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ARTISANS: Spotlighting Makers of Hand-Crafted Goods : Craftsman Makes Your Walls Come Alive

February 09, 1991|KEITH TUBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There are some people who just may think Michael Sapienza is, well, a little off.

The 34-year-old artisan might be the first to agree, although he would spell off with a third f , as in "One Offf."

That's the name of his company, currently based in Newport Beach and Pasadena.

Why else would Sapienza move from Hawaii to Southern California?

The answer is greater business opportunities, which shows that he may not be off after all.

At the moment, One Offf is a one-man operation specializing in custom wall treatments. Sapienza, along with an assistant or two if the occasion calls for it, can take an ordinary room and make it come alive, turning plain walls into exotic creations resembling textures such as goatskin, leather, granite or marble.

His repertoire of European wall finishes includes complicated techniques such as ragging, color-washing, glazing, marbling and stenciling, while his furniture treatments include tortoise-shelling, antiquing, lapis, patinating and vinegar-painting.

Although he worked on the interior of the Rex restaurant in Newport Beach and restored the fantasy finish to Edward's Lido Theater on Balboa Island, most of Sapienza's business is in homes.

"Ordinarily, I'm contacted by a designer, architect or contractor," Sapienza says. "I'll come in to do an entry hall or living room, and before I'm through I'll usually end up doing two or three more rooms."

First, he surveys the project and consults with the designer or contractor who has an idea in mind for a unique wall treatment. Then, armed with carpet samples, fabric styles and color schemes from the room in question, he submits three or four samples of what can be accomplished. The samples are normally a square-foot each, though they can be 2 feet by 3 feet or larger, giving as complete a representation of the final product as possible.

Once the client chooses the color and texture, Sapienza goes to work. Depending on the complexity of the wall covering--how many textured layers are applied, for instance--the project could take a week or longer. Sapienza says he prices his work in the same range as medium-grade wallpaper.

"I'd rather be busy than unemployed," he says.

The textured finishes are seamless, making them more desirable in rooms with skylights, domes and other architectural variances. The fact that the colors and textures are customized also enables the walls to more easily complement an existing room.

Much of his employment has been in restoration projects, matching old finishes.

Sapienza says he has the ability to copy granite, leather and marble. That's music to the ears of homeowners who have, say, an expensive marble floor in a master bathroom and would like to match the walls for a fraction of the cost of using the real thing. It's a trick Sapienza, who holds a master's degree in fine arts, learned during his eight years in business.

The artist began his career doing drafting work for a designer. He often was asked to contribute his own ideas on projects. The problem, he explains, was that no one knew how to implement those ideas. "One thing led to another, and since the demand was there, I went into business," he says.

While business is good, it is not without its problems.

Special wall treatments can look different when covering an entire wall or room than it did as a small sample. There have been times when Sapienza has had to alter his work in progress, either because of a client's change of heart or perhaps an architectural alteration.

The artist's most complex assignment thus far is probably the Rex in Newport Beach, where he spent two months on the 7,000-square-foot restaurant's interior. Along with providing an extensive goatskin finish, he's also painting a mural in a dome and decorating seven towering pillars. For the restaurant, it was important that the coverings were durable so they can be cleaned easily and often without harming the finish.

His most challenging home interior was a master bedroom in a Bel-Air mansion. In it, Sapienza covered the walls and the ceiling with a custom-made white rice paper. The paper, which comes in random sizes, is nearly transparent and extremely difficult to work with. Using glue and sealing the entire project in a water-based lacquer, the final effect was a delicate room that had three shades of white.

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