House + Home Q+A

Dennis Howell, master of faux finishes

Updated: 2013-04-14T01:38:03Z


The Kansas City Star

If you’re tired of that old countertop, hate the color of the kitchen tile or can’t live one more day with that dated linoleum, Dennis Howell has some easy solutions that won’t break the bank.

Over the last 30 years, Howell has redone 14 houses including a condo in Crown Center and a 6-bedroom, 71/2-bathroom house in Hyde Park.

In the process he has become an expert in faux finishes, which he is using to make his recently purchased Brookside house aesthetically liveable until he can afford to totally renovate and remodel.

The storybook-style house on Wornall Road endured some hard family living over the years and a fire in 1988.

You said these entry floors were destroyed by that fire. They look like walnut.

They’re plywood. I painted them with light brown porch paint and filled the cracks with caulk. After applying a second coat of porch paint, I wiped Minwax dark walnut stain on the top.

It has a grain like quality wood.

I get a wood grain effect by dragging a rag across it after it’s 80 percent dry. After the stain I applied two to three coats of polyurethane. I used water-based satin. I want it to look hard-waxed, not glossy.

Can you use this same technique to renew regular wood floors?

I did the same thing with the oak that remained in the stairway and the second floor. For the thresholds, I lay tape and wiped it to get a cross grain. It can be sanded right off when you’re ready to refinish it properly.

How did you come up with this solution?

In a lot of turn-of-the-century Victorian homes, they couldn’t afford good wood. They used cheap pine and craftsmen finished the pine to look like bird’s-eye maple, walnut and quarter-sawn oak. That might be where I got the idea.

What was this place like when you moved in?

The house was four inches (too) high in the middle. The edges had settled and created an arc. We let the center of the house down. Every square inch was carpeted.

It looks like you’ve made quite a bit of headway on the first-floor interior.

The inspiration for the first floor is traditional Parisian. The camel and gray color scheme comes from French designer Jean-Louis Deniot. Those are knockoffs of the Arne Jacobsen Egg chair in front of the living room window, and I upholstered that Gothic-style bench between them with black leather and added leopard pillows.

And you’ve brought some clever touches to the second floor.

The first floor is Deniot formal. I want the second floor to feel organic and earthy. I created a window seat with plywood and foam and a king-size bedspread. It’s a cheap fix. I’ve also added cove molding to the raised edges of a six-panel door.

Do you have some big plans for upstairs? I don’t imagine you’re crazy about that green-over-yellow sponge paint job in the master bath.

I want to put in a walk-in shower. Eventually I’ll install a huge whirlpool Jacuzzi that looks onto the backyard. The big bedroom will be a second-floor family room, with French doors leading to a Juliet balcony. It will have a huge desk and window seat.

Do you have any faux finishing upstairs?

The tall lamps in the bedroom are Target lamps made of brown plaster. I painted them silver and glazed them with black, then added the shades.

And you’re totally transforming the kitchen.

Those are 1988 oak cabinets that I scrubbed and covered with Bulls Eye 1-2-3 primer and just painted with oil base paint. I added contemporary hardware.

What’s the best product for grime removal?

I use concentrated white vinegar and warm water, about half and half. That will strip grease and grime better than 90 percent of the products on the market and it’s not at all harmful.

And what did you do to the old linoleum floor?

I primed it with two coats of 1-2-3 and painted it with porch paint and then two coats of satin polyurethane.

I did the same with the countertop, and I’m also covering the tiles. For the tiles I applied 1-2-3 and used the same paint as the cabinets (although I used oil on the cabinets and a water-based paint on the tile) and added polyurethane.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to

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