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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 29, 2010

A magician with paints, Gatta can fool the eye and make the new look old

By Jordan J. Michael

NEW SCOTLAND –– Interior designer Deirdre Gatta doesn’t mean to trick people with her creative gift.

Gatta, of Slingerlands, has specialized in faux art for the past 20 years. Faux art makes a surface look like something it’s not. Gatta once painted a rug on a floor with such realism that people were confused.

“If the end result is supposed to fool people, then OK,” said Gatta, sitting in an elegant home on Bullock Road in New Scotland where she worked from June to December 2008. “The real goal is to get all of my work to perfection.”

“I don’t think she wants to fool anyone because she’s a modest person,” said the homeowner. “It’s all about the art for her.”

The house on Bullock Road, according to Gatta, isn’t a true trompl’oeil, which is French for “fool the eye.” Gatta thinks that some outsiders might view it as a “true restoration.”

“Say you have a wall without a window on it,” Gatta said, explaining the theory of trompl’oeil. “I would paint a window on that wall and it would seem like a real window.”

Career challenge

The Bullock Road project was a special one for Gatta because the homeowner designed the spaces. “It was a little unusual because I’m usually in charge of the design,” said Gatta. “That’s not a complaint because it was wonderful. We were able to bring things to a higher level.”

Gatta told The Enterprise that it was one of the most challenging works of her career. “I really had to match everything perfectly and it took a lot of time,” she said. “I wasn’t here every day, but I had to go area by area. I had to be very flexible.”

The home has a lot of history and many antique pieces, including a hutch from the early 1700s in the kitchen. In the dining room, Gatta applied a faux finish to the newly installed windows on one wall so that they matched the older windows on another wall.

“I do whatever my clients want me to do,” said Gatta. “In this home, the point was to match all the antique arrangements. Nothing is shocking.”

“I live in an old, historic home and modern work wouldn’t have done it any justice,” the homeowner said. “I want this home to feel used, functional, and warm.”

Mission accomplished. The warmth of the house exudes from its walls and hugs a visitor with comfort.

The house has had numerous additions, but they go unnoticed. “Everything looks like it was already here,” Gatta said. “It’s a great feeling.”

The kitchen alone has doubled in size. Gatta had to match the woodwork to the existing windows. “Little bits and pieces,” she said, pointing to some trim on the floor. “I had to come back and redo things because the wood tones weren’t correct.”

Upstairs, Gatta painted faux grain on all the doors in the massive bedroom. She took typical factory doors and used an antique finish that was distressed. She used a lime glaze on the outside and an umber glaze on the inside.

“The varnish on those doors were dead, like flatter than flat,” said Gatta. “I didn’t want to allow any reflection and it worked with the satin finish on the floor underneath.”

In the new bathroom on the home’s first floor, Gatta painted over the surface to match the old brick, which gives the room a sense of light even though there really isn’t any.

“People have to do a double take and that tells me that I did an excellent job,” Gatta said. “The brick made it a challenging restoration. Not many jobs get me to this level.”

Gatta reads what’s in front of her.

“You look at an existing home and the house states the work for itself,” said Gatta. “Everything comes in stages and its layer upon layer. I study and then mimic it.”

From fine art to finishes

Gatta majored in fine art and design at Alfred University in western New York; after graduating, she moved to Boston to live in Harvard Square. After becoming a mother, saw an add for a faux finishing program at a local community college.

“My teacher was impressed with my art abilities,” Gatta said. “She helped me pick up my first job.”

That first job was a brownstone entryway with faux marble and a diamond pattern. “I had so much fun with it and it was the perfect way to use my talents,” Gatta said. “I enjoy designing for people while still being able to paint.”

Gatta is still actively involved in fine art. Her husband, Bob, makes wine and Deirdre makes the labels. “It’s fun to paint on all surfaces,” she said.

Faux finishing and fine art may have some similarities, but they’re ultimately different. A painting is a story on a canvas while a finish is one element in an overall room.

“A painting is more personal and you can do whatever with it,” said Gatta. “You need to meet the requirements of the client with a finish and find the right colors.”

Gatta tries to reuse as many resources as possible. One of her clients had a new kitchen and Gatta took the existing cabinetry and moved it to another space in the house. “I hate wasting things,” she said. “I don’t want useful materials to end up in the Dumpster.”

Major magazines have recognized Gatta’s work, but she hasn’t let that get to her head. “I’m just doing what I love,” she said. “I’m still a mom.”

Gatta declined discussing the cost of her work, but she said that the prices vary quite a bit.

“Every finish is different and every room is different,” said Gatta. “It depends on how much time I spend. I let the clients see exactly what the room will look like before I touch anything. Once I start –– everyone is on the same page.”

Asked about the longevity of her work and whether it is ever painted over, Gatta said,  “I have no control over that and I’d probably rather not know. Everyone makes their home their home. It’s their space. If people want to paint over my work, then so be it. Everything is a story.”

Currently, Gatta is working on a restaurant and three homes in the Capital Region. “Each project is totally different, so it’s easy to distinguish between them all,” she said.

Gatta encourages interested homeowners to practice faux art on a piece of Sheetrock.

“Don’t be afraid of paint,” said Gatta. “Some people are intimidated by a blank wall, but they’ll feel comfortable after a little practice.”

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