the coolest stuff ever.”
She and her husband, Rich Kostura, live in Springs, and their own house is modestly and simply designed, but the ceilings in the bathroom are lime; the walls are covered with clay paint.
The clay paint comes in different colors, and needs to be mixed from powder (the company Dunn uses is www.unearthedpaints.com), but the increased effort is worth it, she said. “They’re using this all over now, especially in houses where kids have asthma or people have other environmental allergies,” she said. “The clay in the walls filters the air. Isn’t that cool?”
The lime plaster, thickly applied, on the bathroom ceilings, absorbs all the condensation from water. “It’s amazing,” she said. “It can literally protect a house.” Next, she wants to use beeswax, also from Unearthed Paints, to refinish the wood floors in her own home.
But Dunn continues to enjoy the high-end jobs for her clients — including both designing and installing wallpaper, creating murals, and most of all, the faux finishes.
And this time of year, she is busy, as her clients look more toward indoor projects for the fall and upcoming winter season.
“Inside projects are great for the winter — installing wallpaper, spiffing up a foyer or a hall bathroom,” she said.
What’s a popular trend she’s seeing right now? “Navy blue grasscloth,” she answered immediately. “Faux grasscloth — It’s still expensive but not as expensive, and it can really make a small bathroom look very classy, especially with white trim.”
Dunn and samples of her work can be found on Facebook at Heather Dunn & Co. Interior Decorative Artisans.