Faux finishings are often the last thing people think of when it comes to interior design and art, but for artist Gina Viletti it’s been a vocation and a craft. Whether it’s working on local businesses or Newport Beach mansions. “It’s all part of working in the arts,” she says. “It’s all artistic whether it’s decorative painting or what have you. It’s in my wheelhouse and there’s nothing I haven’t been able to do.”
Born in Rhode Island, Gina always loved painting, whether it was realistic portraiture or figurative painting. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, but craved a more structured education. In those days, the painting curriculum was pretty freeform, so instead she studied illustration. She continued painting and illustrating after college, but found it lonely. Gina missed working with people to take on creative problems.
The solution came when HGTV gained popularity in the late ‘90s, and Gina discovered she liked working in interiors. “It’s been around for centuries, decorative finishing,” she says. “There are stone columns in Vatican City that are painted to look like marble.” That’s the part of her artistry that Gina loves. Working with the right products to make textures and colors look authentic. Faux finishing is usually the last thing people think of, and the first thing any contractor cuts from the budget. That hasn’t stopped Gina from designing mansion interiors like Italian villas, painting murals, or even designing the interior of a helicopter prototype.
“It allows me to think of my own, creative finishes and how I would achieve it,” Gina says. She strives to make the finishes feel as authentic as possible. She achieves this entirely by hand, she uses no software or computers to come up with her designs. When studying in Italy for five years, Gina saw a blue patent-leather shoe with gold flecks in a designer store front. Struck with inspiration, she flew back to her studio immediately to recreate it. She takes inspiration from real world textures and colors, whether it’s Italian shoes or aged doors. The key for her is how to get her work to look like the real thing.
“I love working with old world stone finishes,” she says. “It’s multi-layered and it’s very organic.” Gina was working in a house in New Jersey back in 2010. It was one of the more common job requests, giving an interior a stone finish like in a Tuscan villa. She used a special kind of finish for that job. She would apply the finish, and then as it dried overnight, it would naturally crack based on what was already present in the plaster. This gave the interior the illusion of real stone left out for centuries in the Mediterraenen sun.
Knowing which finishes to use to get which desired surface helps: Which one looks like sandstone and which one looks like marble and so on. Gina credits a lot of her work’s success to knowing her product line. For the past 20 years she’s used a line called Faux Finishes. This isn’t the kind of thing a person picks up in Home Depot. Faux Finishes has a wide range of finishes that imitate plaster, metallic surfaces, all kinds of stones or wood. It takes a high degree of training to use it. Their products are water-based, environmentally friendly and unlike other finishes, there’s no polyurethane. They also have a long durability as well. She’s never had someone call her back because the finish wore off too quickly.
Gina returned to the southern New England area in summer 2013, basing herself in Pawtucket. She returned to take care of her elderly father and to start her own business, although the business part has not happened yet. Gina took a textile class, wanting to learn how to include fabrics in her interior finishes and she’s kept busy traveling across the country. Gina works frequently with LDL Studio, an architecture firm in Providence that helps her get work across the nation. She joined the Reliquarium artists’ collaborative in Lincoln.
One of her least favorite assignments is working on cabinets. While the textures can be very beautiful, and Gina is a consummate professional with plenty of discipline, that kind of work can be anxiety-inducing for her. One wrong move in the finish and you have to do the whole thing over again. It’s less artistic and more technical. One of the weirder assignments Gina says she’s gotten as a professional faux finisher was working last year at a home in Highland Park, New Jersey. It was a long project involving many different finishes. The client envisioned a large mural with himself as Spartacus on a horse leading the troops, and one of his sons as a warrior. While it never came to fruition, it stands as one of her stranger requests.
Gina still does painting and illustration and has a gallery of her work on her website. She does commissions, as well as some consulting on the side. All can be arranged through her website at ginavilletti.com.