Larkfield Manor & How I Met My New Best Friends

Posted by : schoolhouse | On : December 8, 2013

"If you love what you never work a day in your life!"

“If you love what you do…you never work a day in your life!”

Reflecting back on my favorite project of the year, and how it all began with an ‘out of the blue’ phone call…

Sally Darish of Painted Pieces, Long Island’s premier mural and decorative painting company, reached out to inquire if I would consider joining her team of talented artists to collaborate on a large scale ceiling project downstate. Modello Designs of Chula Vista, California – a company I frequently partner with to create custom decorative masking patterns for ornamental finishes, had kindly referred me as ‘an artist in New York who has extensive experience working with large scale Modellos.’ I was flattered to be referred from California to work in the greater New York City area, and of course…wanted to be involved. I assured Sally how much I enjoyed the physical and technical challenges of decorative ceiling projects, and am always grateful for the opportunity to network with designers or fellow decorative artists. The offer sounded intriguing, exciting…and proved to be so much more.

A scenic vista overlook, en route via the Hudson Valley region, venturing from upstate to downstate New York...have brush, will travel!

A scenic vista overlook, en route through the Hudson Valley region…venturing from upstate New York to downstate Long Island.  Have brush, will travel!

With a great leap of faith, I bid adieu to my home in the beautiful Finger Lakes region …packed my portfolio, painters pants, favorite brushes-n-trowels, and embarked on the 5 hour drive to Huntington Station, Long Island. Sally and I had negotiated a fair daily rate, that included staying at her home as ‘artist-in-residence’ for three weeks while on assignment. Generous and gracious hospitality aplomb – it also included dining together most evenings at many fine restaurants, several of which featured murals and faux finishes by Painted Pieces. We became fast friends, and enjoyed lively conversation sprinkled with abundant laughter. Business savvy, Sally’s company celebrated over a million dollars in decorative art and mural commissions on a good year. The scope of which is quiet impressive; entails a lot of hard work, hustling, tremendous tenacity and creative spirit. All of which she possesses in abundance – supported by a dedicated and highly skilled team of artists.


Our first day on assignment; digesting the scope of the Grand Ballroom and logistics for setting up scaffolding, scissor lifts, templates, and teamwork approach.

The assignment entailed working on series of sixteen ornamental barrel ceilings in the Grand Ballroom of Larkfield Manor, an estate in the process of being completely renovated to serve high-end weddings and special events. The coffered ballroom barrel ceilings measured 16′ x 13′ each and were poised at a substantial height, which required working on tiers of scaffolding and scissor-lifts. The decorative pattern to be applied was one of my favorite Modello motifs – an allover Moroccan Trellis, enlarged appropriately to accommodate the scale and scope of the space. Years ago, I had the pleasure of accompanying Melanie Royals, the creative genius behind Modello Designs, on a magical painting adventure in Marrakech, Morocco. Thus, the visual we were aiming for on this project had a familiarity and great sentiment…adding to my joy of bringing the concept to fruition.   Aside from working overhead 15′ – 20′ in height, the dome of the barrel added an extra layer of challenge to the task. It was definitely not a one-person job!!!

Centering the initial panel - perfectly squared was essential for everything else to fall seamlessly into place.

Centering the initial panel – perfectly squared was essential for everything else to fall seamlessly into place.

As a group we worked in teams of two, and often four at a time per barrel to determine the center of each side in order to calculate dead-center of the dome. We used a combination of measurements (double and triple checked) and laser levels to adhere the first section of panel to the center…from which all other panels were adjoined until the entire ceiling was masked out in ornament. There was no wiggle room for error in ‘assembling this puzzle’, as one skewed panel would result in the pattern repeat and other panels not lining up properly.

Working in harmony and unison...with great comradery

Working in harmony and unison…with great comradery

Once adhered, we troweled in a creamy taupe plaster to create an elegant tone-on-tone pattern. When that dried, carefully removing the masking template revealed the beauty and grandeur of the completed finish. T’was a happy moment and sense of gratification ten-fold for all the hard work that went into it. Took a solid 8 days to work through the ballroom assignment, all the while in the midst of full-bore construction whirling around us like a Tasmanian devil. It was a constant dosey doe of skirting around other trades, especially when balanced on scaffolding, operating and maneuvering the scissor lift. Not only were we in deep concentration on what was above, but had to have a constant awareness of others working in, around, and underneath us.

As soon as we finished each barrel ceiling...electrical contractors hung chandeliers, installed vents, rope accent lighting, and other details on the 'to-do' list for the looming grand opening celebration.

As soon as we finished each barrel ceiling…electrical contractors hung chandeliers, installed vents, rope accent lighting, and other details on the ‘to-do’ list for the looming grand opening celebration.

As we finished barrel by barrel, the electricians swooped in without hesitation to hang elegant chandeliers in the center of each. Everyone was feeling the pressure of the looming grand opening deadline. Like walking down the streets of New York City…the job site had a sense of adrenaline and organized, orchestrated chaos!

Larkfield Manor...Grand Foyer Ceiling

Larkfield Manor…Grand Foyer Ceiling

Next on the agenda was polishing off the Grand Foyer. Even taller scissor lifts were brought in to work…as we were 30′-35′ high. My team-mates had already tackled the ornament layout, but the enormous groin ceiling needed another pass to finesse. We applied an antique glaze to tone the background field to a deeper, richer glow…which greatly added to the elegant effect and striking impact of the ceiling in such a grand space.

My friend, Marianne Ward, applying a hand-wrought antique glaze to the Grand Foyer ceiling...increasing the degree of rich, elegant impact.

My friend, Marianne Ward, applying a hand-wrought antique glaze to the Grand Foyer ceiling…increasing the degree of rich, elegant impact.

Then, it was all hands on deck to apply a skip-troweled ‘Old World Plaster’ finish to the great expanse of foyer walls. The Faux Effects Plaster-Tex mix was inherently a rich, rustic-finish product…thick, creamy and embodied with ground walnut shells.

Old World Plaster finish sample for the Grand Foyer

Old World Plaster finish sample for the Grand Foyer

We worked here, there, and everywhere on a hodgepodge of ladders, scaffolding, and lifts… in synch, unison, and with great comradery.

imageI truly adored my fellow finishers…and had mixed feelings of melancholy-tinged elation upon completing the project. Principal artists Marianne Ward, Pip Muscarello, Marianne DeQuette-Cuozzo, and Kevin Clark … and a host of others who pitched in a day or two here and there when they could.


Upon completion...the grand ballroom of Larkfield Manor

Upon completion…the grand ballroom of Larkfield Manor

Working with everyone involved in the project was so inspiring…and too much fun! Individually very gifted in their own way, each had a unique forte, and worked hard to get to where they are today. We worked seamlessly together, laughed a lot, and forged lasting friendships. I’m happy to still keep in touch, and keep tabs on their ongoing ventures…to this day, we’re cheering each other on.

With fond regards,


Leave a Reply