This LusterStone finish was created by Chris Burke, aka Mr. Faux.

 

Keeping It Real with 'Mr. Faux'

by Diane Capuano Franklin

Chris Burke, aka Mr. Faux, is a Washington, D.C., area artist who has taken his faux-painting skills over the last two-and-a-half decades from the simple to the sublime. Starting with basic one-color glazes, stripes and other straightforward wall effects, Chris refined and added to his faux-finishing portfolio with such artistic specialties as woodgraining, marbling, Venetian plasters, torn wallpaper and murals.

Mr. Faux in a Mr. Faux hat

Chris’ success, and much of his appeal, can be attributed to the fact that he’s been willing to do it all—even what might be construed as the “less glamorous” aspects of the faux-finishing profession.

Chris Burke as his alter ego, Mr. Faux

“I’m the blue-collar faux guy,” says Chris, explaining that he got his start as a house painter working alongside his dad during his high school years. That’s how he was able to become adept at the basics of the painting profession—from taping off a room to wielding a roller to cleaning up a worksite.

While attending college at George Mason University, Chris continued working as a painter and had a crew of four working for him. Eventually he got some requests to do sponging, which was the launching point for a faux-finishing career that over the years has included prestigious work in both residential and commercial spaces. He’s done projects in such impressive locations as the Israeli embassy, FBI headquarters and the Women’s National Art Museum. He’s also worked in the residences of NFL players as well as other prominent homes throughout the East Coast and in Canada and Germany.

Chris’ Advice: Know the Basics

Chris started his business as the Wall Factory, changing the name to Burke’s Faux Finishes and finally to Mr. Faux. “Mr. Faux was based on a caricature that a guy did of me years ago when I was into body-building,” he reports.

Through it all, however, Chris has remained pretty down-to-earth about his profession. He sees himself as a regular guy who would never consider the tasks associated with regular painting as being beneath him. “You have to be humble in this business,” he contends. “You have to know the basics, like how to tape and how to paint.”

In fact, even though he currently has a crew of six painters, Chris is often the one doing the taping. “I’m still the fastest at taping,” he says, sounding just as proud of that skill as he is of all the beautiful decorative finishes he can create.

Having this practical attitude certainly came in handy during the recent recession. Though demand for decorative finishes took a beating over the course of several years, Chris was able to keep his business thriving by taking on some regular painting projects and also by getting heavily involved in cabinetry refinishing.

“We offer cabinet refinishing at one-third of the price of refacing or replacing,” he reports. That pricing advantage turned out to be an important selling point for cash-strapped consumers who were looking to increase the value of their homes through the most economical means possible.

Marketing His Business

During the industry’s lean years, a lot of prospects for cabinetry and other projects came to Chris from Google AdWords—so much so that he unabashedly admits, “Google AdWords saved my business.”

It was through Google AdWords that an architect found him and asked him to create textured finishes for the hallways/corridors in the FBI headquarters building. Another architect also found him via Google AdWords, which led to a project for a Rolls-Royce dealership.

Chris created this Venetian plaster for a Rolls-Royce dealership.

However, Chris cautions that Google AdWords also comes with a hefty price tag based on its pay-per-click pricing structure. Recently he began using Facebook advertising and is getting good results there.

Chris Burke's 1,900-square-foot showroom.

Over the 26 years of his faux-finishing career, much of Chris’ business has come to him through word of mouth and networking. For instance, during his 20s, he was working  as a bartender and happened to meet a designer who was providing interior design services for the Israeli ambassador. Chris was able to parlay that fortuitous meeting into a project involving creation of a linen technique for the ambassador’s office at the Israeli embassy.

In more recent years, Chris has gotten a lot of his cabinetry work by offering free e-mail estimates. “I probably did 1,000 e-mail estimates last year,” he says. About 5 percent of those actually wind up being jobs. “A lot of people are tire-kicking,” he adds, “but I keep all of the estimates on file because sometimes someone will come back three months or even a year later and ask us to do a job.”

And when you do the math, you can see that 5 percent of 1,000 estimates translates to 50 projects, which does provide substantial work and profits over the course of a 52-week period.

One of Chris’ most important pieces of advice for getting a lot of cabinetry projects is this: Take a lot of photos. “Showing a lot of before and after pictures has really helped us get more work,” he advises.

Sharing With the Industry

Chris is a strong believer in the power of social media, participating in several Facebook groups such as Faux Nation, which serves as a gathering place for artists from around the world. “I’m big on helping each other out,” says Chris in explaining the rationale for Faux Nation. “Our industry used to be secretive, but I think more and more artists are seeing the advantages of sharing what they know.”

But, of course, that doesn’t negate the fact that you have to make an investment in your faux-finishing education by attending classes. That’s how Chris got his start, learning faux-finishing skills from some of the best schools in the business. He took his first class more than 20 years ago with Chuck James of Rocky Mountain Painting and also took classes from Faux Effects, ProFaux, Mike MacNeil, Pierre Finkelstein, Gert-Jan Nijsee and others. He appreciates everything he has learned from these individuals, whom he considers the masters of the trade.

Chris enhanced his woodgraining skills by studying with his mentor and friend, master finisher Pierre Finkelstein.

“All my teachers—Masters—are all down to earth—all about giving and teaching the trade,” Chris says. “Meeting Pierre Finkelstein, one of my idols for decades, at the IDAL Convention five years ago, I was awestruck.”

Pierre, a teacher at the convention, actually called Chris by his industry alias—Mr. Faux. That gave Chris a thrill, and the two became close. “I now call him a friend,” Chris says.

A few years ago, Chris himself began teaching in the industry. He and Atlanta-based artist Henri Menendez (aka the “Cabinet Master”) teach wall finishes and cabinet refinishing, billing themselves as The Faux Team.

“Henri got me into teaching three or four years ago,” Chris says. Together, they’ve taught classes at various locales, including Kathy Carroll’s Chicago Institute of Fine Finishes and IDAL educational events.

Chris and Henri Menendez are known as "The Faux Team."

Chris also teaches classes at his 1,900-square-foot warehouse in Sterling, Va., and he recently started inviting other artists to teach there as well. Among those who have taught classes or will be teaching soon are: John Catalanotto and Greg Frohnapfel of ProFaux, Rebecca Slaton of Surfaces Faux Finishing & Decorative Art Studios and Igor Turovskiy of Igor Turovskiy Abstract Art Studio.

While only teaching for a short time, The Faux Team of Chris and Henri have quickly developed a reputation for being a highly knowledgeable but fun-loving pair. Imagine, for instance, going to a class, where the two instructors are wearing aprons that give them the appearance of being either shirtless or clad in a bikini. You can’t not have a good time once you see that.

“We like to goof around a little bit and have some fun,” Chris admits.

That goes to the heart of Chris’ philosophy: Work hard, but also play hard. Just what you’d expect from a true blue-collar faux guy.