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Create a fresh new look with an unusual 'faux' finish

There's a new twist to decorative refinishing that lets craftspeople add the drama and visual interest of marblelike effects to many household surfaces. A faux finish, like the one pictured, can be applied to any surface that is appropriate for painting. This fireplace mantel, painted by Paul Erlenborn of Virginia, was displayed at Woodward & Lothrop in Washington, D.C.

Begin by assembling the needed materials. These include a sash paintbrush, watercolor or artist's brush, a lint-free cotton rag, and a wide soft paintbrush. Either flat or satin oil-based or latex paint can be used as the base coat. When using a flat paint, a shellac layer must be applied before applying the finish to give the proper glossy effect.

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The first step, using the sash paintbrush, is to apply the base coat, usually in a lighter color than the glaze to be used (in the mantel pictured, the base coat was white). Add a color wash of artist's oil as a glaze and break up the color by using the small brush to dab artist's color on in small amounts while the glaze is still wet.

Then, bundle up the rag and ''pounce'' it all over the surface, hitting it fairly hard to soak up some of the liquid in the glaze and even up the dabs of color. Then apply a layer of clear glaze using the small artist's brush.

Next, use the rag to soak up excess paint and prevent dripping or running and to stop the drawing-back reaction.

Finally, use the wide, soft brush to ''feather'' the paint, which will soften the effect. Move the brush across the surface in all directions for the most attractive results. Keep in mind that the glaze will dry in about 20 minutes - working on a faux finish means working at a smooth, steady pace.

Let the surface dry for a day, and then apply a coat of clear varnish.

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