Stairway to Stencilling — My First “Practice Client”

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Earlier this month I challenged myself. I took on another wall stencilling project, this time in a different home altogether.

I met Jessica through my blog. She contacted me late last year after I had posted my work on my kitchen stencil. A U.S. native herself, Jessica and her French-born husband had recently renovated their two-story home in St. Louis, France, a small town just over the border from Basel. She was looking to bring some colour into her place, particularly on their newly painted white walls.

This was around the time when I began thinking of offering my stencilling work as a business. Basel has a large expat community; it comprises some 30 percent of the population. Folks come in for a few years, moving into a rental they are hesitant to do too much with given their short-term stay. And that’s where I began thinking there might be interest, if any. Expat folks might be more inclined to dress up their place with one or two creative accent walls rather than painting the whole place.

That said, I decided that now was as good a time as any to test out my stencilling skills again. In particular, I needed to figure out three key aspects of my potential business. First, I needed to see if the time was worth the effort. Stenciling is not the same as painting a wall. It takes a whole lot of time, something I’m clearly not in excess of given the title of my blog. Second, I needed to see if I enjoyed the process. Decorating your own place versus some else’s could be two very different beasts. And third, I wanted to challenge myself, to say that even if I decided not to go ahead with the business, that I was more than capable of getting the job done.

And so I began. Upon visiting Jessica’s house, we decided on the main wall bridging her wrap-around staircase. It was a great wall – plenty wide, with a large wood-trimmed window that allowed the late morning sun to blanket the antique staircase.

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At the base of their stairs were the common rooms; the kitchen and dining area, along with two spacious sitting rooms. The stairs at the top led to the family’s private quarters, three bedrooms and a large bathroom. In the years to come, there would be lots of traffic on these stairs.

It was a great place to bring some colour into this family’s home.

Jessica and her husband chose a stencil I had not seen before; a honeycomb design made by an Etsy-based company. I loved it. It screamed nouveau antique, the exact look they were hoping to find.

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The stencil was much larger than the ones I worked with from Cutting Edge Stencils. And it didn’t come with a top-edge stencil sheet, which was going to make the edges extra difficult. Still, I was up for it. When in Rome, right?

Once the stencil arrived and I had my son safely in daycare for his 9-to-3 slot, I got to work. On the wall went the stencil, together with some adhesive spray, some painting tape, and of course, my nifty clip-on leveller.

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So this is probably a silly thing to write about, but I suppose when it comes to painting walls it actually is a big deal. The walls at Jessica’s place were flat. Completely flat. Baby-bottom flat.

Why is this important? Because in Switzerland, for some very odd reason, the walls are not flat. The walls either have a harsh stipple texture, or a softer yet still grainy wood-chip texture. In any case, the Swiss walls are the ones I was used to stencilling. Part of me was thrilled that I would finally get a chance to paint a flat wall. Part of me, given how difficult stencilling can be, was terrified.

IMG_4115I took my time. But I realised quickly that although the Swiss walls take longer to stencil because you have to fill in the textured areas that escape the roller’s wrath, the flat walls are not as forgiving. Mistakes are a bit more obvious, especially when using geometric patterns like the one I was now working with. I definitely had my work cut out for me.

After the first stencil was complete, as the adage goes, off went the bandaid…

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Phew! The baby-bottom wall had survived! There were a few stragglers that irked me. But thankfully nothing that would have destroyed the design. On went the next stencil, and when that one was finished, off went the bandaid again…

IMG_4123Now I was getting the hang of it. By the end of the day, I had finished about three quarters of the wall.

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The edges, as I predicted, were very difficult. But all in all, the pattern was coming about beautifully. And it really was a great design that they had chosen.IMG_3924

Another week later, when I had a full day to myself, off to Jessica’s I went to finish the top of the wall. This was more challenging than I anticipated, in part because there was not a top-edge stencil, and in larger part because I’m vertically challenged (I’m 5’1 on a good day) and did not properly anticipate the height of the wall. With my tip toes and fingers stretched to the max, I managed to finish the top.

And there you have it. Another stencilling project complete. The transformation was pretty neat if I do say so myself!

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The colour really added a whole different dimension to this staircase. It brought it to life in a way. And the best part is that when you walk into their home the first glimpse into their main hallway lends itself this way…

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This was a fantastic experience for me. Mostly because amid the craziness of being a mother, I love that I’m capable of diving into something that is just for me, be it cooking, stencilling, or simply going for a long jog. I think everyone needs a zone they can escape into.

To Jessica and her family, thank you for inviting me into your home and being my figurative staircase to me-time. 

I also learned quite a good deal about what it takes to do this professionally.

In so far as whether I enjoyed the process, the day I finished I drove home with a sense of accomplishment that I did not anticipate. While I still believe that the degree of pride in decorating your own place is a different beast, I’m happy to report that even at Jessica’s home, I was thrilled that her and her family loved the wall. As Jessica said to me later, her young daughter spent the evening “hugging the wall.”

But accomplishment aside, I was right in that it takes time, a lot of it. With Aidan in day care, plus with balancing my schedule with Jessica’s, it took a good two days to complete this project. And boy oh boy, did my body feel the aches and pains of the work!

So yes, lots to think about in regards to starting this as a business. Perhaps I’ll get into it, or perhaps I’m better off simply holding stencilling courses in my home, as that definitely takes care of the time dilemma. Food for thought, I suppose.

Whatever the case, I do know that finishing something like this…well it just feels great.

Simply great.

And that, my friends, will do me just fine at the moment.

3 thoughts on “Stairway to Stencilling — My First “Practice Client”

  1. Hi Julie, if you are in the Basel-land area you can buy supplies at any home improvement store like Obi or Baum and Hobby. If you visit the page on my Kitchen Stencil there are several links to videos from Cutting Edge Stencils on what exactly you need to begin stencilling. As for the actual paint, Jessica that and I’m just waiting to hear back from her on the type and where she got it. As soon as I know, I’ll let you know. Thanks!

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