Finishing Touches

Decorative artist Muriel Calderon creates glorious illusions with paint and plaster

It was thanks to Oprah Winfrey, whose influence evidently extends across the globe, that Muriel Calderon found a career as a successful decorative painter. Calderon, who was born in England and grew up in Australia, originally wanted to be an art teacher, but circumstances didn’t permit. Instead, she worked for many years managing a building company, and expressed her creative side by fixing up her own home.

“I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers,” she says. “I bought my first house when I was 18, and I renovated it with paint, doing different glazes and wood grains. I painted furniture for my friends and family, anything I could get my hands on. It fascinated me to make something look like what it wasn’t.”

The Oprah effect took place one day when Calderon was 35 and living in Brisbane. “I was watching Oprah talk about The Business of Bliss, a book about how if you follow your bliss, the money will come,” she recalls. “I was hand-painting some furniture at the time, and I thought, ‘I wish I could figure out what I could do.’ And it came to me: ‘You moron, you’re doing it!’ I just hadn’t taken it seriously.” Making the transition from hobbyist to professional was as simple as “charging people for my work instead of doing it for free,” she says, laughing.

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kitchenSpecial effects: Calderon revived old kitchen cabinets by hand-
brushing them with a deep chocolate-colored stain to resemble wood grain; walls were dressed up with an earth-brown Venetian plaster

After moving to California nine years ago (she “came for love and stayed for work”), Calderon, now 48, found her skills as a faux finisher were much in demand. “It seemed every person I met wanted work done — walls plastered or glazed, or furniture redone. Work has poured in for me ever since… Another thing I loved about the States is that there are a lot more professional courses in decorative painting than in Australia,” she adds.

In 2004, Calderon moved to the Hudson Valley and established her company, Down Under Faux, in Red Hook. “I came to do a job and fell in love with the place,” she says. Nowadays, she’s such an expert in her field that in 2007 she was one of only 60 artisans from around the world invited to demonstrate techniques at a three-day “Meeting of the Masters” event sponsored by Faux Effects.

bathroom after constructionIn a ho-hum bathroom, Calderon applied nine layers of concrete plaster over ugly tiles to replicate the stone floor, then added copper LusterStone on the upper walls for a glamorous glow

Calderon can apply decorative finishes to just about any surface — walls, ceilings, floors, mantels, furnishings. “I bought some horrible-colored lamps and refinished them in sandstone,” she remarks. “Nothing’s been safe in my life from paint or plaster.”

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Anyone contemplating a kitchen makeover might consider a refinishing job instead. Well-made kitchen cabinets in out-of-date colors, for example, can be transformed for significantly less than the cost of tearing out and replacing them. “I can repaint them, glaze them, spray-finish them. Cabinet companies make some that look a bit aged — I can replicate that,” Calderon says. “And there are plasters and epoxies that can go over existing countertops.”

Surprisingly, beautiful faux finish techniques on walls can sometimes even beat the cost of a traditional paint job, especially in new construction. “Contractors bash things into walls — there are a lot of things to correct with new construction,” says Calderon. “Imperfections are telegraphed through a coat of latex. One of the wondrous things about plaster is that it hides a multitude of sins and eliminates prep work, because it corrects damage as you’re going along.”

Damage that occurs later, from picture hanging or accidents, may also be easily repaired. “A lot of the plasters lend themselves to that. You can put a little dab on with your finger and the wall is fixed instantly.”

bathroom, before renovationBathroom, before renovation

Not least, plaster finishes are beautiful to look at. “They’re dimensional, and some have luminous qualities with a lot of lovely sheens. Some look chalky, some look aged, some can look like broken plaster, like old Tuscan villas.”

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Although Calderon can do a host of faux paint finishes, glazing and stencils, her specialty is decorative plastering, in looks that are “limited only by your imagination,” she says. And if you’re short on imagination, she can help you make choices.

“I love what I do for a living. It’s not like work for me,” she says, noting that she nevertheless brings a “strong English work ethic” to every job. “Do what you say you’re going to do, do it on time, be professional — it’s a really simple formula for success.”

So has she ever sent a thank-you note to Oprah for helping her find her bliss? “No,” Calderon replies. “But I’ve often thought I should.”

For more information, visit or call 845-758-1040.

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