When we think of decorative wall painting, most of us will recall, with a shudder, the sponge-painting craze of the 1980s, or frustrating struggles with mis-aligned stencils.

But decorative finish work is so much more than that.

Decorative wall finish, mid-process: Applying layers of materials to the walls of The Wolf’s main dining room (photo by Annie May Johnston)

Up until my firm’s recent work designing for The Wolf, I have been very reluctant to suggest what might be called “faux” wall finishes to a client. I’ve seen enough of that type of work gone-badly in my early years as a designer, in both “before” and “after” scenarios, that I was nearly scarred for life.

To be sure, there are many options for creating texture and pattern on wall. Wallpapers, tile, etc. However, The Wolf project called for something different, something artisanal, that has the feel of by-hand — yet definitely not DIY.

Enter Charles Leonard.

Charlie is an artist. Not just in regards to decorative finishes, including applications that trick the eye like “faux bois” (fake wood), faux marble, and stencil work, but also quite literally. An art school graduate with a degree in painting and drawing, he actively pursues his passion, spending time in his studio daily, creating representational, figurative works.

Image from the studio of the artist: Charles Leonard’s inspirations and work samples

Charlie started doing decorative painting for interiors 20 years ago, just after art school, as a way to earn a living as an artist. And, it was more than that.

The genius behind ALL the #decorativefinishes @thewolfoakland @charlesleonardfinishes thank you for the BEAUTIFUL work!!!

A post shared by Laura Martin Bovard (@lmbinteriors) on

In his own words:

“I come from a long line of decorative artists. My maternal grandfather, and his father, this is what they did for a living; and my grandfather’s brothers — some were decorative painters and some were interior designers. Also, my mother changed the decor of our house completely every two years. So I grew up around interior design and craftsmanship. After art school I was fortunate to work with amazing people in this field, both in Los Angeles and New York; that’s really where I ‘cut my teeth.’”

When I first walked into The Wolf during the time that the walls were between the first two layers of decorative treatment, I had to take a deep breath. I wondered, had we gone awry? But I knew I had to trust the process, and I am so glad I did!

Because the walls, now — they draw you in. Like a fine art painting: ethereal, mesmerizing, luxe; it feels rich; there is depth, movement and soul.

Layering is the key.

As Charlie explains: “The process involves three ‘passes,’ with two layers of material on each ‘pass,’ so generally six layers are applied, to get it to look dimensional, to give it depth.” Layers may include paint and glazes, applied using brushes, rags, and the dreaded sponges. (Charlie’s specialties also include custom design work, Venetian Plaster, and handmade wallpapers.)

The end result:

Decorative glaze painting @thewolfoakland #lmbinteriors #restaurantdesign #decorative painting Oakland

A post shared by Charles Leonard (@charlesleonardfinishes) on

In addition to the walls of the restaurant, we also had him execute art-deco inspired stenciling in the bathrooms. Which he did, with laser lines and the artist’s eye that such that the patterns to come together seamlessly, especially in the corners, in a way most of us could not achieve on our own; it is as if The Divine did it.

To see more of Charles Leonard’s work, come visit The Wolf in person and/or follow him on Instagram at @charlesleonardfinishes; to see behind the scenes pics of the LMBI team at work and play, follow our Instagram at @lmbinteriors.

A version of this article appeared in the Piedmont Post