Gone are the days of a strictly male-dominated workforce in construction. According to the National Association of Women in Construction, women account for 9.6 percent of the construction sector.
Walls & Ceilingswas recently made aware of three special talents in the U.S. from information shared by Specialized Building Products. The decorative finish line supplier suggested we profile some women involved in the plastering trade. Since this isn’t a subject the magazine has covered-at least in a while-we figure it’s time to feature a few in the field.
Georgia ReachGeorgia Morrow Long is owner of Plasters by Georgia Inc., a subcontractor that does both commercial and high-end residential surface design and applications. The Laguna Beach, Calif.-based company works on any surface or material within a building, such as walls, ceilings, floors, domes, fireplaces, cabinets, wood, glass and more.
“My background as an artist allows me to see the interaction of colors and textures and my knowledge of plasters and application techniques allow me to turn the vision into a reality,” says Long.
She got into the trades back in the early 1990s when she moved into a large house in Atlanta that needed a great deal of work. Long took a few workshops on plaster and as she put it, “fell in love” with working with the material. When she finished her home rehab projects, friends and neighbors began asking her to work on their places and soon word-of-mouth put her in high demand. It was through this work that Long developed a business plan, formed a corporation, got licensed and joined the trades.
“I discovered that plaster and decorative finishes combined my two favorite art disciplines-sculpture and fine art painting,” says Long. “The art is in the overall feel, the ‘gestalt’ that is created in the space. The art is also in the fine details when you look closely.”
When asked what “gestalt” means, Long says, “When you first look around a room your eye should move continuously and not be drawn to any one spot. The room should give you a warm, subtle feeling and one of harmony. If it doesn’t, something is out of place with the colors, the textures, the placements or the perspectives. It’s like hitting an off-key note.”
All this hard work hasn’t been met without reservation, though. Long has had her share of skepticism from the old-timers. She does admit that the majority of those she works with are professional and respectful.
“I give everyone respect and expect to be treated in a respectful manner,” she says. “I play fairly and I expect everyone else to do the same. I am not afraid to stand up for myself if someone tries to blame me for something that is not my fault. The best insurance to avoid this nonsense is to have a close and credible relationship with your customer.”
Not only does Long do her best to build good relationships, she also delivers a high level of quality to overcome any critics. In the case of Venetian plaster, she says any ‘ol plasterer can attempt to do it. Long says she treats this application like art.
“Anyone can slap plaster on a wall but the trick is in making it look good,” she says. “The color and texture have to be just right in order to pull in all the other colors and textures in the room into a harmonious union. The plaster should be the backdrop, the palette, not the focal point in a room.”
Many of the referrals Plasters by Georgia gets come from contractors who have worked with the company because they know what they can expect, Long says, adding that it also helps to have a loyal and protective crew that has a low tolerance for shenanigans.
Have Fun, Will TravelPresident and head designer of Fe Fi Faux Studios Inc. Sandra K. Lassley has been involved in the business of plastering for 21 years. Based in Omaha, Neb., the company designs and installs faux finishes and a variety of interior plasters for homes and businesses. Like Morrow, Lassley has had extensive training both in the U.S. and Italy.
Her work has been featured in several trade and design magazines. The company has completed projects in the west, southwest, south, plains and midwest. In addition, this artisan continues her education by attending several teaching studios including Miller Wagenaar Studios in Chicago, The Faux Institute in Denver and Kelly S. Kings Institute of Decorative Finishes in Nebraska. Lassley has attended trade classes through an industry group called International Decorative Artisans League in San Francisco; Charleston, S.C.; Memphis, Tenn., as well as others in Pennsylvania and Atlantic City. She has enjoyed working on a home that was featured in the TV show “Extreme Home Makeover.” Last fall she worked on the walls of the 500-year-old Castle Caglianoa where she attended a class near Umbria in the Italian countryside. She does work extensively with Vella Venetian plaster products.
Lassley was more or less born into the trades and was introduced to finishing at an early age.
“My father moved to Omaha from South Dakota to open his paint and decorating business when I was a baby,” says Lassley. “I was raised around the painting trade. When I got interested in faux marble in the mid-80s, I told my father about it and showed him some photos of techniques I’d seen. He predicted this as the wave of the future.”
She got into plastering and decorative finishes after reading an article about a southwest-style living room that had a decorative wall finish. She tried it on her own walls and home and says the results were inspiring. From that point she says she was “hooked” and began to educate herself on faux finishing.
Lassley says that turning a space someone has dreamed of into exactly what they were looking for is the most rewarding aspect to her job. But there are challenges she says. Taste is subjective, so it’s important to communicate well and use samples whenever discussing a project with a customer.
When asked about any special projects that the company found especially challenging but yet found the ultimate outcome rewarding, Lassley recalls a specific one.
“A giant bar that we copper leafed, but accidentally sealed with the wrong sealer, which had to be redone before a party with a very tight time frame,” she says. “The outside of the bar was plaster with a copper leaf wave through the center. The entire thing was studded with thousands of upholstery nails.”
In regards to being a female contractor, Lassley also reports similar to Morrow that it hasn’t been much of an issue but still there are skeptics.
“Years ago, the guys told me they used to place bets on whether I would be carrying in my own stuff, such as ladders, etc. for the job. By the time the week was over and watching us work, they had very positive comments before we left the job.”
Chicago CarrollKathy Carroll of The Chicago Institute of Fine Finishes and Faux By Kathy has been a part of the faux finishing industry for more than 20 years. During this time, she has been a working artisan, mentor to students and an instructor. When asked how she has become so successful in her field, Kathy says that she credits her success largely to her “genuine concern for the individual artisan’s success.”
Her roots in decorative plaster date back to March 1988 when she opened her first business Gotcha Covered Inc. with her husband. The business started out as hanging wallpaper and straight painting. As the business grew, Carroll began making job estimates, which opened up new opportunities for her and the business. While meeting with customers, she was often asked interior decoration questions which she really didn’t know the answers to. Rather than send her clients to someone else for their interior decorating needs, Carroll enrolled in an interior design program at her local community college.
Taking the interior decorating classes changed Gotcha Covered in that Carroll could now begin applying the education she learned. Soon, the company became a full-service design studio complete with five interior designers. During her time at the community college, Carroll honed her skills in faux finishing and expanded her knowledge base, but she was about to make another leap in her career. She was introduced to a muralist that was interviewing for a position at Gotcha Covered and was intrigued by the portfolio. This interest led to the use of water-based colors as opposed to the oil-based paints Carroll was familiar with. She immediately sought out training with water-based products and has not looked back.
In 1998, Carroll decided to close the interior design portion of her business. Upon completing her training in the water-based products, she opened a manufacturer-sponsored faux finishing school in addition to her contracting business. After three years of running the school, she sold her contracting business to focus more on the teaching aspect of her career. Carroll sold her contracting business to an employee who is still successfully running the business today.
In 2002, Carroll opened her own school under the name the Chicago Institute of Fine Finishes. After opening her new studio, Kathy’s business continued to grow, adding to it her Vella line of products, her e-commerce site fauxbykathy.com, gofaux.com, an informational site for the industry, and learnfauxnow.com, Carroll’s e-Learning system that allows students to learn faux finishing techniques.
Fauxbykathy.com serves as a hub where visitors to the site can purchase materials through her e-store, find information about classes and keep up to date on new products, techniques and industry news. To this end, her Web site is updated with new information every month.
Carroll is always looking for ways to expand services for those that want to learn about the trade. One way that she has done this is through her “Learn Faux Now” online courses. Her new offering, “Quick Inspirations,” will follow the same concept of allowing online instructional services. It offers artists the opportunity to order completed samples and recipes of the featured finish, allowing them to update their portfolio without having to attend a class or make the samples themselves. Through her “Artisan of the Month feature” on her Web site, Carroll spotlights an artist in the industry by showing the finisher’s work and including their biography.