Sandy Norton is all about transformation. The former nurse, salesperson and small business owner is now an artist and the owner of Décor du Jour, and her subjects are the ordinary, unimpressive white walls and furniture she makes over, through faux painting, into works of marvelous art.
Norton has lived in Sarasota for three years—buying her 1960s-era Siesta Key bungalow on an impulse during a weekend trip to visit friends—and she is booked up to three months in advance, with an impressive list of word-of-mouth clients. In her own home, Norton has effected numerous makeovers: a plain glass plate glowing in a coat of gold foil and brown glaze; an ordinary black chandelier redone in faux Venetian bronze; a white carved Chinese cabinet dramatically painted red, gold and black; mass-produced blond wood stools given shabby chic pink and white floral coats.
“I love taking a white wall or white column or lightly painted piece of furniture and transforming it into something that’s artistic,” says Norton, who’s friendly and animated. “It just comes to life as you’re working with it.”
One of her first projects was her own home. She, her husband (a retired publisher, magazine consultant and Norton’s biggest fan) and their three sons had always envisioned a life near the water. After scouting towns up and down the Eastern Seaboard, they fell in love with Sarasota and spent a summer holding garage sales in their 5,000-square-foot Hershey, Penn., home in order to fit into their new 1,800-square-foot cottage on Siesta Key. An unprepossessing mess when they bought it, the cottage now boasts a warm, faux-finished Mediterranean ambiance. The gourmet kitchen has a standard aluminum hood faux-finished by Norton to resemble amber-accented rustic stone, and antiques and garage sale finds throughout the house have been refinished into eye-catching, one-of-a-kind centerpieces, such as an old jelly cabinet elevated into a swank, penthouse-worthy piece with faux snakeskin panels.
There’s not much room, though. Norton shares the dining table/office with her older son, Toby, 23, a recent graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design and now his mother’s sometime-collaborator. Her second son, Tucker, 19, is a surfer who casually entertains friends for lunch at the kitchen counter while his mother talks shop, and her youngest, Wyatt, 15, is the musician in the family. The two oldest sons sometimes accompany Norton on jobs, where she has trained them to prep her work surfaces to her exacting requirements. The boys have graciously ceded control of most of a little laundry room and the garage, which are filled with bookshelves crammed with the tools of her trade: tins and pots full of tints, glazes, Venetian plaster, Bellissimo (a pudding-like finish which is hugely popular now), rollers and papers. Rolls of floorcloths sit in a corner, and more than 1,000 sample boards she has created for clients fill every available nook and cranny.
Those sample boards are pretty enough to frame. Norton proves that when done right, faux painting can be a gorgeous, textural way to enhance a room. By troweling on layers of tint very tightly, for example, she can achieve the effect of marble; one client’s massive eyesore of a Formica table became a breathtaking centerpiece when Norton transformed it with a faux marble effect in gray, silver and ivory. Numerous thick layers, maybe mixed in with a little sand in patches, can resemble stone. Some products can cause a product to rust in 20 minutes, lending a patina of age. With tissue or cheesecloth, glazes and tints, Norton can create crocodile, snake and ostrich skin; by applying combs and brushes to another surface, she creates a grasscloth effect. In one home, she redid a plain master bedroom ceiling with gold foil, and now it glints in the reflection of the surface of the pool outside.
“It’s knowing the products, knowing how they interact together, knowing the techniques,” she says.
Philadelphia-born Norton, the daughter of an artistic mother who worked with pastels, always sewed her own clothes, helped her mother with flower arrangements and made and dyed her own paper. But she became a registered nurse, working in an ICU on open-heart surgeries for 10 years and in medical sales for seven years. It wasn’t until after having her third child that she returned to art, running a silk and dried flowers business out of her house. She had always done a lot of decorating in her own homes and for friends, and when she ran into a faux painter at a family dinner, she was entranced and immediately began taking classes.
Now she works full 40-hour weeks, and is looking forward to focusing more on her faux-finished floorcloths, accessories and furniture, though she loves doing people’s homes, also.
“If your home represents who you are through beauty, you’re a happier person,” she says.
Norton, who charges from $3 to $22 per square foot, can be reached at Décor du Jour, (941) 539-1939.