Decorative Painting

 In a previous life these chairs were upholstered in a heavy red and cream fabric and sported a dark stain ...sanding and waxing the legs provided a perfect base for tailored slipcovers

The revamped chairs look right at home in this elegant dining room.  (interior design by Sandra McDonald/Austine Fleenor)

How did these ugly duckling chairs turn into swans?  Who could see their potential, transform their appearance and then make them into these beauties? We introduce you to Robin Campbell of Robin Campbell Designs;  a talented artist who is not only lovely and witty, but could paint you under (and over) the table.  Robin was kind enough to chat with us for a bit and tell us about her wickedly talented ways in decorative painting.

Please tell us about yourself: what you did before decorative painting and what inspired you to focus full-time on this trade? I was a political science major who ended up working for a brokerage firm after college-probably not the best fit for this creative and not so organized mind! There are a few folks who would laughingly tell you that I was the worst sales assistant ever....I agree wholeheartedly. I have always been fascinated by paint color and interior design, which can probably be traced back to hours spent at my grandmothers breakfast table assembling and staining miniature furniture for my "new construction" dollhouse. I never got over the desire to make things pretty, and it was serendipitous that at the exact moment that I was questioning my place in the 9-5 world, a friend came to test out some of her decorative painting skills on my walls. She used an apple green glaze to strie my guest bedroom and I was hooked! I started taking classes at a studio in Franklin, and after lots of practice and a few disasters on the walls of very patient family members and friends, I got my first job creating a brick wall at a pizza parlor and started painting full time. That was twelve years ago, and I still love what I do! What would you define as your personal interior style? Can you give us a few glimpses into your own home to see how your work translates on a personal level? My favorite piece of design advice is from Celerie Kemble - "Don't let a fear of being tacky render you tasteless" . This is probably a dangerous rule for someone who loves "stuff" as much as I do to follow, but I believe that style is created by surrounding ourselves with things that make us happy. The bright colors and bold patterns that I lean toward in my own home sometimes seem carnival-esque when i return from a day in a lovely muted blue and gray scandanavian inspired home, but I personally need a little color.

My metallic moss green dining room ceiling

 Eclectic would be a conservative way to descirble my personal style, but I prefer to call it "English Country House" (although my little stone cottage is more of an “English Country Gate House”). Lots of antiques and chinoiserie, but lucite and contemporary artwork as well.

The chairs got a little "aided on the aging process" by moi and a second wind from the Kelly Wearstler fabric.

Lamps have great recycling potential, and I love painting them and taking them to Lumen for fresh shades and finials!

...okay, there are also piles of magazines and books everywhere, and usually a few pieces of furniture in various stages of completion sitting alongside the ones that actually belong in my house. I was fortunate to inherit some furniture from a great aunt whose style I adored, and I’ve taken the pieces that I loved and altered them to fit my lifestyle. The last thing I want is a house that feels formal, and I enjoy using color and unconventional elements to shake the traditional components up a bit and make them my own. When I moved into this house several years ago, a friend asked if I would turn it in to the “faux chateau”. The truth is that it is nearly impossible for me to finish a project in my own home. Many projects are started on impulse around 10:00 PM, and finished months or even years later when an out of town guest is arriving or when a design blog asks to see pictures of my house (thank you Interior Canvas, that sideboard wasn’t going to paint itself!).  

A favorite spur of the moment addition to the breakfast room sideboard


The guestroom is a tranquil spot in my house, so I lightened much of the dark brown wood to coexist with the muted feel of the room.

Name some mentors or artistic influences that have shaped you as an artist: One of the most exciting aspects of working in this business is that I am exposed on an almost daily basis to the work of exceptionally talented people - designers, architects and homeowners. I'm constantly introduced to fresh ideas, and I think this variety keeps me from falling into the rut of being a "one-trick-pony". Running one’s own business is a job in itself, and the importance of having someone guide you along can’t be underestimated. I have learned something from almost every designer and decorative painter I have worked with, from color theory and proper chandelier height to billing practices and the importance of worker’s compensation insurance. Artistically, I am fascinated by the work of Ed Nash. I love the way that he blends colors into one another . To me, his choices of color make his paintings seem perfectly at home in even uber-traditional rooms, and immediately transform a formal space into something inviting.

 I painted the woodwork in this "Turkey Room" years ago, and was delighted to see the addition of this fabulous piece of art. I am in awe of those with illustratve skills.

Occasionally I work with artist Staci Spivak who painted the scene in my entryway. I will paint a foundation with glaze, plaster or chalk paint and she will hand paint a design over it. I love watching her’s mesmerizing! She teaches painting classes at her studio in Bellevue, and one day I'll be brave enough to take one.

  Walk our readers through your process of decorative painting: (on, for example) a set of kitchen cabinets. Explain your process from start to finish. For an initial meeting with a client who is interested in painting kitchen cabinets, I present a variety of samples of varying colors and styles. We will discuss the “look” the client is going for, whether it be distressed, slightly aged or lime washed, and determine a few base colors that coordinate with the wall color, countertops, and flooring. Based on our determinations, I will then create a few custom samples. In a best case scenario, a sample out of round one is chosen. If we need to dig deeper, I will alter the base color, glaze, application etc. until we come up with something perfect. If we settle on a simple one color glaze, we have the cabinets painted with the chosen base color. After the paint has dried for a few days, I will come in and apply the glaze, often using using steel wool or cheesecloth. Depending on the size of the kitchen, this process can take anywhere from a day to a week. I have found in recent years that painting and glazing kitchen cabinets is one of the most cost-effective ways to update a kitchen, and is a fairly non-invasive process for the client.

This room was transformed by lightening up the cabinets and glazing them.

What is the strangest place (or most unique) that you have been asked to apply your artistic touches to someone's space? I once plastered the two story interior lobby of an auto body repair shop in Illinois. Customers would stroll through streets of “Old World Italy” to have a smashed-in fender replaced. We can only imagine the look of customers walking into that repair shop!  Thank you, Robin, for such an informative and inspirational post all about the power of PAINT! 

Robin Campbell / Robin Campbell Designs

Robin Campbell Designs on Facebook 

 (Images: Photos 1, 2  by David Boyer - All others by Stef Atkinson) (Elizabeth Turner Interior Design -; Staci Garner-Spivak River Art Studio

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