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Do-it-yourself decor

A local designer who uses a European painting style to make walls and furniture more beautiful is teaching her techniques so anyone’s home can have a finished “antique” look.

Michele Dawn paints over wooden, metallic and stone surfaces to turn them into polished artifacts. She can make a picture frame shine with a gold luster, or paint birch cabinets so that they look like glazed wood. She tries to give every room its own “wow” factor.

“I like to design with a lot of romance and even if you’re living there by yourself, have a romance with yourself,” Dawn said. “Your home is your castle. You want to wake up every morning and say, ‘Now, this is why I go to work.’”

Dawn, a decorative finisher and mural artist with a studio in Laguna Canyon, said she learned her craft from artisans in Europe. As she traveled in Europe, she looked at the fine art in galleries. Dawn learned to see the interior of houses as an art piece in itself, for presenting pieces of artwork.


“If you even have a print, or whatever, if you have nothing on your wall but paint, it is an unfinished wall,” Dawn said. “And that’s why you have decorative finishes. If you put on a Venetian plaster then, when you put your work of art up there, it’s going to be on your finished wall. So it frames your frame.”

This is commonly labeled a “faux finish,” referring to the attempt to duplicate an effect in paint. However, Dawn says that she isn’t trying to make the wooden or metal surface look like something that it’s not. Instead, she tries to make the surfaces look more beautiful.

She uses her home in Laguna Hills as an example. According to Dawn, the wooden faceboards of her oak kitchen shelves were a hideous orange color when she first moved in. She refurbished them with a regal-looking brown and gold finish.

“All you do is just prime and paste. It’s just a one-shot deal,” Dawn said. “Give them a little light sanding. Everything I’ve done in this house I did within a very short period of time. People come in and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I love that.’


“You want each room to have its own personality,” she said. That’s what she calls the “wow” factor.

Dawn is sharing her knowledge with the public in three instructional DVDs, for sale on her website In the videos, Dawn teaches viewers how to make some of her basic decorative finishes. Her videos are also on sale at Dawn is planning on releasing more DVDs in the future.