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San Francisco Local Color Inc.,
San Francisco, California
by Amy Johnson
The next step is removing the old paint. The crew uses heat guns (since propane torches were outlawed in San Francisco six years ago) to remove every bit of failed paint, usually many coats. Nelson believes that water blasting and sanding are not always sufficient to prepare a solid surface.
In the 1990s, San Francisco instituted strict lead abatement rules, a change Nelson welcomed. “Previously we were working from ignorance.” Now his workers remove lead-based paint safely thanks to new procedures for containment, HEPA vacuums, respirators and special clothing.
All this preparation before touching brush to wood pays off. Nelson says that by eliminating sources of water degradation and thoroughly removing old paint, he gets results that last 10 to 15 years, where they only lasted four to six years before he started using these techniques.
Another form of preparation has nothing to do with repairing or treating the surface. It is planning the colors. San Francisco Local Color has had an artisan on staff for over thirty years. Presently, they’re featuring designer/colorist Dean Pearson, known in the art community for his participation in the annual Venetian Street Painting Festival in San Rafael and for his fine art paintings in galleries. Nelson calls Pearson a genius at eye-matching and mixing colors on site to complement details like wallpaper, furnishings, even plantings, all with attention to lighting and surrounding buildings. These samples are then sent to Sherwin-Williams or Benjamin Moore for custom formulation.
One house, awarded first place in the 2003 Picture It Painted Professionally Awards (sponsored by the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America) used a palette of 17 carefully coordinated custom colors and 775 sheets of 23-carat Dutch gold leaf. Obviously, the “Color Movement” of the 1970s is still going strong in San Francisco.
Doors in San Francisco have as much personality as the houses themselves. A small but interesting part of the company’s business is refinishing doors. To restore varnished doors, many with ornate carving and detail, they sand sunburned areas, stain the door to an even appearance and then apply multiple clear coats of varnish. They finish with a wax that softens the look of the varnish and protects the door.
They also specialize in unusual “mirror-painted” doors in traditional European black or green or more contemporary bright colors. Using special filling materials such as Swedish putty from Schreuder Paints of Europe, they build up an extra smooth surface that is then finished to a high gloss with European oil enamels.
While it may seem Nelson’s specialty has him looking backwards through time, he is very up-to-date in his marketing. He admits he has not placed an ad in the Yellow Pages in years. Instead he puts great emphasis on the company’s Web site, www.sflocalcolor.com. “People are changing the way they make decisions,” he says. “Instead of getting a referral or going through the phone book, they sit at their computers and educate themselves. The more detail, the better the images you have on the Web site, the more they can see for themselves.”
Nelson traded services with local agency Tribal Idol Web Design to get an animated, interactive Web site that features all the company’s services and spotlights outstanding projects. Now he saves lots of time he used to spend explaining things because people can answer their own questions on the Web site. By the time they call him, they are already predisposed to work with his company.
He is also active in groups committed to preserving and beautifying the Bay Area, notably a guild-style association of artisans called Artistic License. Made up of 25 artisans in fields ranging from landscaping to ceramics to interior design, the group promotes the highest standards for period architecture, interiors, and the decorative arts. With friends like these and his passion for color, detail and beautiful homes, maybe Bruce Nelson and San Francisco Local Color can restore the city, one house at a time.