Fawning for Fe Fi Faux: A Decorative Painting Studio

The blank wall in front of Sandra Lassley can become anything.

With Venetian plaster, she can create a marble palace. With Swarovski crystals, glass beads and mica powder, a luxe master bedroom. With leaf-thin copper pieces, a corporate executive’s man cave.

Working from a snippet of inspiration – a color, something a client said, or even a pair of shoes or purse – Sandra takes her canvas and breathes life into a home. Armed with paint, glaze, plaster, wax, stencils or some yet untested, unconventional material, she adds layer upon layer, building a wall-sized piece of art.

Sandra and husband Jeff are co-owners of Fe Fi Faux, a decorative painting and finishing studio. Together with daughter Sasha Henderson, Fe Fi Faux brings unique colors and textures to walls, ceilings and furniture.

“This business is about creating, thinking outside the box and coming up with something new and different that fits the client,” Sandra said. “Every project is a challenge, but we have fun with it.”

Beyond faux

Faux, the French word for false, became in vogue with designers in the 1980s as an alternative to paint or wallpaper. Faux finishes sought to copy something naturally occurring, such as marble or parchment, most often on walls.

These days, Lassley says the trend goes far beyond faux. Artists have license to imagine finishes that do not replicate anything organic. Today’s finishes straddle the line between organic and fantasy not only on walls but also ceilings, doors or furniture.

While Sandra grew up around paint with her dad, a paint contractor, she never expected to enter the industry. In adulthood, she ran a cleaning business, but she was always redecorating her customer’s homes in her imagination.

When she and Jeff bought a house, she realized the walls were keeping it from reaching its potential. The walls needed age and personality. She looked at decorator magazines and tried to recreate sponge techniques. “Somehow, my living room turned out beautiful,” she said.

Her dad was her biggest supporter, tapping his daughter to paint the entryway of a Street of Dreams home he was painting for a builder. In 1989, Sandra quit the cleaning business and founded Fe Fi Faux. Her father died unexpectedly in the early ’90s, but not before throwing his support behind his daughter’s work as the wave of the future. “When he saw my walls, he said, ‘I think you should go and learn everything you can,’” Sandra said.

She took his advice and studied with decorative painters in New York, France, Morocco and Italy and in 27 other states. As the industry evolved to incorporate more environmentally friendly materials, she honed her skills and experimented with new techniques. Jeff, who she met at age 14 and married in her teens, joined her at Fe Fi Faux and lent his skills as a graphic designer and carpenter. Relying largely on word of mouth, the family business grew. Clients love their finishes because each one is unique, Jeff said. “We can do something for them that no one else will have.”

In 25 years with Fe Fi Faux, the pair has installed creamy gold Venetian plaster in a 16,000-square-foot South Dakota estate. They created a copper leaf ceiling studded with thousands of upholstery nails to complement a splendid basement bar, earning magazine attention. They won Fauxcademy of Decorative Finishing Awards for their work.

“Our goal is to raise every finish to the level of art,” Sandra said.

Nix these six

1. Wallpaper borders
2. Over-themed rooms (country, floral, etc.). Think accents!
3. Techniques that reveal the “tool,” such as sponging or ragging
4. Fussy or super dark finishes
5. Marbleized columns
6. Painting each room a different color

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