For all my friends who love to paint, I found an airbnb for you! It’s in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and we stayed in it in January 2019. It’s like a castle! It’s a castle with a circular staircase in a turret! (Scroll down, you’ll see.) And, fabulous painted walls.
Let’s get right to the walls. This mural with metallic gold design is in the dining room:
In the morning, the sun streams in and the gold glows.
If you have stenciled or painted precise decorative wall treatments, you can appreciate the math & measurements that went into spacing those grids and circles so perfectly.
The tiles + the gold paint design on the fireplace almost vibrate with energy.
Here we are on our last morning enjoying breakfast in the dining room. Can you see how the plates even pick up on the blue tile in the fireplace:
Okay, let’s move on to the next mural in the house. Imagine walking through a steel door into The Mayan, and you’re in a courtyard. Look up, and there’s a huge mural on the wall. This mural is visible upstairs from big windows in the bedroom and the bathroom. Here we’re looking through the bedroom windows:
The mural goes up, up, up beyond this. Here’s the full flowering agave:
Here I tilted the phone down so you can see the entryway courtyard below:
Here’s looking up from the courtyard below. See how the mural is topped off with sky, and when the sky is deep blue, it’s like the mural merges with the sky above:
Now, here’s the mural of women, the namesake for this Airbnb which is called The Mayan. Believe it or not, when you step out of the shower, this is what you see!
Let’s get a closer look.
The finish is “grungy.”
Now turn around, and here’s the bathroom and shower area:
You can see the arch frames the bathroom view. All walls and the ceiling are hand-painted. Even on the doors, there is metallic red paint that pulls color from the floor tiles, and also from red colors in the bedroom that you see when you look through those doors. Here’s that view from the bathroom doors:
Those square red and gold shapes are not tiles. They are all hand painted! Let’s look closer.
As you can see, the wall is also engraved with a grid to simulate tiles.
The previous owner, who was an artist, put a lot of time, care and love into this place. This is not a small wall. All of this had to be mapped out in advance.
Here’s a glimpse of the circular staircase that leads to the second floor bedroom and then up to a rooftop terrace. You can see the theme of arch shapes in the house:
Okay, so let’s head back downstairs. I’ll show you the wall in the living room area. It’s not as decorative. It’s more metallic mottled brown. It’s an understated backdrop to a huge room. Here’s the view of the living room from the kitchen:
Another arch there! It’s all hand painted design around it in metallics.
This next photo gives you an idea of how the painted design wraps around the arch area.
More from the living room:
This post is getting long. But everywhere you turn in this place, there is an interesting scene. Next I’ll show you the kitchen ceiling. You want to see this! And then I’ll show you decorative details around the house.
The kitchen ceiling:
Yeah that’s the kitchen ceiling!
There’s a lot of cool lighting, ironwork, niches and other decorations. Entrance to the circular staircase/turret. Even the “stone” is handpainted detail. As you’ll see in photos below, there’s a lot of interesting things even within the staircase.
Tiny lit up niches in the wall light up the stair treads. And over these, there are metal pieces with shapes like butterflies.
This is at the top of the staircase turret:
I loved things like the hand at the end of the staircase railing. And, the dog paw print in some tiles!
If you’re visiting San Miguel de Allende, check out The Mayan Airbnb. It has one bedroom, so it’s good for one couple, but it’s huge! And, there is another Airbnb on the same property just a few steps away. So two couples could rent both. Chandra, the owner and host, is delightful!
Location: It’s tucked off Orizaba road in the San Antonio neighborhood, southwest of Centro. It’s a pleasant 10-minute walk to the more heavily touristed areas.
When people think of Dubai, mostly we think of an ambitious nouveau riche city. Its tallest building in the world punching a willful want for wealth and power into the sky. It wants you to know that it will not be ignored.
We talk about the desert mall so big it has ski slopes in it.
The palm frond island so big it’s seen from space.
The Burj Khalifa water fountain display so big it was built by the winner of all the chips. It makes the Vegas Bellagio fountain look like it was built with the pennies found on the floor.
We celebrated my 50th birthday at a Thai restaurant on the edge of the fountain. The water danced and sang every half hour or so. Here’s video but squeezing this enormous display in this tiny box on this page does no justice to it. Like when you are there in person, your eyes cannot even see it all. You have to tilt your head up and look from side to side:
Also crank the speakers up, way up, and maybe you’ll get the feeling of thunder and stomach-rumbling music.
If you ever go to Dubai and want to see this, in the evening go to the promenade that runs along the water. You can stand there with a front row view of a free show.
Yeah it’s all very impressive. But I’m not looking for the things that were built during the last 50 years. I like the older, quieter areas. These older areas line the Dubai Creek, where people lived for centuries and traded in fish, pearls and dates with Silk Road travelers. It’s Old Town and Bastakiya Quarter with stone lanes, souks, boutique hotels and art galleries. Instead of shiny glass, the buildings are the color of desert sands.
Money still walks these lanes though. You’ll see in the gold souk, and the $14USD gelato.
Every other photo, my eyes are closed. The sun is so bright and bouncing off everything. You know that test at the eye doctor where they shine the light in your eyes and you want to tear your eyes out, you can’t take it anymore? It’s like that. You gotta bring your shades.
Having come to Dubai from India, we kept having “where are all the people?” moments. But it was a nice break.
I liked the sandy understatement. Some restraint in style. Things all lined up. Perfectly spaced apart. Pairs and symmetry.
Though after awhile, it did start to feel theme park-ish. Everything was so perfect, so orderly, so clean! Made for tourists perfect.
After living many weeks with the chaos and mess you can easily find in India, this was the transition we needed as we headed back to our suburban American lives. You know, where we try to keep everything perfect, orderly and clean!
In February 2018, I went on a three-week painting binge … in India!
Yes. I painted stencils all over three walls, canvasses, carved wood, backplates for sconces. It was the best three weeks ever. Despite having a bad cold, and terrible hacking-coughing 10 feet up on a ladder. But hey, I stenciled to the tippy-top of those 10 foot walls!
This was one wall I painted. Imagine this as the background of … SOME DAY … a four-poster daybed of carved wood with fantastical India motifs. Painted light gray. Draped with sheer sarees cascading down the posts. And slathered with kantha quilts and pillows in bright pinks, oranges and blues with just a touch of that mustard color.
Some day this will be a fully-complete guest room. For now, it’s my husband’s office when he’s in Chennai, India. And this wall probably isn’t what he was expecting! But he still has a more professional plain white wall for his GoToMeeting and Skype calls from the desk in the corner.
How to Layer Stencils On a Wall
So … here’s a step by step of how to “build” a stenciled wall like this. I will warn, there’s some measuring to do. A yardstick or measuring tape does the math for you.
First, decide which stencils you want to put where. Which stencils do you want on the bottom, in the middle, on the top? Here was my mock-up. I had an idea in mind, and wanted to see if I still liked it on the wall:
Which stencils do you choose? Here was my rule of thumb – I tried to go for contrast in different ways:
The stencil at the bottom is “denser” and will be filled with a lot more paint than the “lighter” trellis pattern on the top. So I balanced a denser/heavier pattern with a lighter pattern.
The paisley and trellis patterns have curvy lines, so I chose a blockier geographic type stencil for the border in the middle.
So those are some ways you can get contrast. You can also pair big stencil patterns with small patterns. Mix florals with straight-edge geometrics.
Now, decide if you want different color backgrounds behind your stencils. You don’t have to do backgrounds. Different backgrounds add extra dimension, but they also add extra time and difficulty. If you want, you could just paint the stencils, with the wall the same color behind all stencils. But if you want different background colors, measuring is important.
As you see above, I started taping the wall to mark where background colors would be painted. I measured the bottom section first, then I measured for the border in the middle. I drew pencil lines on the wall. You can see these lines just barely in the photo above near the middle border area. You will have to keep moving the blue lines from one side of the pencil lines to the other, and tape over areas you just painted, so be careful. Paint should have enough time to dry so you don’t pull it off with the tape.
How to Choose Colors
Look at other things in the room. This is in India, and eventually this guest bedroom will have a bed covered with bright colors, and walls with bright art:
I decided to play up the pink, and bring the grays and silvers to the top of the wall to give the eye a rest from the color crazy that will eventually fill much of the room. And for contrast to the feminine pinks and curves, I chose the mustardy-turmeric-curry color for the border.
Here’s a view of the rug in the room which also has these colors:
Here’s the wall taped off and ready for painting the background colors:
Painting Background Colors
I can’t just run to the store for paint in India like I can at home by Chicago. Well, I CAN – there is an Asian Paints within walking distance of our apartment. Asian Paints is like the Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams of India. But, I already had many sample sizes of Asian Paints. Some of them were older. Pro painters would probably groan at what I did. I wanted a light warm pink background on the bottom but I didn’t have pink. So I chose the creamier/ivory Asian Paints latex colors and dumped them all in a container. Then I added drops of Emperor’s Silk Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan until the pink was where I wanted it:
Starting with warm creamy ivories and adding red made a warm dusty pink. I was channeling the Pink City of Jaipur.
I had limited supplies, so I mixed this in a Frog Tape container!
Asian Paints paint sticks to everything, plus I don’t know where the water drains from our India apartment or the effects of paint going down our drains. So I didn’t clean the container, I just threw it out. There’s a few guys who live near the community garbage bins who make money from pulling garbage and recycling it. They watch for us. They LOVE our garbage!
I wanted an uneven, plaster-y look on the wall. So I spread light amounts of paint on a trowel – honestly, a cheap and BROKEN plastic trowel, the only thing I had available in India – and troweled the latex paint on the wall.
The broken trowel got annoying. I had to be careful to not make sharp scratches with it. But, it worked okay. I eventually had to break off the broken part.
I moved the trowel every which way like drunken hashmarks, for an uneven application. It went very fast. I let some splotches of the original white paint show through. Because the trowel applied a light layer, the paint dried fast.
Soon, I was choosing colors for the next step, stenciling:
Hmmm, which to choose?
Though it’s hard to tell from the pictures because it looks pink, I chose the orange in the middle. I forget which paint it was now. It’s a metallic that has orange & pink. The stencil is the Rani Paisley Stencil from Royal Design Studio in furniture stencil size. You can also get it bigger in wall stencil size.
You can see I finished one entire section – background + stencil – before moving up to the next section.
Painting a Border
Unfortunately I did not photograph every step of the border section. It got dark out. This room is lit with two lousy lightbulbs. I could barely see with my eyes wide open.
There was some fancy moving of the tape several times. Remember you have to move the tape or you will have an unpainted area behind the tape! I had to remove some tape and put it over the pink area, then paint the border background. The background is the mustardy-curry color. Then I used a metallic copper color to paint stencils over the curry color. Here’s a close-up:
Honestly I think I was doing all this at 2 a.m. Because jetlag. And, you can see I did crazy stuff with a skinny border line for extra credit or something, even though there’s no teacher to impress, it’s just myself.
I don’t even know how to explain how to measure to get the curry color background behind the big geometric shapes, and the pink background behind those skinny lines. That really needed to be a video to show you. Just … measure twice, then measure again, and measure again. Test a small area first before painting the whole thing. Test in an area that’s usually behind a door, curtain or cabinet, somewhere not seen so well. You can always paint over it and start over if you measured wrong.
Or sometimes a better idea is to not drive yourself crazy with all this measuring in the first place. Why didn’t I think of that.
At some point it was light out again. And it must have been hot, because the ceiling fan is running.
Now it’s time to paint the top. And climb up the ladder and try not to get hit by the ceiling fan!
You can see here, the pink on the bottom relates to the pink in the floor tile, and the dark copper in the border relates to the copper in the ceiling fan. Also on the other end of the room, there are dark copper wall sconces and some curry/tamarind color on the wall. So these colors get repeated around the room.
Mixing More Colors
Now, I wanted a silvery gray background on the top. I stared at the wall for awhile and wondered if I should go bold, really BOLD, and paint bright color on the top too. But honestly, all this color is pushing it for me personally. And it’s feeling more feminine than what I’m comfortable with. So I decided to tame things down just a little bit by painting tones of silvery gray on the top.
I pulled white latex paints with cool undertones from Asian Paints from my stash of sample paints. Then, mixed Aged Nickel Stencil Creme from Royal Design Studio into the Asian Paint whites. The Aged Nickel has shimmer and sheen so it added a metallic glimmer to the latex paint.
I was also hoping I wasn’t compromising the Asian Paints with this mixing, but as I write this, the paint has been on the wall for a year, my husband has visited the apartment recently, and the walls are fine. The colors I added are a very small % of the paint.
Like I did with the pink background, I troweled the silvery gray paint on with the broken plastic trowel. It’s a light layer:
Then, I stenciled the trellis stencil with straight up Aged Nickel Stencil Creme for a tone on tone look. The stencil is the Raj Indian Trellis Stencil from Royal Design Studio.
Things are getting shadowy again, so another day has gone by.
On the Third Day, She Styles!
Finally finished! We don’t have furniture for this room yet, so I pulled in sofa cushions from the living room and styled them up like a Moroccan floor seating situation. Just pretend there’s chai tea or mint tea.
Even a tassel I found in Marrakech has the colors of this room:
As the sun sets again, the colors deepen and get mysterious. Time to relax and enjoy!
I thought this would be a step-by-step tutorial. But then I counted all the cans and bottles I used – 20!!!. And all the paint layering steps, the salt, powerwash, baby wipes, polyacrylic base coat seal, gilding wax accents, wax top coat … whew!! I had a lot of fun playing with it all. But you know what, I don’t think anybody would follow a 20-page tutorial with 25 supplies!
There’s a lot of subtlety here, details that don’t show up on camera. That’s the depth you get when you use lots of layers and techniques. You are rewarded when you look very close.
It’s nice, but I don’t know if you’d do a tutorial to get subtle details that you can’t even see in photos.
Instead, remember when the Talking Heads asked, “How did I get here?” Where did a paint finish called “oyamel” come from? How did it get here?
FINDING CREATIVE INSPIRATION
The Talking Heads song Once In A Lifetime is about being on autopilot and half awake most days, getting through everything we have to do. The days go by. Day by day by day. What happens when we stop and take a second to look around? To notice things? We might get answers. We might get inspiration!
But I also like to look around my own home for inspiration. When inspiration comes from something in your life, it has extra meaning.
Look around you right now.
Is there something in the room that makes you happy? Is there something that has a story? Something that makes you imagine colors? If you walk around your home, what’s the first thing you see that makes you want to reach out and touch it?
Is there something sentimental given to you by family? A friend?
What about a travel memory? Where do you go on vacation? When you’re there, what are the colors, textures, and feelings you notice?
What are your hobbies and interests? What’s your favorite piece of jewelry? What’s your favorite spice? Imagine where the spice comes from. What’s it like there?
Do you like flowers? Plants? If so, what’s your favorite flower?
Can you find inspiration in what’s around you right now? These are things close to you, things you live with. Use them to weave a personal story into what you create.
MY INSPIRATION FOR “OYAMEL”
What is oyamel? It’s a special tree. It’s a fir tree that grows in the mountains of Mexico, and it’s where monarch butterflies spend their winters. Monarch butterflies will leave areas of the U.S. and Canada where it freezes in the winter, and they’ll fly thousands of miles to Mexico to overwinter where it’s warmer. These monarchs were born up north — they’ve never been to Mexico before. But somehow, they know how to get there! They spend winter flying and huddling together in mass bunches in oyamel fir forests.
So my inspiration for the “oyamel paint finish” is the olive green, orange, and golden yellow colors of the monarchs in these trees. With some brown bark color. And the blue sky they fly through to get there.
I name everything after places, being the “nomadic” decorator and all. So that’s why I name this oyamel. I hope to see these oyamel forests someday soon – they’re within a days’ drive from Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende.
So, how did I get to that idea? Read on to see how inspiration can come from anything in your life …
THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY JOURNEY
Monarchs must overcome many struggles to survive. As caterpillars, they can only eat milkweed. But milkweed is being killed on a mass level by Roundup and the spread of farmland using Roundup and insecticides. Plus, predators and diseases kill 90-99% of monarch eggs and caterpillars before they can become butterflies! Only 1-10% make it! Thankfully once they become butterflies, they can drink nectar from many types of flowers. But they must survive an epic flight for such a little creature. Once they finally get to Mexico after flying thousands of miles, the butterflies are finding smaller fir forests – the trees are being cut down though there are a few reserves somewhat protected by the Mexican government. These pretty little guys battle a lot. Their numbers are plummeting toward endangerment.
Here’s a video that explains that the monarchs might have the most complex migration of any animal or insect in the world, and what’s happening to the Mexican forests they migrate to:
Why did I learn all this stuff? Well, I planted milkweed in my garden a few years ago. One day I saw a big fat caterpillar munching away. Yay! The next day, he was gone. He wasn’t big enough to become a chrysalis (cocoon) yet. That’s when I learned, a bird probably saw him as a big fat juicy dinner.
So early this year, I looked for tiny baby caterpillars so small you can barely see them, and I found eggs. I rescued so many that I raised 160 monarch butterflies this summer in our house. Seeing them grow and become butterflies and take their first flight was so amazing! I’m smitten. Here’s one getting ready to take off from our bathroom window. When I found this one, it was just a little white dot of an egg, not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.
So, I created this oyamel finish to honor these little guys and their long journeys to survive. This finish also captures the lively colors of Mexico, which I’ve been seeing a lot as I’ve been researching a trip to San Miguel de Allende, an artsy town in central Mexico.
OYAMEL FINISH DETAILS
While I’m not doing a 20-page step-by-step tutorial with lessons learned and details, below is a basic run-down of major things I did to get the look. I used mostly chalk and clay paints (Annie Sloan, DIY Paint, Frenchic) because you can blend and manipulate them easily. I also used acrylic matte “chalky finish” paints for the base coats where I did not blend.
Put a layer of light beige on the bottom half, where I knew I’d put lighter colors. The wood is dark and the light paint helps the lighter colors be truer.
Added base colors of paprika orange on the top; curry yellow on the bottom. I LOVE this curry yellow! It’s the color of tamarind staining your fingers after you eat a South Indian masala dosa!
Sealed base coats with flat polyacrylic top coat. So the base coats would stay in place while I “powerwashed” and manipulated top layers of paint.
Added dark blue on top half over the paprika orange base coat, and added olive green on the bottom half over the curry yellow base coat.
Distressed the blue and olive with baby wipes to reveal paprika orange, curry yellow and beige layers, and bare wood in a few spots.
Did asymmetrical distressing so orange and yellow areas look like random wear like maybe from a flood or something pouring onto the painted surface. Tried to hit areas where natural wear n’ tear would happen.
Powerwashed some blue off with water for texture.
Threw salt in areas while blue paint was wet. Got cool dark speckles but not super impressed. Like I said, lots of subtle details.
Added metallic shimmers with pear green color metallic, teal blue metallic, orange metallic.
Toned down everything with a light sandy beige layer of paint; wiped off most of this paint. Left enough for a dusty look.
Applied rich gold metallic gilding wax to the four bars.
Sealed with clear wax.
Noticed the clear wax diminished some metallic shimmers. Reapplied them all.
So that’s the Cliff’s Notes version. A lot of the magic happens when you reveal the layers underneath, when colors get “caught” on texture, when shimmery iridescence shows up when light hits it just right. I like the contrast of elegant iridescence mixed with a rustic cowboy outpost town kind of feel.
If you look closely at a monarch butterfly’s wings, they are iridescent! They have a color that shimmies and changes in the light. So that’s why this oyamel paint finish has metallic accents. And plus, it’s pretty!
The shelf now lives in my studio and holds … well, not much. Because I want to see the shelf!
The colors all together remind me of flashes of the iridescent golden orange butterflies clinging to the rough bark of a tree, surrounded by green leaves and blue sky. Soaking up the winter sunshine in Mexico. Even when it’s winter here in Chicago, I can look at this and think of warmer days, and maybe even a flight for myself to San Miguel and a drive to see the butterfly forest.
Meanwhile, I’m dreaming up ideas to paint something in this oyamel finish for sale, and a percentage of profits could go toward a monarch habitat conservation organization. What do you think?
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