Brush with Greatness
October 15, 2013
Text by Maria LaPiana
A recent conversation thread on an interior design website resulted in a lively discussion about whether it’s acceptable to paint faux brick in a New York City apartment. Most responders rejected the idea out of hand: “When it comes to faux, just say no”; “Faux brick is like a fake convertible top on your car, or a toupee”; and “You cannot replicate the brick look for a wall. It’s just not possible. Period.”
Clearly, these folks have never heard of Heidi Holzer.
It’s only a mild exaggeration to say that the decorative artist is something of an alchemist. She has a mastery over paint, and is a rarity in a field that has gotten a pretty bad rap. To be sure, Holzer does faux well. Really well. But that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Her work runs the textural gamut from simple glazes to rich “tortoise shell” trim (in Tommy Hilfiger’s apartment at the Plaza) to Venetian plaster inlaid with real abalone.
Recently, she sat for a chat in the 900-square-foot refurbished barn she turned into her studio. It sits just steps away from her home in Redding, next door to a pretty country church.
Holzer, an erstwhile jewelry designer and boutique owner, is petite, an energetic sprite, and a gracious hostess. Her midwestern roots (she hails from Michigan) and sense of style mandate that if there is going to be conversation, there must be refreshments, so she brings out a plate of prosciutto, melon, and figs, and a pitcher of San Pellegrino water and orange juice. Her design assistant, Maria Sanders, joins her at the table.
Holzer took a meandering path to this job catering to elite designers and commercial establishments, as well as some very particular private clients.
Always the artist, she started out designing and manufacturing turquoise jewelry. Eventually, she segued into retail, opening two clothing boutiques in the greater New York area. It was only when she hired an artist to paint faux marble in one of her stores that she found her true passion. “That was twenty-one years ago,” she says. “I’ve been painting ever since. I love what I do and consider myself lucky to make a living at it.”
She moved to Connecticut in 1996, and worked in Norwalk before finding the compound she now calls home.
Four full-time artists execute the designs that Holzer creates, and every project is unique to a client’s space—whether it’s the home of a prolific contemporary painter or one of ten Smith & Wollensky restaurants.
Holzer enjoys collaborating with her staff. “We went through a lot of people to find artists who understand, and who can work together seamlessly,” she says. “Maria has a great eye for color and design. We really are a team.”
Photographs on the walls of the studio—as well as the travertine-lookalike walls themselves—plus hundreds of sample boards offer a glimpse into the caliber of her work. This board depicts an ombre-like glaze, that one steel. This one depicts clouds fashioned from gold leaf, that one crocodile. Each is the result of the artist’s fascination with paint, with what happens when you mix it with wax, or apply wax over it, or trowel on crushed stone and paint over that. The possibilities seem endless.
Holzer prices her work according to its color (deeper hues require more paint), complexity, and the size and intricacies of a space, among other considerations. Simple glazing is very competitive with wallpaper, she says, at $8 to $12 a square foot. Venetian plasters can run $10 to $12, while the most detailed and elaborate finishes, can cost $150 to $200 per square foot, or more.
Holzer has also designed some custom furniture and says she would very much like to do more of it. “Some artists find a formula and stay with it,” she says. “I prefer to always look for possibilities.”
Says Sanders: “She rarely, if ever, says no to something. She’ll try anything.” She adds, smiling at her boss, “But she always delivers.” •
Heidi Holzer Design and Decorative Work