Painting by sleight of hand

Published May 5, 2007

HUDSON - The walls of Elaine Shumaker's house serve as a canvas for her talents and a gallery for her clients.

In the dining room, a mural of an Italian farmhouse stairway leads to a wooden door surrounded by wisteria and wild roses. In the living room, the walls wear her special faux process known as "Tuscan lace," and she's warmed the front hall pillars with a tactile finish she calls "raised stencil."

No matter where you step, it's hard not to admire her talents.

Shumaker, a faux painter and muralist whose business, Off the Wall Designs, has attracted clients in Pasco and Hernando counties as well as New Tampa, created practically everything you see in her 2,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home in Heritage Pines.

So much so that it's a little joke with her husband, Ed, a consultant for IBM, who likes to tell visitors that his contribution was "the beautiful mauvy-tan paint job in the garage."

Shumaker, who once designed children's clothes for a company in her native Miami, had her own mail-order paint-by-numbers children's mural business, and worked 23 years as a dental hygienist, is a one-woman home-improvement show.

She upholsters her own furniture, sews her own slipcovers and makes all of her own bedding, including bedspreads, dust-ruffles, throw pillows, neck-rolls and shams. She's made almost all of the window treatments, refinished numerous antiques including her grandmother's writing desk and the old card catalog in the guest bedroom and painted numerous pieces of furniture, including a rustic chair and bench in the kitchen

Even the blue-felt-covered pool table, a source of enjoyment for her husband - but, as any designer will tell you, a challenge to decorate around - becomes a seamless component of the great room, thanks to her accomplished assortment of faux finishes on the surrounding walls.

"I tried to bring the blue into all the finishes," she explains.

She chose an embedded finish around the pool table (imagine stone walls in an English cottage), a "tissue-ed" faux brick in the kitchen and a faux finish that looks like lovely old farmhouse wall paper in the eating area.

In the master bath, she's finished the walls in Venetian plaster; the master bedroom walls wear pale green and metallic stripes; the guest bath, tall vines with purple flowers; the laundry room, a trompe l'oeil window looking out at a meadow; her studio, an oriental-flavored mural of delicate trees with fall leaves.

"I'm forever a student, always in training seminars - it's a very competitive business," explains Shumaker, who trained at Faux Effects International, a school specializing in faux painting in Vero Beach.

"I have $8, 000 invested in classes with them, but they're very good, the best school to go to for this," she said.

She typically takes potential clients sample boards to look at, but if a client wants to see how something looks in person, she invites them over.

The selling point may be the whole package: She's also an accomplished decorator. The house has a fresh, sophisticated French country look, reminiscent of the decorating style of April Cornell. She mixes and matches fabrics she falls in love with but that flow together; plaids and florals flow from room to room. In the guest room she even made the fabric-covered wooden screen.

"I took a woodworking class once," she said.

She typically incorporates her client's entire decorating palette into her faux finishes and murals, a feat she accomplishes by bringing samples of woodwork, fabrics and tile to her studio. A built-in island/work table in the center of the room allows her to work freely on a roomy surface.

Right now she's working on designs for a doctor's 7,000-square-foot house in Brooksville.

Though the job is physically demanding, requiring long hours of standing and painting, sometimes on a ladder, it's all worth it, she says: "I'm so lucky because I get to do what I love for a living."

Her goal, she adds, is to show clients that when done properly, faux finishes and murals can fill a house "without it ever being too much."

In fact, it can turn a house into a work of art.

Her own house stands as an example: It took her two years working in her spare time to finish every room of the house.

Still, she says, her work is never done.

"I'm constantly testing new things," she says. "I've redone my living room three times."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.

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To reach Elaine Shumaker, call 727-858-6361.