Kimberly Majerowicz is an artist, by temperament and by talent, but her canvases are the walls and ceilings of the rooms she is asked by her clients to fill with furniture and fabric.
The interior designer and owner of K'Bella Studios will arrive with the requisite swatches, color chips, furnishing suggestions and window treatments, but then she will pull some magic out of her bag.
She can turn ceilings into leather or giraffe hide. Backsplashes into tile mosaics. Cabinet doors into bronze. And walls into stone.
"People can panic," she said, laughing. "Clients are apprehensive. Will it be too much? But the best design fails if it is up against white walls."
The married mother of four has created more than a dozen faux finishes on the first floor of her Timonium home, and that is where she brings clients who cannot imagine what she can do with scaffolding, a trowel, stencils, bronze leaf and a paint brush.
"My house is always 45 minutes away from being ready for a client," she said. "But we live here. It isn't a no-touch zone. My kids have to be kids." (There are two long-haired dachshunds, too.)
As a child, Majerowicz lived in Egypt with her family — her father was an RCA executive — and traveled all over Europe, Spain and Russia before returning to the United States to study interior design at Texas A&M. The Old World texture of her designs was infused in her as a child, when she showed a precocious ability in art.
Fascinated by faux finishes, she has been a diligent student for years, studying with artisan masters of the craft all over the country and Canada, whenever she could afford the time. She has notebooks filled with the complex "recipes" for creating wall, ceiling and even furniture finishes that look like elephant hide, embossed leather or crumbling stone. There are more than 60 faux finishes in her portfolio.
While she learned the craft, she continued to work with her husband, Frank, in, of all things, medical supply sales.
"It was a 12-year education in business," she said.
Along the way, Majerowicz would do the occasional project, but only recently has she decided to take this skill to the next level with K'Bella Studios. Baltimore, she thinks, is on the cusp of accepting a decorative artisan tradition that already has followings in Florida, California and the Southwest.
Toward that end, she and Frank spent 14 months gutting the first floor of their home and creating the canvases for her best work: extraordinary finishes that fool the eye. They estimate that there is $150,000 in work on the walls and ceilings.
Her artistry — and it is art — includes a pressed leather finish on the ceiling of the dining room, surrounded by 2,000 hand-glued upholstery nail heads and a giraffe skin border. The walls are bronze and copper leaf stenciled on a deep red metallic base with a glaze finish.
The walls in the TV room resemble the style of 18th-century Italy with a rust-colored sandstone finish and embossed fleur de lis medallions studded with Swarovski crystals.
The cabinetry in the Tuscan-style kitchen has an Old World distressed and chipped finish and the panels on the doors are stenciled and hand-painted to reflect the Firenze tile around the room. The ceiling has a polished wax finish that looks like marble and is marked off by 200-year-old wooden beams scavenged from a Pennsylvania farm.
But the bedroom is the masterpiece. There are six different faux finishes in a room that is the definition of luxury, including embossed leather, elephant skin and suede. The decorative molding along the recessed lighting took Majerowicz hours to paint. The stencils on the ceiling were custom-designed for the space, and there are 14 pillows on the bed.
"This isn't done with sponge and two cans of paint from Home Depot," said her appreciative husband, who is her partner in the launch of K'Bella.
Majerowicz's sleep is often interrupted by aching hands and shoulders fatigued by hours on a scaffold, Michelangelo-style. She spends most of her days in bib overalls and with her hair in a ponytail.
Clients who may never have thought of using her skills on their walls and ceilings "become addicted," she said. "Once they understand what it can look like, they can't stop. There's always a call months later to talk about the next room."
That is the tricky part of these custom finishes. It is difficult to do just one room, hard to do just one wall. White ceilings look naked and out of place. Lighting becomes more critical.
The average room costs between $5,000 and $10,000, but Majerowicz also has techniques to lower the cost, like using decorative molding to create panels on walls or below a chair rail. The panels might include stencils on stone-textured finishes with, perhaps, a faux crackle border.
"You can still put the 'oomph' in there," she says of clients who might not have the gumption, or the budget, to go all the way.
Everywhere in the Majerowicz showcase home there is something to test the eye. Is that a granite counter top, or is only painted to look that way. Is that Italian tile? Is that marble? Is that a copper cabinet door? Or is it Majerowicz's magic?
Visitors, she said, reach to shake her hand when she greets them at the door.
"But they are always looking past me at something else."
K'Bella Studios, Decorative Artistry by Kimberly Majerowicz. For more information, call 443-927-6825 or go to kbellastudios.com