Paint is one of the most versatile and accessible of any decorative material.  Though cave paintings were done centuries ago, the first patent in the US for paint available in a can was granted in 1867.  Early paint was composed of many different materials and colorants, suspended in a medium which would make the color brushable.  Vintage painted steel and wood garden furniture is readily available-in various states of disrepair.  Old, chipped, and weather worn paint on a garden bench can be charming.  A fresh coat of paint can dramatically alter the appearance of a house, or shed.  Old style adirondacks chairs with original paint are always in demand.  Old chairs repainted in vivid colors are visually invigorating.  Paint types and formulas are available for every surface and situation imaginable.  Some day I would like to try Annie’s chalk paint ( ) both inside and out.  The surface sounds beautiful, and it can be used inside and out.  No matter the circumstance, I use Porter Paint.  It is a favorite brand of sign painters.  In my opinion, it resists cracking, fading, and peeling better than any other paint I have used.  The exterior Acrishield is 100% acrylic paint-not latex paint.  We use this on any exterior surface we want to paint.  Porter Paint is made in Pennsylvania, and is not always easy to find, but amazingly, it is available in my neighborhood (  Paint is a relatively inexpensive decorating material with one caveat.  What was once painted will eventually need to be repainted.  Is that so bad?


Rob and I bought a small collection of fiberglas garden ornament which was delivered late last week.  Though we had a lengthy discussion about the finish with the rep, I was not happy with what got delivered.  Fiberglas is a friendly material, in that it is impervious to weather, and light weight.  But it is by no means a natural material.  If I have to have fiberglas, I like it to look like fiberglas.  Fiberglas finished to look like something it is not-just saying.  The plaque pictured above had been spray painted the most horrifying shade of dead white imaginable.  I knew I had to paint it.  A dear friend had just introduced me to hand screened en grisaille wallpaper-meaning wallpaper that is all shades of gray from black to white.   Those gray landscapes have been on my mind.  I bought 4 quarts of Porter exterior paint, and went to work.  What is pictured above-the finish.  It is by no means a great work of decorative art, but this painted surface is much easier on the eye than what was. 


This set of wall hangings depicting a classical interpretation of the four seasons-not so great looking.  The white is harsh.  The pits in the surface of the fiberglas, even more harsh.  Beautiful white painted surfaces outdoors can be difficult to achieve.  A very stark architectural white that is fresh and airy on an indoor surface can be strident and off putting outdoors.  Toxic white I call it, as no one seems to warm up to it.  White outdoors is always warmed by the quality of natural light.  This flat and unnatural white made me squint.


Buck tells me that cast concrete which is not vibrated sufficiently develops what is known as bug holes.  The air which produces this pitting has not been vibrated out of the mix.  I am sure these fiberglas bug holes were deliberate.  This was an effort to make brand new molded fiberglas look like aged stone.  I am sure it is as unconvincing a surface to you as it is to me. The pits were sprayed with a very dark stain.


This pitting is not so attractive. After all, cherubs are supposed to look sweet, or devilish-not scary.  The runny nose look-not my favorite. 


The pitted areas would have been much more effective, has they been confined to the shadow areas.  A base coat of Porter exterior satin paint filled in the worst of them.


The figure of the summer season on the far left in its original state shows how some ornament for the garden can be vastly improved in appearance with a little paint.


The annotated collection is much more to my liking.  After the base coat, I used a slightly darker color in the shadows, and a slightly lighter color on those surfaces closest to my eye.  A little paint can go a long way towards improving the looks of anything it touches.  The best part?  If a first effort or color doesn’t work, there’s always the option to try again.


Though I would touch the surface of an antique or lovely vintage ornament for the garden,  a little paint can go a long way.

Painting A Fountain


I placed this 19th century American cast iron fountain in a client’s existing terrace pool 6 years ago.  Last fall, she was ready for a change. A rectangular pool much larger than the original circular pool was installed, and a steel surround was built to finish that new pool.  The overgrown boxwood was removed, and additional stone was added to the terrace. 

A picture frame opening was left in the stone, and planted this spring with isotoma fluvialitis.  The steel surround was painted in much the same color as the original fountain.  The surface of the steel was only primed in patches, so the surround would rust in the same manner as the fountain. The design of the surround was taken literally from the lower part of the base of the fountain.  More recently, she decided that the color of the fountain and surround was too light; she wanted to tone down the color of both pieces. 

Working with color outdoors is challenging.  But I knew I would be developing the finish in stages.  A pale blue gray would be applied first.  Though this is a pastel color, it is distinctively blue.  Successive coats would reduce that blue to a trace. 

A darker brown-black coat was applied over the blue, to tone it down.  The pool surround got its first coat of blue gray.  Like the blue, this very dark color applied to the fountain would eventually be barely visible. 

I sanded the entire surface of the fountain at this point, to bring some of the blue back up, remove some of the black, and expose some of the cream-white of the original color.  Working on the color with the fountain in place is necessary.  It is much too difficult to imagine an entire environment, and how light affects the surface.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time on a ladder.

The sanded version has a lot of contrast-more contrast than what I wanted. The intent of the finish color is that it will reflect the predominant colors on the terrace, without standing out.  All of the furniture and containers on this terrace are of subtle and restrained color.  Much of that color is a result of age and exposure to the elements.  To replicate an aged finish is by no means easy, and my experience creating them is limited.  On my side-I had the time to let the finish develop. 

 The sanding brought color contrast to the surface.  The gray wash which came next toned that contrast down.  I liked the close relationship between all of the colors, but I knew I needed a gray that was a little darker, and less blue for the finish coat.  

Over the gray wash, a darker, gray/brown wash. At this stage, I was wiping off as much paint as I put on.  Though the fountain pool would prevent anyone from being this close to the surface of the fountain, It was my intent that the color be best described as gently faded. 

Every color layer is represented, to greater, or lesser extent.  The final coat of gray is dark enough to make the fountain sculpture blend gracefully with the rest of the terrace.  Subtle does not have to mean sleepy; up close,  there is plenty of visual interplay between all of the colors. 

This afternoon, the concrete interior of the fountain is to be painted black.  This will make the surface of the water reflective of what is going on in the sky.  It will also change the feeling and appearance of the color on the fountain.  In a perfect world, the fountain sculpture color will need no adjusting.  If it does, I’ll be ready. The finish color on the surround will be much influenced by the black interior.  I hope to finish that part of the painting this afternoon.

 By early next week, I hope to be able to fill the pool with water. The final step?  The water plants.

Late afternoon update-the interior of the concrete pool is painted, and the surround is one shade darker.  What a huge difference the black makes; the fountain looks darker to my eye.  It must be that no more light is being reflected onto the fountain via the pale gray concrete. I am thinking a lighter gray wash over the dark surround color is all I need to do to finish.