Posted by : schoolhouse | On : February 13, 2017


I was sooooooo excited!!! Over the Moon elated!!! One of those phone calls that makes your heart pound and inspiration swell. Out of the blue – Two One Two Design, a renown firm from New York City, called to inquire if I would be interested in collaborating to create a series of custom, hand-painted ceiling medallions for a new Starbucks Coffee shop. Much gratitude to the most excellent customer service staff at Modello Designs for referring me as a New York based decorative artist well-versed in ornamental ceilings, particularly large scale designs that involve using the custom decorative masking patterns the company creates.

Of course I would be thrilled to do so. My bread and butter clients have typically been high-end residential. Always a pleasure to whittle away the hours creating one of a kind finishes in some of the most beautiful homes throughout the Central New York Finger Lakes Region. Sprinkle in a few fine restaurants, boutique hotels and special project stints like the Larkefield Manor Ballroom, North Shore of Long Island. The Starbucks gig would be my first major corporate commission.

As the dialogue ensued, I was delighted to gather that the new Starbucks cafe was to be built within the exchange of the Fort Myers Joint Military Base. Located next to Arlington National Cemetery in the heart of our nation’s Capitol region.


Blessings appear nearly every year with a special project that results in a travel adventure.  I dub them “working vacations.”  Always happy for the chance to leap outside my usual terra to work and explore elsewhere….to partner with new contacts, network and grow creating in tandem with talented designers, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, fellow artists and the like.


I was awestruck when I received the blueprints depicting the scale, layout and design for the scope of my work.  Not only with the concept and how beautiful it would be, but for the respectful nod to the Military symbolized by the ornament.  The series of four ceiling medallions were inspired by the Medal of Honor.


Each measuring eight foot in diameter, my calling was to hand-paint the medallions on the ceiling in metallic gold.  After which, lit chandeliers would be hung from the center of each.   It was especially poignant considering my beloved grandfathers Leslie Crandall and Robert Bruno, and my great-grandfater Edward McNeil were dutiful military men….who were proud to serve their country.

My beloved grandfather, Leslie Gene Crandall - World War II - stationed in the Philippines

My beloved grandfather, Leslie Gene Crandall – World War II – stationed in the Philippines

My beloved great-grandfather, Edward McNeil - World War I - stationed in France

My beloved great-grandfather, Edward McNeil – World War I – stationed in France

Beloved grandfather, Robert Bruno with grandmother, Virgina.  World War II - stationed on the Corporal's ship in the San Fransisco Harbor, as a member of the military band (trombone) on December 7, 1941

My beloved grandfather, Robert Bruno, with grandmother, Virgina. World War II – stationed on the Corporal’s ship in the San Fransisco Harbor, as a member of the military band (trombone) on December 7, 1941

I loved the concept, and ran with it back to Modello Designs to create the custom templates required to work large-scale overhead, and a smaller maquette version to create a series of samples for Two One Two Design and the Starbucks executives to approve…it had to be just the right gold.  I planned to offer a range of light bright gold, medium but richly glowing gold, and even richer antique gold hues created using the Modern Masters line of metallic paints.  Priority expressed the package to New York City for review.  Medium gold is perfect, which was my favorite too….considering the basecoat flat paint ceiling color was a creamy soft tan vs. the ‘usual’ stark white.

Tillie supervising...the range of maquette samples to depict various hues of gold.

Tillie supervising…the range of maquette samples to depict various hues of gold.

I was on que for weeks, which turned into months, while the construction began. I kept shimmying my existing clients forward and back to prioritize being able to leave town at moments notice for the Starbucks gig.  The construction schedule was extremely tight to open on time – prior to July 4th festivities.  Throw in a few setbacks like having to reopen the entire finished sheetrock ceiling to reinspect fire sprinklers – the pressure would amp even more to work as due diligently as possible to stay on track.  I guesstimated I could render one medallion per day – make that per long super-focused day.  Upon our pleasant meet and greet in person the morning I arrived General Contractor, Harman Ranger – owner of Constructure, inquired if I could finish all four medallions in two days.  I smiled politely and said that would be above and beyond a super human feat.  “It is what it is to work through the production process.”  You cannot rush the perfection I was aiming for, and was expected to deliver.  I offered to work through the weekend instead – which panned out well having the space to myself to work and think in peace for at least two days.  Being a bit of an introvert my nature, I work best in silence and solitude.  The other two days of working amongst other trades was a frantic do-si-do of skirting in, out, around each other…and the deafening “STOMP” like clammer of saws, hammers, screwguns, crash, boom, bang, you name it.


Template application after I assured perfect layout via measurements

Once template was centered and adhered, I finessed any seams and began applying the metallic gold paint

Once centered & adhered w/ finessed seams – I applied metallic gold paint

Each of the eight foot circular medallion templates had to be cut/produced in twelve separate parts at Modello Designs. Shipped from California to my home in Skaneateles, New York – I laid them out in my studio to sketch, number, and study them well in advance. Measure four times if not six, and adhere to the ceiling once to line up seams. A little wiggle room not preferred, but inevitable = safe release painters tape to the rescue and the ultimate back up of hand-retouching to perfect edges.

Averaged one medallion per day.  Final step; finessing with hand-wrought detail to perfect edges and seams.

Final step; finessing with hand-wrought detail to perfect edges and seams.

Aside from rendering the ornament I had to insure perfect placement, which was crucial for the overall effect. Crunching measurement math end to end, side to side through the expanse of ceiling, I noted two of the four light boxes were off by 1 1/2″. Unfortunately, in turn, this seemingly slight variation would bump the medallions off from being perfectly centered in a row. Deep breath….and step back for two days for Harman’s crew to open the prepped ready-to-go sheetrocked ceiling to move the two light boxes accordingly. Fresh tape, joint compound repair, and paint is always a cringe when using the adhesive backed decorative masking patterns. The essential proper prep process should never be rushed, as it always requires proper cure time. But with looming deadline – this was not the luxury of an option. Pray….bring in fans, and thank God for the super product Binz 123 primer. After researching and speaking to tech reps, this product did in fact live up to its promise of being a super-sealing super-gripping primer. I was relieved that my insistence to use Binz resulted in minimal ‘blisters’ (areas where the adhesive template may pull off the barely cured repaired areas of the basecoat).

I made the most of the two-day setback, and struck out from my hotel to explore.  WOW!!!  I had no idea how beautiful, powerful, and majestic our country’s Capitol region was.

The grand architecture of our Capitol region....awe inspiring

The grand architecture of our Capitol region….awe inspiring



Spent a day walking through Arlington National Cemetery, the monuments, and historical sights associated with it.

Arlington National Cemetery - located next to Fort Myers Military Base

Arlington National Cemetery next to Fort Myers

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

It’s hallow ground.  Gave me a lump in my throat, and deepened respect for the centuries of sacrifices made on behalf of forging our great nation.  There was so much to take in and learn about our country’s rich history.  I studied an ornate display showcasing the various Military awards for valor and bravery – especially the Medal of Honor.  Talk about feeling inspired…


The next day, I explored the entire National Mall.  I meandered everywhere, weaving on foot through all the magnificent memorials representing poignant points and milestones in our commitment to Democracy and pursuit of Freedom.  I paused at each to really absorb their meaning, and the difference all the military sacrifices made – for all of us and the quality of life we enjoy today.  Our government buildings are the finest examples of stunning architecture, symbolic ornament and power.  You could just feel it in the air.


Couldn’t help acting like a star-struck tourist when I pressed my face through the wrought iron fence to stare at the stately White House.


Those two days were really a blessing in disguise to rev me up with a super charged surge of inspiration for the hard, labor intensive physical work that lay ahead – now that I was ‘back in the saddle’ with a green light to proceed.


The work went swimmingly well, and the days became a blur of my hands dancing nonstop in a flurry of gold detailing overhead.  It was quite the work-out, but my adrenaline and aspirin helped me to rally.  I finished on point and in the nick of time.  Drove home dreamy eyed on July 4th to my beloved Tillie, family, and schoolhouse sanctuary.  Took the entire following week off to let my body rest and repair itself.


Everyone was wonderful to work with, and as always, I made new friends.  It was truly an honor to be involved, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to lend a hand with this inspiring project.  Even more so, for the opportunity to explore and experience the the heart of our Nation’s Capitol region and stoic Military memorials.


The Starbucks commission was testament to my great faith that I can accomplish anything I try hard at, or set my mind to, no matter how daunting the task.  The end result was a huge hit – everyone loved the Medal of Honor medallion accent. The new Starbucks Coffee shop at Fort Myer’s is suitably a unique and beautiful variation from the usual cafe in honor of the soldiers who will be served there.


With respectful gratitude,


“We are stars wrapped in skin, the light you are seeking has always been within”            – Rumi