Old World Fine Faux Finishes, Los Angeles, Calif.
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but there’s still something to be said about having the right name. Just ask Dale and Yana Westerlund of Old World Fine Faux Finishes in Los Angeles.
Stacey Enesey Klemenc
their older company, Old World Paint Co., was a shoo-in for new work. The demand motivated them to launch the faux finish business.
“We got a lot of calls from people looking for someone who could do color washes, bronzing, frescoes, Moroccan … you name it,” Yana says. “We had the right name so business came our way.”
And the couple’s philosophy that “Old World” meant superior craftsmanship kept the customers coming back for more. “We do it right,” the couple maintains, “or we don’t do it at all. We’re very oriented to quality.”
Dale broke into the painting business when he was just a boy. At 9 years old, he remembers, his family relocated from Illinois to California where he began to help his stepfather, Raymond Westerlund, by painting doors, fences and other small jobs. By age 10, he literally moved up the ladder in the family-run business and began to tackle bigger things.
The eldest of six boys, three of whom are or were involved in painting as well, Dale says he never wanted to be a painter. He was more interested in becoming an artist and excelled at drawing at a very young age. But his stepfather urged him to continue with the trade so that he would always have something to fall back on.
“He put us all to work painting,” Dale says. “It was for the good of the household. We had no inherited wealth. Work was a necessity for survival. And we happily assisted him.”
By his mid-teens, Dale had started his own company, Westerlund Painting, and gotten married. “I had trucks, employees, a wife, a car — the whole shebang at 17,” he says. Most of his work then was commercial, sprinkled with a few residential jobs.
Eventually, the name of the company changed and so did Dale’s priorities. In 2000, his focus shifted from whole-house budget-minded painting to specialty finishes applied by hand with the creation of Old World Paint Co. and Old World Fine Faux Finishes.
It was also in 2000 that Dale married his second wife, Yana, a native of the Ukraine who had also always had a passion for art. At the time, she admits, she didn’t know anything about faux painting, but her new husband taught her the basics. She picked up other techniques by trial and error and through books. Over time, her talents blossomed and caught the attention of homeowners and businesses alike in the Manhattan Beach area.
Today, she’s the one in charge of faux painting and can produce everything from color washing, marbleizing and murals to Venetian plasters, Mediterranean textured finishes and trompe l’oeil.
Dale remains the backbone of the business. He’s the man in charge of estimating, supervising and directing as many as four or five jobs at a time. He believes in always making himself available, preferring to personally talk to customers or potential clients rather than relying on voice recordings. In fact, he’ll tell you, as soon as those Motorola flip phones hit the market he had one in his pocket 24/7 and learned how to forward calls early on.
“I believe when people want painting done, it’s an emotional decision and they want it done now,” he says. “If they can reach a real person, the better chance you have at landing the job.”
Today, people want color in their homes and they want it to last a long time, Dale says. That’s why he prefers to use paints that have higher amounts of titanium dioxide. “They hold color the longest,” he says. “Most of the time, people want their faux painting to last forever. They don’t want to do it again.”
Faux painting is mostly about color, Dale continues, adding that a finish can be anywhere from two to 10 layers of color. And he believes in always using a sealer. “I won’t endorse any faux painting without a sealer,” he says.
Color washing is today’s most requested faux finish, Yana says. It used to be that people wanted to make their own statement with very dramatic faux-finished walls, but now they prefer the finish to be subtler.
“I had a recent customer who told me she wanted a Zen experience, and I had to figure that one out. She wanted a mural on the ceiling but didn’t want any clouds or angels or birds or ivy,” Yana explains. The artist came up with color graduating from one corner to the other in a scene that featured a starry sky melting into an aqua and blue mix that flowed into a dark blue sky with more stars. “She was very happy. It turned out wonderful.”
Most of the time, Yana continues, she meets with a client who picks out a faux finish from a company portfolio that contains 1 1/2-foot-by-2-foot samples. Then, they start working on a color selection. Usually they’ll pick two or three colors in the same family. From there, she’ll paint parts of a wall with several examples using slight variations in pattern to see which version the customer likes best. “It’s hard for some people to envision how the finish will look on their wall,” she says. “This way they can see it in different light next to their furnishings and talk it over with their spouse and friends.” In the long run, she adds, “It doesn’t waste as much of my time.”
Some painters take months to paint pictures, Yana continues, but she can complete a typical faux job in two to three days. “And everybody is happy,” she says. Her work not only beautifies the home, but also adds value to the house overall.
Yana reiterates that old adage that the customer is always right. She tries not to argue with her clients if they decide the color isn’t right after she’s begun a job. “I’ll bite the bullet and do it again,” she says, although her husband isn’t apt to be so agreeable. “I just try to find a solution that doesn’t hurt anybody to protect our good name.”
For those new to the business, she stresses the importance of appearance. “You can have paint on your clothes and shoes but they need to be clean. You need to look trustworthy so that people want you in their house.”
And while you’re on the job, be sure to employ the “soft touch.” Proper preparation is essential, she says. Take every precaution by covering up everything and making sure precious valuables are safely removed before you start painting. And make sure your presence isn’t overbearing.
Listen to what customers want and respect their preferences. “Sometimes I don’t like the faux finish I’m doing or the color I’m using. But I try to give them what they want, because customer satisfaction is key to being successful.”